Does Cropping Our Dogs Ears or Shortening their Tails Hurt Them?
8 September, 2016

Most of us have grown up with the different dog breeds that have either clipped ears or shortened tails.  Take a Doberman, who has natural ears that flop over, but we are used to seeing them cropped and standing right up.   Or even a Miniature Schnauzer that has pointy ears and a stub tail. We have become so accustomed to this look that we think it is natural.   But it isn’t and more important, does it affect our dogs?

Katelyn Mills published a study to see how ordinary people perceive dogs with our without alterations

Katelyn Mills, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, became interested in the topic of medically unnecessary animal surgeries, which includes cat declawing and dog debarking, as a third-year undergraduate. With her animal welfare professor, Marina von Keyserlingk, and a fellow student, Mills published a review of the scientific literature and history of docking and cropping earlier this year in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. While researching, she said, she noticed that surveys on the procedures were based on veterinarians’ and breeders’ opinions of them.  She wanted to find out what ordinary people thought.

The study of 810 participants found that most people thought the dogs were born with alterations

That question led to a study whose findings were recently published in PLOS One. First, Mills and colleagues asked 810 participants, all Americans surveyed online, to look at the photo of the docked and cropped Doberman, as well as photos of three other breeds whose ears and tails had been altered, as they commonly are: the Boxer, the miniature Schnauzer and the Brussels Griffon. When given a list of 10 traits and asked to rate the extent to which they were hereditary or human-caused, the majority answered that the dogs had been born with short tails and erect ears.

Von Keyserlingk, a co-author of the study, thought lack of awareness was intentional (ignorance is bliss)

Von Keyserlingk, a co-author of the study, said she thinks the results show that many people have come to accept dogs’ typical appearances at face value and that lack of awareness could be intentional.   These procedures are not particularly pleasant procedures to know about. Tail-docking is performed by veterinarians or breeders when puppies are three to five days old, either by cutting the tail with scissors or a scalpel or putting an elastic band around it that restricts circulation and makes it fall off. Anesthetic is rarely used.

These procedures, performed by veterinarians, are unpleasant to say the least

Veterinarians usually do ear-cropping on seven- to 12-week-old puppies and use anesthetic. After cutting the ears into the owner’s chosen shape (Dobermans might get a ‘military crop’ or a ‘show crop’), the ears are held upright for months, at first in a styrofoam cup and then with tape, until they heal and stand on their own.

Breeders are resistant to change the look as that is how they perceive the standards

The main reason the surgeries continue is resistance from breeders. Docking and cropping are part of the AKC “breed standards,” which has guides to how show dogs should look. Some are not so rigid when it comes to ears; the American Kennel Club says a Doberman’s are “normally cropped.” But standards for all four breeds in Mills’s study describe them as having docked tails, and those for the Boxer and Miniature Schnauzer note that dogs sporting their natural-born tails will be “severely penalized.”

Tail cropping can hurt our pups when the surgery is performed.

Although gauging pain in animals is difficult, research suggests tail docking hurts. One Australian study found veterinarians overwhelmingly thought it was painful, while breeders overwhelmingly didn’t. Another study of 50 puppies reported that all “struggled and vocalized repeatedly and intensely” during and after docking. The supposed benefits also aren’t well-supported: Two studies, Mills wrote, concluded that tail injuries are so rare that you’d have to perform hundreds of dockings to prevent one.

A wagging tail is a form of communication and could be misinterpreted when cropped

According to one study, big dogs were more likely to approach a remote-controlled dog model with a long, wagging tail and less likely to walk up to one with an unmoving tail. They approached a docked dog equally, whether it was wagging or not, indicating they couldn’t read the dog’s signs at all.

Tail docking and ear cropping in dogs are now banned in much of Europe and Australia.  Maybe it’s time that we American change our perception of how dogs are supposed to look and think of our dogs. The alterations could have more of an effect than we once thought or pretend not to!

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