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Ear cropping and tail docking

For centuries, dogs around the world have been subjected to tail docking and ear cropping predominantly for cosmetic purposes. Today many show dogs have their ears cropped and/or tails docked because it has been part of their breed standard for decades. Many people who have these breeds as pets also want the ‘traditional’ look of cropped ears and/or docked tails.

Fanciers of these breeds argue working dogs have their ears cropped and tails docked to prevent them from being torn while they work. However, ears and tails are rarely torn and the process of docking and cropping is unnecessary. In reality these procedures may be painful and should never be done except by a veterinarian for medical reasons.

Ear cropping involves cutting off up to two thirds’ of the earflap and is done when the dog is 4-6 months old. It is common among Great Danes, Dobermans, Schnauzers, Boxers, and Miniature Pinschers. After the procedure, which requires full anesthesia, splints and tape are used to hold the ear in an upright position. Ear cropping is not always successful and at times only one ear will stand erect, while the other flops back. There is a risk of infection after the surgery, and the dogs’ behaviour is sometimes negatively affected. The puppy will likely experience post-surgical pain.

Ear cropping has been banned in many countries, particularly in Europe, and is illegal in Newfoundland and Labrador under the 1978 Animal Protection Act. It is also banned in Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. The vast majority are performed only for cosmetic reasons and ‘tradition’, and, despite the fact that some dog owners claim they do it to prevent ear canal infections, there is no medical benefit to having a dog’s ears cropped.

Tail docking has also been performed for centuries and although it may cause pain, it is often done without any anaesthetic. Tail docking is performed when the puppy is only a few days old and involves removing the hair from the tail and then clamping the tail with a rubber band at the desired length, at which point it is cut with a scalpel or cutters, stitched up, and bandaged. In the process, muscles, tendons, nerves, bone, and cartilage is severed.

Breeds that commonly have their tails docked are spaniels, some pointers, some working breeds, terriers, and some herding breeds. Some say it is required for dogs with feathered coats for hygiene reasons or for working dogs. This makes no sense as spaniel tails are docked while retrievers are not. Tail docking is not necessary for hygienic reasons or for working dogs, and can be a painful procedure that should not be performed for purely cosmetic reasons. More and more veterinarians are refusing to perform it. A dog’s tail is important both for balance and body language.

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The Kennel Club in the UK has banned the exhibition of dogs with cropped ears or docked tails in dog shows as of 2007. The Canadian Kennel Club permits the showing of uncropped or undocked dogs; however, the “traditional” look is still the norm. Tail docking is banned in many countries in Europe (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg and has been banned in Australia since 2004, except when performed by a veterinarian for medical reasons. Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom voted to ban tail docking in March 2006, except for working dogs or for medical reasons.

Many reputable and non-reputable breeders of certain breeds of dogs such as Boston Terriers, Bouviers, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes and Schnauzers will engage in both tail docking and ear cropping because for decades this has been the norm and many of the Canadian Kennel Club breed standards still stipulate it. Some Canadian breed standards offer the option of cropped or un-cropped; however, in the show ring, judges still tend to reward the traditional cropped look.As a responsible dog owner, and someone who supports animal welfare, you should choose a breeder that does not support these practices. If you contact a breeder before their dam gives birth, and explain that you would like your puppy not to undergo tail docking or ear cropping, a good breeder will agree. If you are met with resistance, or told that it is not possible for them to honour your request, you should find another breeder.

You can also contact the Canadian Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club about changing their breed standards to match the British Kennel Club, which recently changed their standards to disallow ear cropping and tail docking.

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