Should You Crop and/or Dock Your Dog?
A tradition from the beginning of selective breeding, the common practice of cosmetic modification in many breeds is slowly coming under more scrutiny as the years go on.
For most modern dogs, the procedures of cropping the ears and docking the tail are completely unnecessary and are done by choice only.
Here's a look at each side of the issues (and they are two different issues), though in the interest of full disclosure I'll say that I am anti-cropping for the most part and have mixed feelings about docking. For the most part it's a situation-by-situation thing, but I have many more serious issues with cropping of ears.
(Debarking and dewclaw removal are two other surgeries performed on dogs, but since I don't particularly consider them cosmetic, I plan to address them in a separate hub.)
What is Ear Cropping?
Ear cropping is a surgery sometimes performed on puppies ages 9-13 weeks old that changes the look of their ears by causing them to stand upright. The veterinarian will anesthetize the dog, crop the outside edge of the dog's ears, then suture the cuts and place the ears in a rack to hold them up while they heal.
The original intention of this surgery was to reduce injury to dogs who would engage in battle with other dogs, animals, or humans by giving the opponent less to grab onto. It also decreased the risk of a hunting dog's ear being torn when running through thick underbrush.
Today, this surgery is purely elective. The American Kennel Club does not require cropping of the ears for showing, though many of the individual breed clubs include it in the breed standard. The American Veterinary Association has publicly stated that it would ideally like to see the procedure discontinued.
Today, the breeds most often cropped are: American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Schnauzers, Boxers, Great Danes, and Doberman Pinschers.
Should We Do It?
I'd say almost never does this make sense. While I admit that I like the look of many of the cropped breeds, it doesn't have any practical purpose in most situations anymore.
With dog fighting illegal and fewer people using working breeds for their original intention, ear cropping becomes merely a thing to do based on looks instead of a procedure in the best interest of the dog.
While various people will tell you that ear cropping can improve the health of dogs' ears by preventing infection, there is actually no conclusive evidence that this is true. It sounds, to me, like a poor excuse for a brutal and outdated tradition.
The average person should not get their dog's ears cropped, and certainly no average person should ever do the cropping. I can understand a high-quality show dog getting the procedure done by a veterinarian under anesthesia, but otherwise I see no purpose.
Other Ear Manipulations?
There are several other ways that breeders have of getting a certain look from their dogs' ears. These methods are only applied when a dog is very young (usually before teething at 5-6 months or so) when its cartilage is still forming. There is no effective way to get the same look from taping or gluing a dog's ears that one would from cropping, and these methods are usually used on different breeds (mostly collies).
A Video of Docking (a bit graphic)
What is Tail Docking?
Tail docking is typically done much earlier than ear cropping when the puppy is only days old. There are several methods, but mostly one person will hold the pup while the other measures his tail (different lengths for different purposes and breed standards), and then clamps down on it with a scissor-like tool and essentially twists the tail off.
Watch the video to the right only if you're not extremely squeamish (but I'm pretty squeamish and could stomach it).
Typically the pup stops squealing after a few seconds, and the wound often doesn't even need to be sutured. Many reputable breeders will do this procedure themselves (as opposed to the ear cropping, which is much more extensive). A properly docked tail tip will have normal fur on the end of it after it has healed and will not be knobby.
Should We Do It?
This is a more complex question than "Should we crop dogs' ears?" because there is a reason beyond "for the breed standard" that someone might want their dog's tail docked.
Most puppies whose tails are docked are done so for the breed standard. A Doberman breeder, for example, will probably dock her puppies' tails when they're 3 to 5 days old before their bones are fully formed but after they've recovered from the birth. This is mostly for cosmetic reasons.
But some breeds have what people affectionately call "happy tail," which is really not a happy situation at all. Dogs wag their tails to express joy, but sometimes a dog's tail wags too hard for its own good. If you've ever been whipped in the leg by a Labrador Retriever's tail, you'll have some idea of what I'm talking about.
Certain breeds were bred specifically to have those strong tails, usually to act as a rudder while swimming (which is why Labs and Goldens have such strong tails), and certain other breeds just have strong tails by coincidence.
Dogs with "happy tail" have the potential to actually break their tails by wagging them too hard and whacking something hard. This is extremely painful for them, and often results in having to have their tails docked as adults, which is much more painful than if it had been done when they were days old.
There is also the issue of the working dog, which is rare in today's society, but certainly still exists. Herding breeds like Australian Shepherds could get their tails stuck in a gate closing behind livestock, and hunting breeds could get their tails stuck in thick underbrush. Both of these situations would be terrible, and proponents of tail docking argue that working English Pointers and Setters (whose tails are not docked) suffer pain and infected tails because of this.
To counter that, though, Australian Cattle Dogs' tails are not docked, and they have to herd cattle through gates. The Aussie Shepherd's tail, some argue, is docked because of their long fur that gets burs, fecal matter, and dirt matted into it (whereas the ACDs have short fur).
It comes down to "What is this dog going to be used for?" If it's going to be a companion dog, merely a friend to children and the rest of its "pack," then that dog doesn't need its tail cut off. But sometimes it's hard to know if the dog will be show-quality or pet-quality, so I don't necessarily have a problem with reputable breeders docking their puppies at days old.
In my opinion, no dog should be docked after it's a couple days old, and I see no point in ear cropping.
This is a hot-button issue with lots of people, so please leave a comment in weigh in! I'd love to hear what you have to say.
- Stylizing Your Dog: The Nip/ Tuck of the Canine Variety
A similar and excellent hub written by a fellow hubber with some great additional information.
- Ear Taping - List of Links
This site is a great resource with links to "how to"s for ear taping, tipping, and docking for every relevant breed.