The docking of dogs' tails will be banned following a vote by MPs last night, but working dogs, including those in the police service, will be exempt from the law.
An attempt to impose a total ban on tail-docking of dogs in England and Wales was narrowly rejected by 11 votes.
About 78,000 puppies have their tails docked, or removed, in the UK each year - many for cosmetic reasons.
Animal charities said they would continue to fight for a full ban against the "mutilation". Mike Hobday, of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "This is a scandalous and shabby compromise that will lead to unnecessary suffering for large numbers of dogs in the shooting industry. The League will continue to campaign against tail-docking to seek to persuade Government that such mutilation of dogs is never necessary."
Becky Hawkes, spokesperson for RSPCA, said: "While we would have preferred a total ban, we are gratified that cosmetic tail-docking will become illegal and people will not be able to enter a docked dog into a show because they think it is aesthetically pleasing to see a dog without a tail. Tradition is at the heart of this brutal and painful practice, which has no basis in logic." She said almost half of finalists in this year's Cruft's festival, including the winner, an Australian shepherd, had docked tails.
It is a practice that has long provoked controversy. In November 1992 the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons ruled docking to be unethical, "unless for therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic reasons".
Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty, was one of the first people to campaign against the practice, both for dogs and horses. In the book, she has an old horse, Sir Oliver, who describes the pain of having his tail docked.
There are 58 customarily docked breeds which are recognised by the Kennel Club, which include Pembroke Welsh corgis, the Royal favourite.
Supporters of docking say it's necessary for certain breeds to protect from tail damage or for hygiene reasons. However, many breeders genuinely believe that dogs look better with a docked tail. The Government was in favour of retaining the status quo - that docking should continue provided it was carried out by a qualified vet.
But ministers agreed to put the three options - an outright ban, a ban with exemption for working dogs, or the status quo - before MPs to let them settle the issue.
Tory spokesman Bill Wiggin said he personally did not favour any ban. "I think that this is something that people who own dogs have to deal with themselves. I don't like bans, I don't think there is a need to ban."
But Labour's Shona McIsaac called for a complete ban, describing docking as "mutilation".
The ban was carried by 476 votes to 63, with a majority of 413 during report-stage debate on the Animal Welfare Bill.
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