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