Written by Ella White
The noble Boxer is an impressive and popular dog breed known for its loyal and playful personality. As well as their brachycephalic or squashed snout, one of the Boxer’s best known characteristics is their short tail.
But are Boxers born without tails? What happens to their tails? And is tail docking ethical? In this blog we’ll answer all these questions and more about Boxer’s tails.
It’s so common to see Boxers without tails that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were born that way. However the reality is that Boxer puppies are born with tails, but they are docked when the puppy is between 3-5 weeks old. There have been several attempts to breed from naturally bobbed boxers, but as they are genetically predisposed to have tails, those genetics often win out. Within a few generations, even naturally bob tailed boxers will often start producing tailed puppies.
Boxers often have their ears docked or straightened at the same time. Boxers are naturally born with full tails and floppy ears which are often surgically altered for aesthetic reasons.
Docking is a practice that has been happening for centuries, whereby dogs – particularly breeds known for fighting and hunting – have their tails removed as puppies to avoid injuries. There are also several other very outdated notions that also contributed to the docked tail we see today. From believing the removal of the tail would help prevent the spread of rabies to old fashioned tax laws that changed between pet and working dogs.
Although some boxers will have their tails removed surgically, this isn’t the most common practice. Many breeders who dock puppy tails will place a tight elastic around the tail, cutting off the blood flow and killing the nerves and muscles until it just falls off.
Boxers were used as hunting dogs that would chase and catch large animals like bears and boars, guard dogs, military dogs, and sadly as fighting dogs. As a working breed, the Boxer’s altered short tail was beneficial as it was believed it helped them to run faster and put them at less risk of attack from the large animals they were capturing or cornering. As we now have a better understanding of animal physiology, we know how important their tails are to help them move and balance.
Other breeds that commonly have docked tails and ears include Dobermans and Pitbulls.
Since the majority of Boxers owned today are simply house pets and not working dogs, debate has sparked around whether there is still any need for their tails to be docked. The American Veterinary Medical Association has said that since the only reason for modern tail docking in Boxers is aesthetic, there is no justification for the practice.
On the other hand, the American Kennel Club has stated that ‘un-docked tails [on Boxers] should be severely penalized,’ under the Breed Standard for the Boxer. This is cause for controversy among animal activists since Boxers are naturally born with tails so a docked tail should not be considered ‘standard’ for the breed. The World Canine Organization (FCI), on the other hand, states that a naturally high set and long tail should be present in Boxers according to their breed standard.
However, some reputable breeders have been known to breed naturally ‘docked’ Boxer puppies that have inherited the genetic trait – a variation that is accepted by the Kennel Club in the UK.
Boxers do not need to have their tails docked. Some owners of working Boxers, for example dogs working on farms with cattle and other livestock, may argue that docking the tail of a working dog helps them to avoid injury.
Though some people still feel this is unethical, it is true that Boxers’ tails can break very easily. The tail is part of the spine and made up of vertebrae which are easily injured. As a happy and energetic breed, Boxers wag their tails excessively and can be prone to breaking the tail bone by repeatedly hitting it against hard objects like door frames while wagging – ironically known as happy tail.
In this event, it might be recommended that a Boxer’s tail is amputated. Though it is possible to heal a broken tail, it can be very painful for the dog and holds the possibility of happening again.
That said, it’s believed that only one in 500 Boxers will break their tail this way, so it’s not a strong argument in favor of docking the tails of all Boxer puppies. Otherwise there are no known health benefits to docking Boxers’ tails.
Though Boxers with docked tails will be perfectly healthy, there are benefits to leaving their tails au natural – in fact, an attempt at breeding ‘bob-tailed’ Boxers failed as new puppies started to be born with tails again as they offer a number of genetic benefits.
One is that the tail actually improves the Boxer’s movement and balance. Contrary to hunters that believed the tail impaired their dog’s agility, the tail is actually helpful to their movement. It also acts as a rudder that improves their swimming, so docked Boxers are often not great in water.
Tails are also a way for dogs to communicate their emotions, similar to how humans use body language. This means that Boxers with docked tails can have trouble communicating and can also lead to lifelong pain and sensitivity in the area.
Tail docking is legal in most of the USA (Maryland and Pennsylvania have restrictions), as well as Argentina, Czechia, France, India, Japan, and Mexico.
However, a number of countries have now banned the practice, including Australia where dog owners caught docking their tails can be charged up to $5000 and be imprisoned for up to six months. Tail docking is also banned in Denmark, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, and Sweden.
In the United Kingdom, only working dogs and some specific breeds are allowed to be docked.
You might have noticed that some Boxers have pointed ears while others have soft, floppy ears. This is because some breeders and owners also crop the ears of Boxer puppies. Straight, pointy ears are not a natural feature in Boxers. In fact, their ears are naturally wide and forward facing.
Known as cropping rather than docking, this practice is very similar. By cutting their ears short, owners of working Boxers thought they could enhance their dogs' hearing and prevent injury to their naturally soft ears. Today, cropping Boxers’ ears is considered unnecessary and many animal associations believe it to be unethical.