Tail Docking and Ear Cropping – What Would Your Dog Say?

June 10th, 2009
Posted by | Posted in Awareness 5,476 views
Sophie - An Undocked Yorkie
Sophie – An Undocked Yorkie

A puppy is born, and like a human infant, it is helpless and completely innocent. Within weeks, the newborn puppy develops those doleful eyes, clumsy walk, and wagging tail that make them completely irresistible. It makes you wonder who first looked at one of these sweet puppies and thought, “You know what? I think cutting off that tiny tail would be a good idea.”

I got my first Yorkie for my birthday in March of 2007. Sophie came from a litter of pups living right next door, and I couldn’t resist her adorable face and tiny wagging tail. I was shocked to know that Yorkshire Terriers had full length tails, and that the ones I had seen in pet stores had been docked at birth.

The neighbor informed me that she couldn’t bring herself to take her puppies to the vet to have their tails docked, and decided to leave their tails as “natural.”

I know that some large-breed dogs have docked tails, but I never understood why. I’ve tried to research this fact online, and there seems to be two extreme points of view on the subject.

The websites against docking and cropping are primarily created by animal activists, and they tend to show gruesome pictures of cropped and docked puppies, particularly ones in which the operation has gone wrong, and the puppies developed infections.

On the other side are those fighting for what they believe is their right to alter their puppies. The view here is split, where some feel it is a tradition to keep the breed standards (and therefore admit it is cosmetic), while others say it is medically necessary. These sites post disturbing pictures of hunting dogs with torn, bloody tails and damaged ears. The anti-altering crowd feels that the practice is cruel, painful, and completely unnecessary. The pro-side is split, where some feel that the dog is their property and can be altered as they see fit, while others feel it is medically beneficial and/or necessary to prevent injury. So who’s right? The controversy lies in the fact that simply not all dockings and croppings are necessary, and what it boils down to is the question: “Who decides what’s necessary?”

First, let’s take a look at how it all started. Ear cropping and tail docking were traditionally done to prevent injury and rabies in working/hunting dogs. With the modern-age lack of doggie employment, the tradition continues for non-working dogs for what seems to be purely cosmetic reasons.

In dogs such as the Doberman, the practice of ear cropping is to make the traditional guard dog appear more menacing. In the Yorkshire Terrier, tail docking is done to prevent injury, while these dogs hunt barn pests and are squeezed into small spaces. Today, part of the toy-dog group, when they are bred for companionship, the practice is done for cosmetic reasons.

This confuses me, because a wagging stump when you come home from work is a little sad when you think about it. I think aesthetically, a full flowing tail is more desirable.

cropping5
Photo Courtesy of Jaimie Sun Siegel, DVM

Next, I looked into the procedures themselves. The details can be found on hundreds of websites. The basics for an ear cropping begin when a puppy is 7- 12-weeks old. The puppy is put under general anesthesia, which is just as risky for dogs as it is for humans. About two thirds of the ear (including nerve endings) are cut off and the wound is sewed up. The ears then have to be taped for months in order to get them to stand up in the desired fashion. The area has to be kept clean, and the dog is often given pain medication. This procedure puts the puppy at risk for serious infection, that if left untreated, could result in death.

For some dogs, there are reports of a phenomenon called “phantom ear pain.” This is a pain felt from the area where the missing ear should be, and is also seen in human amputee patients. This pain can last the lifetime of the dog, and is characterized by frequent head shaking, constant itching of the ear, and wincing or yelping in fear of a touch to the ear.  The risk of phantom ear pain increases as the older the dog is when the procedure is done.

Photo Courtesy of Tami Bernheisel
Photo Courtesy of Tami Bernheisel

The practice of tail docking is performed when a puppy is 2-to 5-days old, and it does not use anesthesia. The puppy is awake for the procedure, and usually cries the entire time. Many believe that the pain ceases quickly because the dog does not have fully developed nerves in this area. The puppy stops crying when it is returned to the mother and continues to feed.

Many compare this procedure to a circumcision. Like ear cropping, there is also a risk of serious infection that can lead to death or brain damage, and the breeder should keep the area clean.

After extensive online research on both sides of the argument, I find myself agreeing with the idea of banning the practices when done for cosmetic reasons. While humans have every right to nip and tuck their bodies as they see fit, I don’t think forcing our ideas of beauty onto the family pet has any moral ground. I also feel that a vet, and not a breeder, should be the one to determine if the procedure is beneficial for a dog’s health.

There are those who argue that ear cropping will reduce ear infections that can occur with having floppy ears. However, I can’t help but think that good hygiene and regular ear cleaning prevents infection in floppy-eared dogs.

Shih Tzus and Cocker Spaniels tend to be the most likely candidates for ear infection, yet these dogs’ tails are never cropped. So, I guess that argument is out the window. Some also argue that tail cropping can prevent feces from getting tangled into the tails of long-haired breeds, and can lead to problems in that respect. To that I say, “Trim your dog’s hair, not their whole tail.”

Plenty of long-tailed dogs run this risk, and a docking shouldn’t be a replacement for proper grooming and hygiene. As for dogs who are actually working and run the risk of injury, a licensed veterinarian should be the one to determine the risks, and if needed, make sure that the procedure is performed properly and as pain free as possible.

Many people don’t think much about tail docking or ear cropping when buying a dog from a pet store, and some people don’t even know it exists. In my experience with my own dogs, I’ve found that many people are shocked to know that Yorkies are born with full tails.

There are those who also comment on how much they like the tails, and this has made me wonder if breeders should stop docking or cropping if the general public preferred “natural” dogs.

Some breeders aren’t aware that the AKC does not require dogs to be docked or cropped in order to be considered the standard, and that show dogs can compete (and even win) with natural ears and tails.

One breeder, Tami Bernheisel, hated listening to her 3-day old puppies scream while being docked. When she found out that it was not required to be part of the AKC standard, she immediately stopped docking her puppies. This hasn’t hurt her business one bit, and Tami encourages other breeders to stop docking. Tami feels that a tail is important for a dog’s body language. “People smile and their eyes tell their story. For a dog, all of their smiles are in their tails.” This is completely true, and anyone who has seen an episode of “The Dog Whisperer” knows that a dog offers many helpful cues with its tail.

daisy-0071
Daisy – An Undocked Yorkie

As for whether or not “natural” dogs are just as attractive as altered ones, I decided to take polls on social networking sites to test this fact. I used photos of Boxers, Dobermans, and Yorkies, and showed them side by side, both altered and natural. I found that many people felt the cropped/docked Boxers and Dobermans appeared meaner looking than those who were natural, and that when purchasing a family pet, they would prefer a natural dog.

While people found docked Yorkies to be just as cute as natural ones, many still agreed that a full tail was the preference. Unfortunately, there are many people who do not see their dog as a loyal friend or family member, but rather as a fashion accessory or piece of property that they want to look a certain way. Hopefully, people will make the choice to purchase natural puppies, and the market will shift on its own without a ban on these procedures.

A ban, despite being well intentioned, could run the risk of inexperienced breeders performing the operation themselves, causing serious harm to puppies. Also, it could leave little room for dogs who really need to be docked in order to prevent serious injury while working.

The bottom line is that dogs aren’t given a say in the matter, and it’s up to us to do right by our most loyal friends.

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  • http://anti-dockingalliance.co.uk/ ADA

    I'm not sure I understand the connection between “animal activists” having created anti-docking internet information and how this conclusion came about? Those pro-docking could equally well be referred to as “animal activists” having also created internet information!
    Those who liken tail docking to circumcision which involves only skin (and I believe can now only be done using topical anaesthetic) are uninformed as to the structure of a dog's tail.
    Docking itself is 100% injury to all the dogs involved who may never get injured if they happen to “work” with a full tail. (Labradors, Setters, (Spaniels are off shoots of these) Hounds, English Pointers . If they are prone to injury then perhaps they are not suitable for the type of work or more likely are being put into a harmful situation. From recorded instances there are more injuries to legs, feet, ears, bodies etc. than to tails.
    Hygiene as you rightly say is an owner's duty of care but docking can cause anal muscle atrophy thus causing poorly formed stools and that combined with some commercial dog foods that so many people use nowadays rather than a home made natural diet can lead to problems. There are several hairy breeds such as the Bearded Collie , Komondor, Puli and Bergamasco which have never been docked. The tail is there to guard the anus and act as a fly swat.
    Even without a ban there are unfortunately those inexperienced breeders who are doing it themselves. With a ban it becomes more obvious and possibly more traceable and possibloe to prosecute.
    The AKC may not require dogs to be docked or cropped but unfortunately judges (the breeders of these docked and cropped breeds) do expect them to be docked and cropped. They also do not want to be seen not conforming amongst their peers as they could loose judging appointments and be ostracised.

  • Rachel

    “Animal activists” are people who right for the right of animals so they are the ones posting anti docking pages to stop the horrible mutilation of these puppies. i don't know ofany other animal activists who are actually FOR docking.

  • http://www.pixelblueeyes.blogspot.com Jenny Lewis

    I just found this article while doing continued research on tail docking. I abhor tail docking and know for a fact that it causes lifetime problems for dogs. My sweet mini schnauzer Pixel had her tail docked by the BREEDER in her home when my pup was only days old. I adopted Pixel when she was 9 weeks old and horribly ill with tail and intestinal issues. Today, 2.5 years later, Pixel has chronic problems with her tail and bowel movements. She literally runs from every bowel movement she has (I believe from the tail docking and muscle issues as a result), even though her BM's are solid & healthy thanks to a very good dog food and strict diet. I keep her very clean, shaved and safe. She is an indoor family member who never is unattended. Unfortunately, she will have times of immense stabbing nerve pain in her tail that makes her quiver, whine, and dart & run from the pain as she tries to 'lick' the culprit away. These times are horrible for her and I cannot comfort her enough. She is a brilliant, funny, loving sweetheart who does not understand what is happening to her. I have an arsenal of medicines to help her through each episode, but I know we will be dealing with this for the rest of her life. I seriously contemplated surgery for her, in hopes of somehow shortening the bone a bit so more padding could be put at the tail tip, but Pixel's vet felt that the tail was docked so short and incorrectly to start with that if it was ANY shorter, it would run an even greater risk of chronic infection from feces due to being directly in contact with the anus when the tail is laying down.
    Pixel does not deserve this lifetime of 'cruel and unusual punishment' for 'cosmetic sake' of a breed. Britain has banned it and America should too. Thank God I still get to see her wag her little nub, but I hope that one day soon no other dog will have to endure her chronic pain due to someone's idea of breed standard. Indeed, docking a tail or ears is '100% injury to a dog' as ADA stated. It is an amputation and should be stopped/banned/outlawed.
    The one good thing is that it has not stopped Pixel from living a life full of fun, adventure and immense love. She is one of the most photogenic dogs I have ever seen, and I have celebrated her life at http://www.pixelblueeyes.blogspot.com. I thank you for writing this article regarding the dangers and pointlessness of docking.

    Thank you, Jenny & Pixel

  • Bryn :) The pretty Girl

    I am from Canada and in Canada it is illegal And I really hope it is there now too My dog is a shih-tzu and Didnt have these issues but I know alot of Dogs with it My Grand mothers old dog got his Tail sqished by a Car so they had to dock it I believe in Natural Ways. I Dont Believe in Docking or anything like that and there used to be a thing they did to Barky Dog witch was De-barking. They took the Dogs Voice Box out so it couldnt make Noise I felt that was NOT nice at all This was done over 15 years ago at least 20 years ago. Well Thanks It took me awhile but I read it all

  • Pixel Blue Eyes

    ANSWER FOUND FOR DOCKED TAIL PAIN – For anyone who has a dog that is suffering any kind of pain, is exhibiting behavioral problems or issues like biting their docked tail, I have finally found a medicinal help for the NERVE PAIN that plagued my dog Pixel (see below post by Jenny Lewis) for 3 years. The medicine is called ‘Neurontin’ (generic name – Gabapentin). It is a neurological medicine for various medical issues. One of the wonderful veterinarians at the animal hospital I take Pixel to realized that her distress involving her tail might be nerve pain, since no other medicines worked previously, including dog NSAIDS, pain medicine and steroids. Pixel went from biting at her tail almost daily (especially with any excitement or agitation) to going months without even noticing it at all. It is AMAZING the difference in Pixel’s quality of life as far as her little tail is concerned. There are special formulary pharmacies around the country that will make it specially formulated for your pet and ship it to you. It is well worth it, trust me! 3 months worth is much much cheaper than one visit to the vet. nnI just wanted to share this update since it was always so hard to find answers before. I hope this information will help other little dogs and their owners who have had to deal with this horrible mutilation that occurs far too often for no reason. Please contact us through our blog if you have any questions: http://www.pixelblueeyes.blogspot.com.

  • Pixel Blue Eyes

    ANSWER FOUND FOR DOCKED TAIL PAIN – For anyone who has a dog that is suffering any kind of pain, is exhibiting behavioral problems or issues like biting their docked tail, I have finally found a medicinal help for the NERVE PAIN that plagued my dog Pixel (see below post by Jenny Lewis) for 3 years. The medicine is called ‘Neurontin’ (generic name – Gabapentin). It is a neurological medicine for various medical issues. One of the wonderful veterinarians at the animal hospital I take Pixel to realized that her distress involving her tail might be nerve pain, since no other medicines worked previously, including dog NSAIDS, pain medicine and steroids. Pixel went from biting at her tail almost daily (especially with any excitement or agitation) to going months without even noticing it at all. It is AMAZING the difference in Pixel’s quality of life as far as her little tail is concerned. There are special formulary pharmacies around the country that will make it specially formulated for your pet and ship it to you. It is well worth it, trust me! 3 months worth is much much cheaper than one visit to the vet. nnI just wanted to share this update since it was always so hard to find answers before. I hope this information will help other little dogs and their owners who have had to deal with this horrible mutilation that occurs far too often for no reason. Please contact us through our blog if you have any questions: http://www.pixelblueeyes.blogspot.com.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BBK4FVHRN5GYUG6J5QCG6A6KNE dutchman

    the docking of tails on yorkies or silky’s come from england, they were used in coal mines to kill rodents and the miners would crop all but 2 or 3 inches to carry them…

  • Ingrida Ingrida

    u00a0Well I think the connection that was made between circumcision and dog tail docking, ear cropping was that they both are bodily alterations done to infants and newborn puppies for cosmetic reasons. Both are done without the owner’s of the body that is being altered consent. Both are seen as being “healthier” and having a history that the culture wants to continue. I think that both of these practices are wrong, they are neither healthier or look better. It is just what people are used to seeing. Any surgery without a good medical reason on someone who is unable to consent is cruel and selfish.