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Boxers and Tail Docking: Your Questions, Answered

close up of dog looking foward standing in the grass

Have you ever wondered why the tails of certain dog breeds, such as boxers, are shortened? This practice is called tail docking and dates back to ancient Rome. Whether you’re considering adopting a boxer, debating the pros and cons of docking your boxer’s tail, or curious about the practice in general, here's the long and short of tail docking.

History of Tail Docking

Historically, tail docking was thought to prevent rabies, increase a dog's speed and prevent injuries. For hunting and herding breeds, tails could collect burrs and foxtails, causing pain and infection. Herding dogs with longer tails risked being caught in gates behind livestock.

In 18th-century England, there was actually a tax on all dogs — with the exception of docked-tail working dogs. So, dogs were routinely docked to avoid this tax. But even after the tax was lifted, the practice continued, with a number of dog breeds incorporating docked tails into breed standards.

puppy boxer with tail dock, outside stepping on stones in grass yard

Pros and Cons of Tail Docking

Today, tail docking is still common for boxers and other breeds for health and cosmetic reasons. Yet, the practice is not without controversy.

Proponents argue that the procedure is not painful and can prevent future health problems. It should be noted that tail docking is not a surgical procedure in the typical sense of the word; the procedure — which doesn’t require anesthesia or sutures — is done before the puppy's cartilage is fully formed, usually between 3 and 5 days of age.

A number of veterinary organizations around the world oppose tail docking. Those who oppose tail docking say the procedure is cruel and unnecessary. They contend that dogs use their tails to communicate with other dogs, as well as people. So, a dog without a tail might be less able to convey fear, aggression, playfulness and other emotions. In addition, certain dog breeds use their tails as rudders when swimming, and some dog breeds use their tails for balance when running. In this case, active dogs with docked tails can be at a physical disadvantage.

In the end, it doesn't really matter whether your dog's tail is docked, unless they’re competing in an AKC event. Tail or docked tail, boxers make energetic, loyal and loving companions that can be great friends to children and even cats  (if your pet is properly socialized and introduced).

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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