Do your dog’s ears hang low? Do they wobble to and fro? Can you tie them in a knot, can you – well, you get where this is going. These thoughts bring very sweet images to mind. Many pet parents get a heartwarming kick out of scratching behind their pup’s ears, and who doesn’t just melt when they see their favorite pooch’s tail wag?
Despite the overwhelming cuteness points that floppy ears and wagging tails have received over the years, many dog breeds are better known for their short, pointy ears and tail nubs, such as the Doberman Pinscher, Miniature Schnauzer and Great Dane. Though it seems standard for many breeds to have these traits, they are not inherent to some breeds, and are the center of controversy among dog lovers.
Commonly referred to as “docking,” the practice of surgically altering a dog’s ears to make them stand upright, or removing a dog’s tail, is a cosmetic procedure that’s undertaken to conform to breed standards for competition, or to appease appearance expectations of a breed. The term “docking” can be used to describe both ear cropping and tail docking.
Ear cropping and tail docking originally began with working and hunting dogs, with the intent of preventing injury or illness caused by bug bites to vulnerable ears, or harmful wood brush catching on tails. More unsavory reasons for docking continue to this day.
For instance, the American Pit Bull Terrier’s docked ears and tail are the result of years of forced dog fighting organized by humans. Now illegal in all 50 states and denounced by animal advocacy organizations across the board (including the ASPCA and HSUS), dog fighting led many owners to dock the breed’s ears and tail in order to give the dog an advantage in the ring. Loosely hanging ears and tails would make it easier for other dogs to grab on and destabilize a fighting dog.
Some dog owners still illegally force their animals to participate in these cruel fights (as was brought to light by the Michael Vick case). For this reason, and for the sake of keeping their Pits looking “tough,” many of these irresponsible owners still dock their dogs’ ears and tails.
Others insist that floppy ears can be the perpetrators of harmful ear infections. There’s much debate over whether this is true, but the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which opposes docking, states on its website, “Well-controlled studies addressing the animal welfare implications of cropping dogs’ ears do not exist.”
In reference to ear infections in particular, the AVMA says, “Although the development of some serious infections has been linked to the presence of a heavy hanging ear, there is no evidence that cropping prevents or successfully treats these conditions. It has also been suggested that cropping avoids later ear injury or improves hearing, but no evidence is available to substantiate these claims either.”
The AVMA has taken a strong stance against docking done solely for cosmetic purposes, which it feels ultimately causes more harm to the animal than good. Besides the expected pain and recovery involved, the AVMA also notes the risks involved with anesthetics as well as the possibility of infection, as is the case with any surgical incision. But to make matters worse, the surgery does not ensure that ears will stand upright. As the AVMA describes, “Cropped ears may also fail to stand or have a distorted shape or position potentially leading to subsequent operations.”
In some cases, docking is done by the owner or breeder and not a veterinary professional. Laws are currently unrestricted for docking in the United States, and though the procedure involves the cutting of an animal’s ears and tails, many lay people are performing the procedure on their own dog themselves, which can have dangerous results. This was the case for Karma Rescue’s Pit Bull Pudding, whose original owner took it upon himself to crop her ears and then proceeded to abandon her.
Though current laws in the United States are unrestricted, many are fighting to institute new laws that will completely ban docking. Recently in New York, activists tried to push Assembly Bill 7218 into law, which would charge a fine of over $500 to anyone docking their dog’s ears or tails for cosmetic purposes. The law was strongly opposed by the AKC, whose stance on docking counters the AVMA’s.
“The AKC recognizes that ear cropping and tail docking, as prescribed in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character, enhancing good health, and preventing injuries.” In addition, they feel that “Owners, in close consultation with their veterinarians—not the government—should make informed decisions about their pets’ health care.”
Many breeders and dog aficionados have shown their support of the AKC’s stance through forums and by voicing their opinion to legislators across the country. Despite the AVMA taking a somewhat risky stance against docking earlier this year, they noted in a recent article that they received very few complaints and, in fact, received approximately 250 letters, many of which were commending them on the policy.
“This seems to imply that more people are pleased (with the ear crop/tail dock policy) than disappointed by it,” explained Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, in the article.
To date, many countries around the world have instituted bans against docking, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and most of Europe to name a few. In 1992, the UK’s Veterinary Surgeon’s Act was amended to completely outlaw docking “unless for therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic reasons.” Repercussions for those who break this law include a fine upwards of £20,000 and close to a year’s imprisonment.
In spite of efforts here in the United States, the legality of docking argued between those who denounce it and those who support it continues to keep the country at a standstill. While efforts continue, some are taking action into their own hands, such as Banfield, the nation’s largest network of veterinary hospitals, which USA TODAY recently reported has announced, “It will no longer do tail docking, ear cropping or devocalization on dogs.”
In their report, Karen Faunt, vice president for Banfield’s medical quality advancement said, “After thoughtful consideration and reviewing medical research, we have determined it is in the best interest of the pets we treat, as well as the overall practice, to discontinue performing these unnecessary cosmetic procedures.”
Others taking a stance against docking include the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). But the dispute goes far beyond organizations such as the AKC and ASPCA; heated arguments among dog owners across the country are leaving the internet littered with comments from and interactions between dog owners on opposite sides of the debate.
“It’s sickening and it’s nothing but torture. I feel that if somebody wants the ears on their dog cropped, they, the owner, should first have their ears cropped!” says one dog owner in response to the Banfield article.
Another dog owner, in response to the same article, said, “If I paid big bucks for a Doberman and wanted his ears and tail snipped, that’s my decision. And if they don’t do it I’ll find another who will. They’ve just lost a customer.”
In a recent article, The Baltimore Sun speculated whether docking of a dog’s tail and ears could result in difficult communication between dogs and therefore confused aggression amongst dogs. One dog owner responded, “I do not agree. I have a Peek-a-poo with a docked tail and he is the wimpiest dog I have ever known.”
Many argue the idea of “choice” and question whether or not humans have the right to decide the fate of an animal’s ears and tail that they are naturally born with.
In response to New York’s AB 7218, one dog owner commented, “I am a breeder of traditionally docked dogs, and welcome the day when my babies no longer have to endure that procedure. As a physician I am appalled by the notion of cosmetic surgery without the patient’s informed consent; why do we visit that upon our animals? There is no valid justification.”
In the midst of these discussions remain the dogs. Whether a consensus between all parties is reached is yet to be seen, but many believe that dropping AKC standards entirely might help reduce the number of animals docked in the U.S. Others, breeders in particular, continue to fight for their right to dock their pet’s ears and tails in conformation with a history of traditional breed standards that they hope remains untainted by docking bans.
Who has the best interest of the dogs in mind? That depends on the side of the fence on which you might reside. Ultimately, the health and well-being of your dog should be every pet parent’s No. 1 priority when making any decision for their best furiend.
Where do you stand on tail docking and ear cropping? Please comment below.