SCOTLAND'S gamekeepers have launched a campaign to force Scotland's laws to be changed to allow them to cut the tails off working dogs to prevent the animals being injured.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) issued the call at its annual general meeting in Perth, saying change was necessary six years after the former Scottish Executive made it illegal.

It claims spaniels, retrievers and terriers are susceptible to tail injuries as they often work underground and in dense cover such as bramble, but countryside workers have faced hefty fines for tail docking.

Scotland is the only part of the UK where the practice is completely illegal. Offenders face a £5000 fine and six months in prison if they are found guilty of flouting the ban.

SGA chairman Alex Hogg told delegates of his daughter's Hungarian Vizsla who, he said, had endured a year of "cruel and unnecessary" suffering because of an injury that sprayed blood over the walls of the house whenever she wagged her tail.

He said: "The fact Scotland is lagging behind the rest of the UK when it comes to the welfare of these animals is embarrassing. I myself have experienced the problems.

The Northern Irish Government introduced a ban on cosmetic tail docking on January 1 but drafted an exemption for working dogs. England and Wales also have exemptions.

The SGA said First Minister Alex Salmond promised five years ago that the ban would be lifted if evidence supported such a move.

A study into tail injuries among working dogs has been conducted by Glasgow University veterinary school, but has not yet been published.

"If nothing is done, the Government will find rural votes disappearing because people in the countryside view this issue as another attack on their way of life," Mr Hogg said.

The legislation is backed by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Veterinary Association, the Small Animal Veterinary Association and animal welfare groups.

Opponents highlight that tail docking involves the removal of most or part of the tail, severing muscles, tendons, nerves and sometimes bone or cartilage.

Cases in which farmers have found themselves before the courts for tail-docking include that of William Fotheringham. He was fined in 2008 after arranging to have the tails docked from five three-day-old Jack Russell puppies on his farm in Forteviot, Perthshire.

A Scottish Government spokesman said it takes the welfare of all animals, including working dogs, very seriously.

He added: "Tail docking is a complex and emotive issue, but it would be inappropriate to make a decision to alter legislation without properly peer-reviewed scientific evidence to inform any change.

"That is why we commissioned research from the University of Glasgow looking at the incidence of tail injuries in working dogs in Scotland, specifically spaniels, hunt point retrievers and terriers.

"The project has now been completed and the results will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals."

The spokesman added that it would then be considered what further steps are needed, if any, and the SGA would be updated.