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Tail Docking and Ear Cropping – Health, Cruelty and Legal Aspects

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Since the time humans tamed the wild animal and made a pet out of it - a pet that we know today as a man’s best friend - there was tail docking and ear cropping.

However, what should a modern time dog owner opt for? In this guide we will give you both pros and cons on tail docking and ear cropping.

Ear cropping

So, what is ear cropping?

Believe it or not, this is an elective surgery that some purebred dogs undergo while they’re still just sweet and adorable puppies, usually between six and twelve months of age. And now you’re probably wondering, does my dog really need to have their ears surgically modified?

Why do it in the first place?

Once upon a time, there were good reasons to crop ears and dock tails. The idea was to minimize the possibility of injury to tail or ears, breeders of fighting dogs trimmed off as much as possible and as early as they could. Later, when some of these breeds became used for purposes other than fighting, ear and tail “trimming” (partial removal) was done to suit someone’s idea of beauty.

Dog show aesthetics

doberman before and after tail docking and ear cropping

Photo taken from the following research article: Tail Docking and Ear Cropping Dogs: Public Awareness and Perceptions

Chances are you have at least ones hear about dog shows – but are they exactly? It’s a competition for dogs – or, better said, and let’s be honest, for dog owners – in which the judges consider various standards and criteria when giving points to each dog. Now, what you probably don’t know is that the dogs aren’t compared to each other, they are, in fact, compared to the ideal o desirable version of their own breed.

Now, I am talking about this here because some of the parameters that they consider are the dogs ears and tail. What matters most for ears is their shape, length and position, while for the tail the most important thing is how it arches and sets.

This obviously means that some dog’s ears and tail need to be slightly “beautified”.

The purpose of the surgery

Some purebred dogs, such as Doberman Pinschers, Pitbulls, Manchester Terriers, Boxers, Schnauzers and Great Danes have their ears surgically altered and in fact their distinctive look is indeed with their ears cropped. Once the ears have been cut with scissors, the dogs are obliged to wear a tape and bandages around them for several weeks so that the ears may be able to stand erect.

Pros of ear cropping

Some vets would argue that cutting surgically the dog’s pinnas – the outside of the ear also known as auricle – prevents them from getting ear infection and/or a trauma. These same veterinarians will argue that ear cropping, and tail docking for that matter, is no different than spaying and neutering.

If you think this might be true, brace yourself, cause we are about to give you a whole different perspective.

Cons of ear cropping

As it turns out, ear infection in dogs is a very common ailment, which also means that putting your dog through this surgery might be not only unnecessary and costly but also entirely futile. If you don’t believe us, just check out this experienced veterinarians explanation. What he says is that, practically, he cannot find any medical reason for putting your dog through anesthesia, sewing, stitch removals, bandaging and potential infections.

In this light, you realise that the only reason why you might consider altering your dog’s ears is regarding aesthetics. You might decide that your dog has too floppy ears and want to modify them, and it doesn’t really sound like that big of a deal, does it?

Well, here’s a newsflash for you – the surgery might not go as planned.

Unsuccessful ear cropping surgery

As any other surgery, this one also puts your dog under a number of risks. Let us not discuss the odd cases when the dog might turn out to have some kind of allergic – or other – reaction to the anesthetics, or the surgery going south and ending fatal. These are surely not as likely as possible infections of the incision, which means more drugs, more bandaging and more stressful visits to the vet for your doggo. Are you sure you want that? Do you like going to the doctor’s office frequently? Didn’t think so.

What does an unsuccessful ear cropping surgery look like, you might ask yourself. It’s pretty simple, actually, one or both of your dog’s ears might not stand erect and there might be a number of reasons for that:

  • The cartilage within the pinna is too thin to support the weight of the whole ear
  • The ear crop was too long for the size of the ear
  • The ears are “set too low” on the dog’s head
  • Scar tissue is in the way

The worst thing is, there is no guarantee of success! And now that you have all the relevant information about this topic, all we can say is good luck deciding in the name of your pet, and also bear in mind that he/she would never put you through unnecessary pain if it were up to him/her.

Related: Is Pet Insurance Worth Getting?

Is ear cropping banned?

is ear cropping legal

Screenshot taken from Wikipedia article on docking.

In case you still aren’t quite sure who to trust on this matter, let us just give you a quick insight in the the number of countries that have outright banned ear cropping for dogs as an inhumane and entirely unnecessary surgery.

Countries that have banned ear cropping for dogs:

  • UK
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Israel
  • Austria
  • Sweden
  • Greece
  • Bulgaria
  • France
  • Spain
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Portugal
  • Poland

In case you decide to go through with it after all, this is what you need to know

If you have decided to trim your dog’s ears after all, make sure you follow these advice for the after surgery care.

First and foremost, make sure you keep them clean: Cleaning them 2 – 3 times daily with is absolutely necessary.

Be careful to remove any scabs: As soon as you notice scabs starting to form, it’s vital that you remove them instantly. Scabs will prevent the ears from standing properly when healed. Soaking them in warm water prior to removing them will ease your dog’s pain of removing them.

No matter what listen to the vet: It’s absolutely essential to listen to your vet’s advice. If the vet tells you to return to their office on a certain date – make sure you do that. If your dog’s stitches are left in too long, they can lead to infections, as well as prevent the ears from healing properly, but trust your doctor, he must know what to do better than you.

Add supplements to their diet: This will speed up the healing process, keep their immune system strong, and ensure their getting the proper building blocks to recover. However, before you do this, we suggest you to ask your vet about it.

Beware of infections: If you notice your dog’s ears are starting to get infected, call the vet right away. Your vet will need to give your pet a thorough examination, clean their ears, and most likely prescribe antibiotics.

Tail docking

Stereotypically, when we’re thinking about a happy dog, we imagine one with its tongue sticking out and it’s tail wagging excitedly left and right which is why tails are considered a major communication tool for them. Just look at your pet’s tail and you will see what we’re talking about – in what way it behaves when your doggo is anxious, worried or just focussed on hearing or exploring something new. In order to understand the tail and its importance, we need to consider its anatomy.

16 Useful Clues To Understand Your Dog Better:

Anatomy of a dog’s tail

Your most loyal best friend’s tail is consisted of bones and nerve endings and is, as a matter of fact, the extension of his backbone.

Depending on the size and breed of your dog it can be of many different shapes and sizes – from really long ones that when he smacks you on the face for attention can actually hurt, to the tiny little ones that barely stick out of their booties.

All the tissue, nerves and muscles work together to allow your dog to move his tail in any direction they like and some breeds are even able to control and move independently the tip from the rest of the tail.

Now, I know many vets performing the tail docking surgery claim that the dog doesn’t feel anything because it is performed while the puppy is so tiny that its nerve endings haven’t developed yet – which is also why no anesthetics are used, but that is just a downright hoax.

The truth is that the pain exists – it can be brief, but in most cases the pain is persistent and sticks with the dog throughout its whole life. And if this is not enough of a downside for you, keep on reading, we have more in store for you.

Other tail functions

We have mentioned that a dog’s tail is a major communication transmitter, however this is not its only function.

A tail is really important in the dog’s balance while swimming, running and walking. Just take a look at these adorable swimming and running with paying special attention to their tails:

How cute are they?!

Another really important function of a dog’s tale is that while wagging it, he or she spreads their own unique scent to be detected by other dogs. Now you understand a bit better the point of the dogs’ sniffing each other’s bums, don’t you?

Pros of tail docking

There are very few – if any – defenders of this ancient and utterly unnecessary surgery try to argument themselves by saying that tail docking is recommendable for hygiene reasons. Supposedly, the breeds that have heavy coats have more hygienic issues if their tails aren’t trimmed.

This obviously, is an utter nonsense; given the fact that keeping a good hygiene is important for all kinds of dogs, regardless of the shape and size of their tail.

Cons of tail docking

As we mentioned before the tradition of both tail and ear cutting is related to the fighting dogs and those that were intended to do some kind of job that would injure their extremities.

However, nowadays, most of the dogs out there are treated as pets, living in family homes and being there only as equal members of the family, so this kind of treatment is surely completely unnecessary.

Studies have shown that some of the dogs who have had their tails docked, have developed a nerve tumor called neuroma. In these cases, the dog can get really defensive about its tail because it is in pain. So, this is another thing to consider before opting for the surgery.

Are there any benefits to tail docking?

The answer is simple – no!

While some talk about protecting the tail from serious injuries by cutting it off, the real truth is that trimming your animal’s tail would be the real injury. It would be like saying that you will protect your leg from a severe sprain if you cut it off. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

Think twice before you… cut!

“It’s always a horrible thing regardless of the intent”, says Kelly Pulley from Dogster and Living Happily with Dogs for Barking Royalty.

“Cropping and docking on other types/breeds of dogs seem to be a purely aesthetic thing. As far as pit bulls go, it is still an aesthetic thing (they look more formidable, for sure) but if the pit bulls are involved in fighting, then both are done to keep the other dog from grabbing hold of ears or tails. This all adds to the very good reasons to ban both cropping and docking. Maybe that would help ban dog fighting as well…”, Pulley adds.

The real reason why some owners want to cut their furry friend’s ears and tails short is cosmetic. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise!

Many studies have shown that these surgeries can even provoke a serious trauma in a dog’s life so you really have to think hard if you want your dog to be scarred for life just for something you think it’s pretty and is surely painful for him.

Besides, another point to consider is that the fashion and style in every sense keeps changing, and no we’re not only talking about the new collection of Yves Saint Laurent, we’re talking about the fact that it seems that trimming your dog’s tail and ears seems to be going out of style and less and less owners opt for this kind of interventions.

So, we suggest you to think twice before inflicting unnecessary pain just for a changing fashion caprice.