Tail docking of dogs in NSW

Information for dog breeders and owners on tail docking

The following information is provided for dog owners and breeders, to assist them in understanding their legal responsibilities with regard to tail docking dogs in NSW.

What is tail docking?

To dock the tail of an animal means to remove all or part of the tail of the animal (other than a part of the tail consisting only of fur, hair, feathers or the like) whether by surgical or other means.

On 1 June 2004 it became an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (POCTA) to dock the tail of a dog in NSW.

POCTA is enforced by the NSW Police, RSPCA NSW and the Animal Welfare League (AWL) NSW.

The maximum penalty for this offence is $5,500 for individuals or six months imprisonment, or $27,500 for corporations.

Exceptions

  • A dog’s tail can only be docked if the procedure is performed by a veterinary practitioner and it is in the interests of the dog’s welfare

Any person that is not a registered veterinary practitioner who docks a dog’s tail is liable for prosecution. Any veterinarian who docks a dog’s tail not in the interest of the dog’s welfare is also liable for prosecution.

No. It is an offence under POCTA. A breeder who arranges for someone else to dock a dog’s tail is also committing an offence.

Only if the dog breeder can demonstrate that the tail docking was in the interests of the welfare of each individual dog.

A registered veterinarian can decide if tail docking is in the interests of a dog’s welfare.

Situations in which a veterinarian may decide that a dog’s tail should be docked may arise in response to damage, disease or other abnormality that are considered as likely to cause the dog continuing pain, dysfunction or behavioural problems or be a risk to the dog’s health.

Veterinarians, breeders and owners should be aware that the purpose of the legislation is to ban tail docking for 'routine', 'prophylactic' or 'cosmetic’ purposes, which has been traditional for many dog breeds.

It is generally considered inappropriate to dock the healthy tail of a dog for the prevention of a possible future painful event.

Although each situation will be considered on its merits, enforcement agencies can investigate any tail docking. The enforcement agencies consider a range of factors when deciding whether to prosecute for breaches of the POCTA Act or Regulation.

An enforcement officer who reasonably suspects that the Act has been contravened has the power to require from a breeder or owner who has puppies or dogs which have been docked after 1 June 2004, information concerning the tail docking of those animals.

Dog breeders should keep accurate records regarding the breed, take photographs of newborn pups and show reliable witnesses the animals soon after birth. This is recommended particularly for dog breeds where bob tails are uncommon.  It could be useful to obtain a supporting statement from your veterinarian if you believe you may be challenged over the occurrence of a short tail on your dog.

There is no offence under the Act for docking the tail of a dog in NSW before 1 June 2004.

Yes. The offence relates to the procedure, not to selling or owning a dog with a docked tail.

One of the objectives of the Act is to protect animals from unjustifiable, unnecessary or unreasonable pain, distress or suffering.   Available evidence strongly suggests that tail docking is associated with both acute and chronic pain.

The act of tail docking may only be regarded as justified, necessary or reasonable if it is in the interests of the dog’s welfare.

The ban is in effect because:

  • there is significant scientific evidence about the negative effects of tail docking on dog welfare,
  • there are changing community expectations about unnecessary surgical procedures on animals, and
  • all Australian states and territories agreed to ban tail docking.

Yes.

In 2002 the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC) agreed in principle to a nationally coordinated ban on the routine tail docking of dogs for non-therapeutic purposes.  Each state and territory has its own animal welfare laws, so each one had to introduce its own ban.

The key elements of the ban are that non-therapeutic tail docking of dogs is prohibited and therapeutic tail docking is only able to be carried out by a registered veterinarian.

All jurisdictions have introduced bans effectively limiting tail docking of dogs to therapeutic situations only.

A guide to NSW ban on tail docking of dogs

On 1 June 2004, it became an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (POCTA) to dock the tail of a dog in NSW.

Yes. It applies to puppies and adult dogs – there is no age limit.

Yes. There are many working dog breeds with long tails, such as Cattle dogs, Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Kelpies and English Pointers. These breeds still work with entire tails, demonstrating that routine tail docking is not necessary.

Yes. It is not an offence to sell or own a dog with a docked tail, but if the dog’s tail was docked in NSW after 1 June 2004:

  • the person who carried out the procedure may have committed an offence, and
  • you may have committed an offence if you arranged for the procedure to be done on your behalf.

No.  The only way you will commit an offence is if you dock a dog’s tail, or arrange for a dog’s tail to be docked in circumstances that contravenes the Act. It is not an offence to own, sell or give away a dog with a docked tail.