Doberman standing in field with cropped ears and docked tail.

Tail Docking and Ear Cropping: What You Should Know

The SPCA-NN does not condone the practices of tail docking and ear cropping.

While watching dog shows on TV, it can feel exciting to see dogs that look like living statues showing their breed’s standard. Seeing their cropped ears and docked tails may influence you to make your pet look like them. However, cropping ears and docking tails causes harm to their physical and social well-being. 

Cropped Ears


What is ear cropping?

  • Cropping is the process of removing about a third to two thirds of the floppy part of a dog’s ear, and is usually performed on puppies between 6 and 12 weeks old with general anesthesia. The ears are then taped to a hard surface for several months while healing so they stay upright. During this time the ears are prone to infection.

Why ear cropping is bad for dogs. 

  • While cropping used to serve a purpose for some breeds, like guard dogs to “enhance” their hearing or make them hard to grab by the ears, within the past 100 years it has evolved into an optional cosmetic surgery. 
  • Some proponents of ear cropping say that it prevents ear infections. However, not many breeds of dog are prone to ear infection. Poodle and cocker spaniels are prone to ear infection, but it is not part of their breed standard to have cropped ears.
  • This practice is now outlawed in much of Europe but is still a common practice in the U.S. with 130,000 puppies being cropped annually. 
  • Dogs use their ears to communicate with each other. Cropped-eared dogs may have a hard time being understood by other dogs, which can lead to defensive aggression. 
  • There are always risks associate with any surgery. These include the risk of going under anesthesia, resulting infections, and pain and discomfort as the ears are manipulated in the weeks following the surgery.
  • If the procedure is not done correctly, the ears might fail to stand or be misshapen, leading the dog to need more surgeries to correct this.

Docked Tails


What is tail docking?

  • Docking is the process of removing part of or almost all of a dog’s tail. This is done to puppies two weeks or younger. Docking is usually performed by a veterinarian or breeder without general anesthesia. The thought behind doing this was that the puppies aren’t fully alert yet and won’t remember it, but studies have disproved this. 
  • Docking can also be done in an even more painful, DIY way by tying the tail with a band until it dies and falls off from lack of blood flow.

Why tail docking is bad for dogs.

  • When a dog’s tail is docked, they can develop an infection or even a nerve tumor called a neuroma. Either of these will be painful, and could even cause the dog to become overly protective of his tail.
  • Dogs use their tails to communicate with each other and humans to express happiness, fear, anger, and excitement. Other dogs and humans may have a hard time understanding dogs with docked tails due to this.
  • It has been suggested that dogs with docked tails could have undeveloped pelvic musculature, however the evidence has not been conclusive. Dogs that have docked tails have a higher incidence of incontinence, however this may be due to other traits from certain breeds.
  • This practice is now outlawed in most of Europe but is still a common practice in the U.S. Approximately 70 dog breeds are subject to docking for their breed standard.
  • There are some breeds with bobbed tails which have been bred to not have a tail like Old English Sheepdogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Australian Shepherds. These breeds are not subjected to docking. 
  • EXCEPTION: A veterinarian can partially or fully amputate a dog’s tail due to a condition called Happy Tail Syndrome. This occurs in dogs like Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, and Pitbulls who have long, straight tails that hit against solid objects like walls. This can cause bleeding and occasionally fractures.

While it may look more traditional, most dogs regardless of breed serve as companion animals rather than for specific jobs. The practices of tail docking and ear cropping are mostly kept alive by traditional values set by breeders and the American Kennel Club. But now breeders and Kennel Clubs (like United Kennel Club) are starting to accept natural ears and tails.

These procedures also affect how a dog appears to other people, which impact them socially. Studies have shown dogs with ear crop and tail dock modifications are seen as aggressive. A dog with these modifications is less likely to be approached in day-to-day life which can negatively impact their social skills.

While there is still more research that needs to be done on these subjects, the SPCA of Northern Nevada does not condone the practice of animal body modification.

 

Written by Holly Miley

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