Strap line

What happens when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media?

Monday, 8 October 2012

A tail with no end is a sorry tale indeed.

Hey Julie,
What a great topic to bring to the table: that what we, as people, like to see in our dogs, may not always be in the dogs' best interests. Indeed. 

Considering that got me thinking not just about the features we select for when breeding dogs, but also our track record in surgically altering the appearance of dogs through procedures like ear cropping and tail docking, for the purpose of owner satisfaction in how the dog looks.

A postcard used in an RSPCA awareness campaign in Australia.
Don't worry, I'm not going to show a whole lot of disturbing images, but I would like to talk about the role scientific assessment and objectivity can play as a catalyst for change in regards to animal welfare issues

Pauleen Bennett (source)
My PhD supervisor, Pauleen Bennett, founder of the Anthrozoology Research Group and Executive Director and Chair of the Australian Anthrozoology Research Foundation, contributed significantly to ending the stand-off surrounding the issue of 'tail docking' occurring in Australia around ten years ago.

She has bred and shown pure breed dogs, so had contact with people and pure-breed dog associations who were strongly opposed to the calls from welfare organisations and veterinary groups to ban the practice of tail docking in Australia. 

This issue really came to light following anti-docking legislation (except where medically indicated by a vet) being implemented in several Scandinavian and  other European countries in the mid-late 1990's. Several main arguments founded in historic practice and emotive reactions were blocking the cessation of tail docking in Australia. 

Pauleen's review of these issues surrounding tail docking systematically identified and considered the main arguments proposed for continued docking:
  • Maintaining tradition / The breed standard called for a docked tail.
  • The public would not recognise these breeds without their docked tails.
  • The dogs will injure their tails if undocked.
  • The dogs will get dirty tails if undocked.
  • Personal preference (less likely to knock over furniture items, prefer the look, etc.).
Within this paper, she also considered the arguments for ceasing tail docking in the same objective and non-emotive manner.

The objective and informed facts:
  • Tail docking is painful. It was routinely done to young pups (1-5 days old) who are unable to be anaesthetised (too young) and not given pain relief. Young puppies can feel acute pain.
  • Tails are major communication tools for dogs.
  • Tail docking approx. 500 dogs may avoid one tail injury. (To give this some context with a human flavour, approximately 1 in 255 people fracture their arms annually in the USA, but funnily enough, Americans don’t amputate babies’ arms at birth to avoid this.)
  • Some traditions need to be ceased in light of new information and changing societal expectations/norms. 

Pauleen's background is in neuroscience and clinical neuropsychology. What I really admire is that she didn't just stop at presenting this objective consideration of the issues. Her second paper on this topic raised cognitive dissonance theory as a "useful framework within which to understand, and attempt to alter, attitudes that persist even though they appear contrary to available empirical evidence" (Bennett & Perini, 2003b). 

Valuably, she offered a solution to help get everyone on board with the situation.

"By first acknowledging that such people are not cruel or uncaring, but have always acted according to what they genuinely believe to be the best interests of their animals. In possession of evidence to the contrary, but with their self concept intact, such people are well placed to alter community attitudes towards docking, and to take a leadership role in altering the way in which our society perceives animals in general(Bennett & Perini, 2003b).

In 2004, Australia banned cosmetic (not medically indicated) tail docking nationally, making it illegal. Every dog under 8 years old that was born in Australia, should now have its full tail.

Me? Personally, I love seeing Rottweiler, Boxer, Jack Russell, Old English Sheepdog or German Shorthaired Pointer dogs wagging their tails effusively while playing with their other doggy friends and owners.
They look complete to me.

Looking forward to Part 2 of your Superficial series immensely,

Mia

If you'd like to know if cosmetic tail docking and ear cropping are still legal in your country: check the list on Wikipedia here.




References / further reading:

BENNETT, P. & PERINI, E. (2003). Tail docking in dogs: a review of the issues, Australian Veterinary Journal, 81 (4) 218. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.2003.tb11473.x

BENNETT, P. & PERINI, E. (2003b). Tail docking in dogs: can attitude change be achieved?, Australian Veterinary Journal, 81 (5) 282. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.2003.tb12575.x

NOONAN, G., RAND, J., BLACKSHAW, J. & PRIEST, J. (1996). Tail docking in dogs: A sample of attitudes of veterinarians and dog breeders in Queensland, Australian Veterinary Journal, 73 (3) 88. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.1996.tb09982.x

WANSBROUGH, R.K. (1996). Cosmetic tail docking of dogs, Australian Veterinary Journal, 74 (1) 63. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.1996.tb13737.x

Diesel, G., Pfeiffer, D., Crispin, S. & Brodbelt, D. (2010). Risk factors for tail injuries in dogs in Great Britain, Veterinary Record, 166 (26) 817. DOI: 10.1136/vr.b4880

Leaver, & Reimchen, (2008). Behavioural responses of Canis familiaris to different tail lengths of a remotely-controlled life-size dog replica, Behaviour, 145 (3) 390. DOI: 10.1163/156853908783402894


© Mia Cobb 2012