Letter: Tails should be only the start of the cuts

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is not surprising that great passions will be aroused by the change in law to prevent the docking of dogs' tails ('Could this be another case of the tail wagging the dog?', 2 July), since tail-docking has been a fashion for 2,000 years.

Columella, writing on agriculture c. AD 50, advised:

It will be found best to cut the tails of puppies 40 days after birth . . . As a result, the tail never grows to an ugly length and (so many shepherds declare) rabies, a disease which is fatal to this animal, is prevented (VII. xii. 14).

In response to the letter by Tennant Brownlee (7 July) claiming that working gun dogs (notably spaniels) will suffer bloody and painful damage to their tails, it is hard to believe that this expectation is not also influenced by fashion, and I quote a contrary view from The Master of Game (1406-13) by Edward, second Duke of York:

A good spaniel should not be too rough though his tail should be rough. The good qualities that such hounds have are these: they love well their masters and follow them without losing, although they be in a great crowd of men, and commonly they go before their master, running and wagging their tail, and raise or start fowl and wild beasts . . . And also when they are taught to be couchers (setters) they are good to take partridges and quail with a net.

Yours etc,


Department of Zoology

The Natural History Museum

London, SW7

(Photograph omitted)