Had William Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet owned a Boxer puppy with a natural rear, his world-famous monologue might have started like this: "To crop or not to crop: that is the question." Tail docking is an emotional topic, both among animal rights activists and traditionalists. While many European countries have banned the procedure--among them Germany, the boxer's country of origin--the cropped tail is the current breed standard in the United States.
The boxer's ancestor, the "Brabant Bullenbeisser" was used to hunt bears, wild boar and other game in pre-firearm days in Germany. Those powerful dogs were required to hold the animal down until the hunter arrived to kill the game. To make them less vulnerable to injuries inflicted by the struggling game, the Bullenbeissers' ears and tails were cropped as a precautionary measure. The custom was kept in the boxers, even though this breed was probably not used for hunting. The exact status is not entirely clear, though: according to the German kennel club's breed information, the boxer was not a hunter, but the American Kennel Club states the contrary. It is undisputed, however, that the boxer was a popular military dog during World War I, and the cropping of ears and tails was continued to give the dogs a more intimidating look.
Most boxers today are either companion dogs or show dogs, so tail-docking is usually done for medical reasons or, more commonly, for cosmetic reasons to adhere to certain appearance preferences. According to the American Kennel Club "an undocked tail should be severely penalized" in a dog show, and this look is prevalent among boxers in the United States. Medical reasons include bone cancer in the tail area, other tumors, or fractures or deformations that require the amputation of part of the tail. The common argument that customary docking prevents a high number of tail-injuries cannot be supported by veterinary evidence.
Essentially, tail-docking is the amputation of part or most of a dog's tail---the hindmost part of the spine--in a surgical procedure. Usually performed within the first five days of a puppy's life without anesthesia, the procedure requires cutting through skin, muscles, nerves, bones and cartilage. More seldom a tight rubber band is used to cut off the blood supply, causing the length of the tail to fall off eventually. In boxers, only two mobile vertebrae are customarily left in a cropped tail.
Tail-docking is painful. How much pain is inflicted and how long the pain lasts, however, is not entirely clear. Only a few studies have been done and are not fully conclusive. Some studies suggest that the pain may even exceed the duration of the healing process as a result of tissue damage, others hint at higher rates of incontinence in docked dogs because the upper tail muscles are connected to the muscles controlling anus functions and pelvis strength. In addition, customarily docked breeds such as the boxer are more likely to suffer from perineal hernia.
As an actual back extension the tail helps the boxer to keep his balance and stabilize his body during fast movements. It is also an important communication tool for the boxer, so docking his tail affects his ability to express his current mood. An erect tail, for instance, may signal aggression or animation; a ducked tail may express fear or submission. Cropping his tail may interfere with the boxer's ability to interact with his environment and this may lead to serious consequences as the dog's intentions can easily be misinterpreted.
Boxer lovers with a fondness for the cropped tail-look might want to consider looking for a naturally short-tailed boxer. The so-called "bobtail boxer" is growing more and more popular in Europe, but breeders can also be found in Australia and North America.