Animal Welfare, Ear Cropping, and Tail-Docking

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The age-old question, “Is cosmetic surgery, such as ear cropping, necessary in certain puppy breeds?” The answer is not quite so simple. Many people argue that it is preserving the health and standard of the breed, while others say that it can cause harmful trauma and unnecessary pain to your puppy.

dog ear cropping

In this article, we will explore why some owners opt to do these procedures and why others opt-out. Many parts of the world have actually banned these procedures while others are either working towards it or have not done anything at all!

Should You or Shouldn’t You Engage in Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of your Dog 

tail docking

The answer to this question is pretty personal. If you do your own research and find a proper surgeon who uses pain medication and anesthesia, you may be more comfortable. If you feel it is not in their best interest and aesthetics does not mean a whole lot to you, then you may opt-out.

Either way, as an owner, you need to do your due diligence and decide what is best for you, your puppy, and your lifestyle. After that, you can make an educated decision on what you will do and then go forward with it. 

To help yourself answer this question, you should do your own risk vs. benefits analysis and ask yourself some questions. What is your reasoning for ear cropping/tail docking? Does it have to do with aesthetics or health reasons? When in doubt, your veterinarian can be a vast source of information to help you make an informed, proper decision. 

Other things to consider are risks of surgery, the time needed to properly heal from surgery (as well as going back and forth to the vet), and money needed to have the surgery done or treating any secondary issues from surgery (infection, bleeding, phantom pain, trauma). 

If your reasoning is cosmetics, you should do further research as this reasoning is not widely needed for showing or breeding.  

What Does Canine Ear Cropping and Tail Docking Entail?

To help with decision-making, we will discuss what elective procedures such as ear cropping and tail docking entail. To start, both of these procedures are done very early in a puppy’s life, which some argue they do not remember. 

Other veterinarians and experts say that it can cause unnecessary pain just to achieve a certain “look.” 

Ear cropping is usually done between six to 12 weeks of age. Ear cropping is an elective cosmetic surgery where a licensed veterinarian (preferably one with experience) crops or trims the pinna (the fleshy part you can observe that is made up of cartilage and then covered with skin and hair or fur) of the ear. 

Under anesthesia, a licensed veterinarian at a veterinary hospital/clinic will cut the ear in a precise shape followed by being taped to a hard surface to ensure the proper shape is achieved. Ears typically heal between four to eight weeks and may require weekly bandage changes. 

Tail docking is the removal or amputation of part of a dog’s tail with surgical scissors, scalpels, or rubber bands. This is usually done three to five days after a puppy is born, sometimes it can be done later in life, but general anesthesia will then be required. 

This procedure can be done by breeders who use tight rubber bands to occlude vessels caudal to the band, resulting in no blood flow and eventually necrosis of the tail. Licensed veterinarians can also provide this service by using a surgical scissor to cut off the desired amount of the tail. The amount taken depends on breed variants. 

The American Kennel Clubs Viewpoint

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a registry or database of purebred dog pedigrees that also promotes events for purebred dogs, such as dog shows. The AKC viewpoint on ear cropping and tail docking is as follows,

“The American Kennel Club® recognizes that ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health. Appropriate veterinary care should be provided.” 

Are There Benefits to Canine Ear Cropping and Tail Docking?

To explore the benefits of canine ear cropping and tail docking, we must look at its history and why it was started in the first place. At one point in time, there were benefits to doing both that resulted in positive outcomes for both dogs and their owners. Both procedures helped dogs to avoid health risks and issues, as well as conflicts. 

Besides filling our hearts and wetting our faces with kisses, dogs had very specific jobs back in the day. Breeding was done and enhanced so our dogs could do their jobs and eventually do them better. For working dogs to minimize injury to their ears, ear cropping was performed.

Dogs who were used for fighting, herding, protection, or to help hunt had the risk of getting their ears grabbed by other animals resulting in injury. Thus ear cropping was done to avoid this. However, today many dogs are just our companions and no longer used for such specific jobs making the procedure outdated. 

Tail docking historically has similar reasoning behind why it originated. Ancient Romans believed that docking parts of the tail (and tongue) prevented a dog from contracting the Rabies Virus. Other times in history, docking the tail was supposed to increase speed and decrease a dog’s risk for injury during hunting or working. 

Policy and Practical Considerations

Before electing this procedure, you should consider some practical considerations. For one, why are you doing this? Is it safe to crop your dog’s ears or dock their tail?

Doing this procedure can affect your dog in the future, so that is another thing to think about as well. You won’t want them to have mutilated ears if it isn’t done properly, as well as be in pain or have chronic issues. 

It is common in certain dog breeds, and some of their breeders even recommend it to keep the aesthetic of the species. Some dog breeds that are commonly seen with their ears cropped and tail docked are:

  • Pitbulls
  • Dobermans Pinschers
  • Great Danes
  • Boston Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Brittany Spaniels
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • Schipperke
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgis
Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Animal Welfare Implications of Ear Cropping Your Dog

There are many case studies done to show the risks of cropping your dog’s ears. The welfare concerns include the risks of the procedure vs. the benefits. 

As with any anesthetic procedure, there are risks by just going under anesthesia. There are also post-operative risks such as healing, pain, and discomfort for your dog. Complications can also occur, such as wound infection, misshapen ears, or nerve damage to the tail. 

It has been stated that animals may benefit from ear cropping by decreasing the likelihood of ear infections; however, there has been no real evidence that supports this. Another potential benefit was that dogs who are used to guard look more intimidating.  

Is Ear Cropping and Tail Docking Harmful?

The risks of ear cropping and tail docking lie with secondary issues. Of course, if you use someone who is not equipped to handle such a procedure, required a whole other bout of issues can occur. Pain can definitely occur with infection, delay of healing, improper cutting, or docking. 

Nerve damage can also occur and cause the dog to be traumatized as well as chronically in pain. They may be reluctant to have anyone near their tail, resulting in a snappy dog. Also, dogs communicate through their tails, and without the ability to wag, they may lose out and miss giving out proper signals to help them socialize with other dogs. 

Why Do Some Vets Refuse to Perform Canine Ear Cropping?

Ear Cropping and tail docking procedures (and other cosmetic procedures) are often refused by veterinarians. Veterinarians dedicate their lives to helping injured or sick animals. Cosmetic surgeries simply go against this belief and cause. 

Also, dogs cannot speak for themselves in electing these surgeries, and veterinarians may feel it’s unethical to perform them. These procedures are also banned in some parts of the world, and veterinarians may feel that is within good reason. 

Again, it is a personal decision but a heavy one. Weighting benefits vs. risks and speaking to an educated licensed veterinary professional may help you make the best decision for you and your dog.