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Boxers are iconic dogs with short yet protruding muzzles and a strong underbite that once helped them hold and capture large prey.
Today, Boxers are loving family pets, but they have a long history that dates back thousands of years. Look back far enough and you’ll find a time when Boxers and their ancestors were some of the baddest breeds on the block.
But Boxers, unlike most dog breeds, have some interesting traits that aren’t entirely natural.
Many Boxers, particularly any that place well in shows, have docked tails and cropped ears. Seeing this again and again, you’d be forgiven for believing that Boxers are simply born that way, but they’re born with full tails and ears just like other dogs.
So, why are Boxers’ tails docked?
Tail-docking Boxers started back when they were used primarily to chase down, capture, corner, and hold large game like bears, boars, and even fight bulls. The tails of these dogs were cut short to protect them from attacking beasts and because it was believed that shorter tails allowed the dogs to run faster.
Of course, today, Boxers aren’t used for hunting bears and boars. Even so, many of them have docked tails, and we’re going to explore the reasons why.
While we’re at it, let’s answer a few common questions about the legality and ethics of tail-docking Boxers since it’s still a very common practice today.
Why Do Boxers Have Short Tails?
Boxers place rather well in dog shows, having been crowned Best In Show at the premiere Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show several times.
What do the Boxers in these shows have in common? Their tails are docked.
Want some proof? Check out this video straight from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show about the Boxer.
After watching that, you might think that the breed is simply born with a short tail. All the Boxers seem to share this trait, after all.
But if you were to see a Boxer puppy, you’d realize that Boxers aren’t born that way. Rather, their tails are docked at a young age.
What Is Tail Docking?
Tail docking is the practice of cutting a dog’s tail short. There are a few breeds that commonly feature docked tails, Boxers being one of the most well-known.
A few other breeds that often end up with docked tails include Australian Shepherds, Jack Russell Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Rottweilers.
Is Tail Docking Ethical?
For the most part, tail docking is performed on working dogs. Usually, these are dogs that work in jobs where their tails are likely to get injured.
Farm dogs, for example, could get their tail stepped on by large livestock.
In cases like this, tail docking could be in the dog’s best interest.
The argument against this is, naturally, that dogs don’t get a say in whether or not they have their tails docked, but at least it’s done for the dog’s benefit.
For working dogs, you can definitely make the case for tail-docking being a beneficial procedure.
Defending tail-docking on dogs that aren’t performing work that could potentially see them losing their tail is more difficult.
Boxers definitely can be used for farm work, though it’s not the most common use of the breed, so you certainly can’t attribute the continuance of tail-docking in the breed to their work with livestock.
At the end of the day, whether you think it’s an ethical move or not is a personal matter. Ethics are subjective, but to really judge tail docking, we need to understand its effects better.
Do Boxers Need Their Tails?
It does seem that Boxers get around just fine without their tails, and they’ve apparently been managing it for many generations. It leads you to wonder why dogs even have tails in the first place?
Turns out, tails have multiple benefits for Boxers.
Two of the biggest benefits Boxers get from their tails are improvements in balance and movement, which makes it strange that they would cut off Boxers’ tails and send them to hunt larger animals!
In addition to those clearly important benefits, Boxers also use their tails for communication. Very similar to how humans use body language to communicate, Boxers use their tails to convey many messages, including their emotions and feelings.
Having a tail can also help dogs swim and the best swimmers use their tail as a rudder to steer. This is one of several reasons why most boxers aren’t great in the water.
Health Concerns Around Tail Docking
Clearly, docking your Boxer’s tail could lead to a reduction in their balance and movement.
Much worse though is that tail docking can lead to long-term pain, according to recent research from Scotland’s Rural College and Newcastle University.
Another study concluded that the negative effects tail-docking has on a Boxer’s ability to communicate are much stronger than previously realized. Furthermore, it found that dogs with docked tails suffer heightened ongoing pain sensitivity and negative welfare impacts that will be life-long.
Are There Any Benefits to Tail Docking?
Tail breaking is often cited as a reason for getting a Boxer’s tail docked in the modern era. Broken tails absolutely do occur, and they’re more common in energetic breeds like Boxers.
However, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that only about a quarter of a percent of the dog population suffers serious tail injuries yearly.
Having said that, I can personally attest to the possibility of tail breaking in Boxers.
My own Boxer mix broke his tail in two places, and it freaked me out when I came home and saw it! Luckily, it did heal on its own, but he was in pain for weeks and I was definitely worried that it would never heal all the way.
So, docking a tail can potentially reduce the likelihood of your Boxer injuring their tail, but to prevent a single tail injury requires docking 500 dogs’ tails because tail injuries are so rare, at least according to the AVMA.
Why Do They Crop Boxers’ Tails?
Though Boxers today are primarily beloved companion pets and show dogs, they used to be serious hunters. They were originally created by crossing Bulldogs with the now-extinct Bullenbeisser, which was an impressive dog used for hunting large game such as bears and boars.
At the time, it came to be believed that cutting a Boxer’s tail short would help them run faster and become more agile. We now know that this is the opposite of what happens when you dock a Boxer’s tail, but it was one of the main reasons the practice began.
Additionally, it was also done to protect the dog from the prey it was hunting. A bear could easily grab hold of that tail or bite down on it, and then the Boxer would be in serious pain and might be unable to escape since their tail is being held.
Without a tail, this scenario can never come true, so docking a Boxer’s tail was believed to keep them safer during the hunt while also improving their physical performance.
Are There Reasons to Continue Cropping Boxers’ Tails Today?
Modern-day Boxers can still be used for tracking, chasing, and capturing prey, but Boxers today aren’t used for hunting bears and boars. Still, many members of the breed display docked tails to this day.
There are a few reasons for this, though they’re not exactly the most practical of reasons, to be completely honest.
It’s Part of the Breed Standard
If you read the Boxer breed standard according to the AKC, you’ll find that their tails are directly mentioned. According to the official breed standard, the tail should be “set high, docked, and carried upward. An undocked tail should be severely penalized.”
It should now be pretty clear why all of the show Boxers you see have docked tails. Without a docked tail, a Boxer has little to no chance of placing well in a dog show.
Boxers Are Susceptible to Broken Tails
As previously mentioned, Boxers are susceptible to broken tails. They’re highly energetic and tend to swing their tails very hard, particularly when excited.
After banging their tail hard on enough different items, it can actually break.
A Boxer’s tail is part of their spine and is made up of vertebrae and pads just like the rest of the spine. These can easily be injured just like other discs and vertebrae, but they’re even more susceptible to injury because of the tail’s mobile nature and lack of protection.
When your Boxer breaks their tail by banging it onto hard objects like this, it’s known as happy tail, an ironic name, no doubt.
In some cases, the problem becomes recurring and tail amputation is necessary, though this is pretty rare.
Is It Legal to Dock a Boxer’s Tail?
The legality of docking your Boxer’s tail depends on where you’re located.
In some countries, the practice is frowned upon and considered illegal.
However, many countries do still allow tail docking, including the United States. At present, no states have banned tail-docking, though a few states have considered legislation against it in the past, including New York and Vermont.
Some of the other countries where tail docking is still legal are:
- Czech Republic
If you live in Australia though, you could get charged up to $5000 and be imprisoned for up to six months for docking your dog’s tail.
Other countries that have banned tail docking include:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom (with exceptions for working dogs and particular breeds)
Originally, Boxers’ tails were docked because it was believed that doing so benefitted the breed. Hunters thought that docking the Boxer’s tail made them faster and less susceptible to injury from their prey- this has been true of many other breeds as well.
Today, Boxers still often have docked tails because it’s part of the official breed standard. However, there aren’t many practical reasons for docking your Boxer’s tail, other than reducing the slight chance of a tail injury.
For working Boxers, this might be more reasonable, but for a Boxer living the life of a companion pet, tail docking is unnecessary and could potentially cause problems for your Boxer, including impaired communication and life-long pain.