Dog Ears: To Crop or Not to Crop
NOTE: I have added new information to this article after interviewing veterinarians and doing more extensive research into the topic.
When a section of a dog's ears are removed in order to make them stand erect, it's called cropping. Many owners of certain breeds choose to have this procedure done. These breeds usually include the Great Dane, the Doberman, the Boxer, and the Pitbull. This might be done for several reasons: for aesthetics, for show purposes, to increase the sale value of certain breeds, for improved ear health, and for improved hearing, especially in guard dogs.
The debate has raged for years about cropping. Some dog lovers swear that it's a form of animal cruelty, while others site the historical significance of the practice. I've had a lot of experience with ear cropping, and I do not think it's cruel if it's done properly. I've always had my Danes' ears cropped. Why? Because to me, without cropped ears, a Dane looks like a big hound dog. I much prefer that sleek, handsome profile that a good ear cut provides. Also, according to a number of veterinarians, dogs with short or cropped ears have fewer ear infections and fewer incidences of ear mites.
According to Dr. Curtis Branch, a dog with floppy ears is much more prone to ear problems. The long ear flap traps moisture inside the ear, creating a welcoming habitat for mites, infections, and fungal growths. In his decades of caring for dogs, he states that he sees far more ear problems in hounds and other breeds with long floppy ears than he does in breeds with natural pricked ears or in breeds with cropped ears.
Many guard dog owners swear that their dogs with cropped ears hear better. The reasoning is that the large, erect surface of the cropped ear helps trap sound waves and allows the dog to "zero in" on even the tiniest sounds, similar to the way a rabbit might hear with its large, erect ears.
For some breeds, the AKC standard actually calls for cropping. The Doberman Pinscher is just one example. Uncropped ears are allowed in the show ring, but these dogs do not fit the ideal representative of the breed as expressed by the AKC and are considered a deviation from the standard.
Another reason an owner might have his dog's ears cropped has to do with the sale value of the animal. Cropping needs to be done at an early age, and breeders who sell their dogs as adults or as older puppies tend to get a higher price for canines with cropped ears in breeds that are traditionally cropped.
In the past, there was another reason to crop the ears - besides the ones already mentioned for doing so. For example, Great Danes were used to hunt wild boar. Without being cropped, a Dane's ears hang down long. The boars would often reach up, grab the dog's ear in its mouth, and rip off the entire ear. Dogs that fell victim to this kind of attack were left with one ear forever. When the dog owners cropped the ears and trained them to stand up, the boars could no longer reach the ears. That put an end to the one-eared Danes...and to the no-eared Danes. I'm sure a significant number of the old boar-hunting dogs had both ears ripped off after numerous hunts.
How painful is ear cropping? Well, I couldn't get any dogs to give me an answer, so I talked to my youngest daughter. She has twice had her left ear removed at the base for surgeries on her mastoid bone. She informed me that there was very little pain from the incision, and since that part of a human's ear is much thicker than the section of a dog's ear that's removed from cropping, I would think her incision would be more painful than a crop.
What does ear cropping involve? When your puppy reaches the correct age - usually four months - you take him to your veterinarian and leave him overnight. He's put to sleep, and the vet removes a portion of the dog's ears. Then the ears are taped up and joined together to help train them to grow erect. usually, your dog comes home the next day.
After a couple of weeks, you take your pup back to the vet. He removes the bandages and checks the cartilage in the ear and looks for any sign of infection. If the ears are doing well, they're taped back up, but they're not joined together.
After a few more weeks, you carry the dog back to the vet. The bandages are removed, and hopefully, the ears stand up straight. If not, more taping is required.
Croping should only be done by a licensed veterinarian. Do not try to do this yourself. I've heard horror stories of owners performing their own cropping. The dogs did not have the luxury of general anesthesia and suffered this brutal operation while fully conscious. This can traumatize a dog forever and have a lasting impact on its personality. He may never again trust you.
Even with licensed vets, when it comes to ear cropping, all vets are not created equal. You want to find one with ear cropping for your specific breed. I've seen terrible crop jobs on Great Danes that were done by reputable veterinarians. Don't be shy. Ask to see photos of dogs they've cropped. If it's a Dane you're having cropped, you'll probably want a fairly long cut, often referred to as a "show cut."
Ear cropping is legal in the United States, but in some countries, it's not. If it's legal in your country, and you choose to have it done, just remember to use a vet, and check the vet out before you leave your dog in his hands. Once the ears are cropped, there are no do-overs. If the cartilage never hardens, however, there are stiff implants that can be placed in the dog's ears.
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