The practice of docking the tails of dogs dates back to at least the Roman Empire. For most working dogs, the general reason for doing so is to prevent injuries to the tail. In the mid 19th century, as the Yorkshire terrier breed developed in Great Britain, Yorkies were working dogs. These tiny terriers were used in mines to hunt rats and in the woodlands to catch animals that lived in dens and burrows, like foxes and badgers. Working dogs typically had their tails docked to prevent injuries to the tail and to make their working lives simpler – the shorter, stouter tails were easier to grab in order to pull the dog out of a burrow.
While the Yorkshire terrier started as a working breed, their beautiful coats and small frames made them ideal as pets and the breed quickly became a household favorite. While docking the tail of a non-working Yorkie isn’t necessary, the practice continued to preserve the appearance of the breed. In the United States, the AKC, the nations largest and most respected purebred canine registry, lists the docked tail as a key element on the breed standard.
The tail docking procedure is generally performed when puppies are a couple of days old. In most of the United States, anyone may perform this procedure, and many breeders dock the tails themselves. Only two states restrict docking of tails, and those are Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The procedure is conducted one of two ways. The first is surgical removal of part of the tail, generally done with a scalpel or surgical scissors. The second method is by banding, which restricts blood flow to part of the tail, causing it to die and fall away over the course of a few days. In newborn puppies with immature nervous systems, the procedure only causes momentary discomfort and anesthesia is not required.
In non-working dogs the tail docking procedure is considered cosmetic. In recent decades, some countries have outlawed the practice of docking tails in dogs and other domesticated animals. Countries that have outlawed the elective procedure in dogs include Australia, Germany, Italy and the England, among others.
Because some countries have outlawed the practice, Yorkies with undocked tails are becoming more common, even in countries where the docking practice is legal. For pet owners, the difference between docked and undocked tails is purely aesthetic. For US breeders and owners who show their Yorkies, issues have arisen with importing Yorkies for show, or showing US-born Yorkies in international competitions. In the US, AKC judges have, in recent years, begun to use their own discretion when evaluating Yorkies with undocked tails, despite the current AKC standard.