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Is Cropping Dogs' Ears and Docking Their Tails Cruel? We Ask the Experts

I am against these practices, and I am not alone -- I asked a top Rottweiler breeder and a well-known veterinarian to share their thoughts.

 |  Jan 8th 2014  |   127 Contributions


I have a long-haired German Shepherd puppy. One day it occurred to me that she would look tougher with a stubby tail, like a Doberman, so I took her to my vet and had my dog’s tail amputated. I wanted her ears to stand up straighter so I had them cropped as well. 

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Here's where to cut. (Relax. No dogs were hurt for this article!).

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Don't worry! This is a digitally altered image! No dogs were hurt for this article.

Are you enraged? Shocked? Appalled? Well, relax. I did no such thing. But would it be okay with you if my puppy was a Great Dane? How about a Boxer? Why is it okay for some breeds to have their ears and tails docked, but doing it to other breeds freak people out?

I am against the practice of docking tails and cropping ears, and I am not alone. I asked a top Rottweiler breeder and a famous veterinarian to weigh in on this subject. Their feedback confirmed my suspicion about these procedures: They are painful and there is no health reason to do them. But don’t take my word for it -- listen to the experts.

1. The Rottweiler breeder

Amanda Weber of the Quaking Canopy Kennel is a Nevada breeder who has German-style Rottweilers. Weber’s grandmother bred them, which started her lifelong passion for this breed. She’s as passionate about these dogs as she is opposed to tail docking.

“I knew from the start I didn't want to dock tails,” Weber says, “but I felt pressured into docking my first litters by buyers and fellow breeders, so I did it. One of my docked puppies suffered a severe infection and nerve damage as a result of his docking."

This was the breaking point in her decision to never dock again.

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Escobar is the sire of Quaking Canopy Kennel's gorgeous, full-tailed Rottweilers.

I asked Weber why other Rottweiler breeders still insist on docking tails. “Tailed dogs are making an impact in the show ring in the AKC venue, but it is still difficult for a tailed dog to compete under many judges," she says. "The other motivation is puppy sales. Many breeders are under the impression their sales would be significantly reduced if they chose not to dock tails.”

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These lucky Rottweiler puppies will never have to worry about the pain and stress of having their tails docked.

I wanted to know if NOT docking tails has cost her business. She confirms that it has, but she says that fewer than one in 10 puppy buyers is so adamant about a docked tail that they would choose not to purchase a tailed puppy from her.

Weber gives a strong rationale for not docking her dogs’ tails:

  • Removing a significant amount of cartilage, flesh, and nerve on a newborn puppy causes unnecessary and significant strain on their developing immune system, which she finds to be especially important with a breed prone to parvo and cancer. The immune system is noticeably stronger and more capable when it doesn't suffer this or any significant trauma during development.
  • Dogs use their tails for balance the same way we swing our arms to counteract a fall. They are better athletes, more powerful and more stable with their tails.
  • Finally, she just loves the way they look with their tail! They are proportionate and expressive.

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This is my own Rottweiler puppy I had in college. The breeder never told me anything about the stressful procedure to remove Wylie's tail when he was just a few days old.

Are these procedures only an American obsession? It appears so. Weber confirms that in the last decade, tail docking/ear cropping has been declared illegal in dozens of countries. Both are banned in Europe. There are currently a handful of states considering making the practice illegal for anything other than medical necessity. She believes we will see it outlawed within a decade.

In the meantime, it's a choice not to dock.

2. The veterinarian

I talked to Dr. Karen Becker, a popular author, speaker and founder of the Therapaw Rehabilitation and Pain Management Clinic in Illinois. She is a member of no less than 11 professional organizations, including the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management. She also hosts the online pet wellness website Mercola Healthy Pets

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Veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker with a lovely Pit Bull with natural ears.

Dogster: Is there a health reason to cut off a dog’s ears or tail? A Great Dane breeder told me that ears must be cropped for health reasons, which she then could not detail.

Dr. Becker: Breed clubs tell us there were medical or work-related reasons for cutting off body parts years ago, which they say ended up setting a "breed standard" for people's expectations of their appearance. There isn't evidence pertaining to any medical benefits of removing body parts or even logical explanations of why the practice continues (other than the horrific truth of fighting dogs having less to bite when ear flaps, pinna, are cut off).

Herding people have told me that tails get in the way of the dog's herding abilities. Is there any truth to it?  

I do no cosmetic or elective procedures in my practice. I believe surgery should be reserved for medical reasons that reduce disease potential and extend life.

I have removed infected dewclaws in a few patients because it improved quality of life (reduced pain and suffering) and eliminated chronic infection (reduced disease potential). These cases are incredibly rare. Cutting off parts of ears and tails so pets can "hear and hunt better" is not a medically sound practice and one I don't participate in.  

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Dr. Karen Becker is the veterinary consultant for Mercola Healthy Pets, where more than a million passionate animal lovers receive her free wellness newsletter three times a week.

How painful is a tail docking/ear cropping?  

Tail docking is severing the spinal cord in between the sacral vertebra. Cutting through the vast network of these nerves is incredibly painful and can lead to chronic neuralgia (phantom pain) in some patients. Ear pinna (flaps) are incredibly vascular; the blood supply to the ears is tremendous, and if you've ever witnessed the blood bath associated with an ear crop you'll never forget it. Both procedures are painful and sadly, often times animals are not supplied adequate pain management, which can lead to these areas of the body being perpetually sensitive.

Do some veterinarians refuse to do these procedures because of the pain involved?  

Yes, there are many vets (including myself) who focus on the re-education of our clients and take a stand against cosmetic mutilation by not performing it.

What effect do you think this procedure has in terms of the dogs trusting humans?  

Becker: Puppies are going through important behavioral and emotional development stages the first four months of life when these procedures are performed. I believe performing painful, elective procedures can exacerbate fear and anxiety issues.

I believe that cutting of a tail and cropping ears dramatically impacts a dog's ability to communicate with other dogs and humans. I feel badly for Boxers and Dobermans in particular. 

Not just Boxers and Dobermans -- all dogs! Dogs primarily rely on nonverbal communication. Eye contact, head position, ear position, body posture and tail stance are critical for dogs to communicate naturally and effectively. When we cut off part of their communication system it changes how they are able to send messages and puts them at a social disadvantage.

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This is the natural and healthy look for a Boxer. Boxer with a yellow ball by Shutterstock

The bottom line is this: If you are willing to dock tails or crop ears, you are willing to inflict stress and pain on an animal for the price of your idea of canine beauty. Consider all the facts before you do this to your dog. He will thank you for the rest of his life for letting him appear in his natural form.

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About Annie Phenix: Positive-reinforcement dog trainer and author Annie Phenix never met a mountain she did not love. This explains why she lives in Colorado, where she's surrounded by mountains, and why she is always smiling. She delights in the snowy season here, as do her five dogs, two horses, and six adorably cute donkeys.

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