Last week I met the most adorable 10-week-old Boston Terrier puppy. After getting my fill of kisses and adorableness from this stumpy-tailed pup, a woman asked if the dog was going “to get his ears done.” The question surprised me, because I hadn’t seen a dog’s ears cropped for many years.
Ear cropping and tail docking date back hundreds of years, and were performed for a variety of reasons. The Romans believed these procedures prevented rabies. During the Middle Ages people believed that if they altered the physique of a dog, its puppies would also look the same way. In modern times, owners of working dogs — herding, hunting and watch dogs — cropped ears and tails with the belief that the dogs could better perform their duties.
Fast forward to my encounter with the pup, and I was left thinking that this tiny Boston Terrier wasn’t likely a herding, hunting or watch dog, so what purpose would ear cropping or tail docking serve?
Historical Reasons For Ear Cropping And Tail Docking
The American Kennel Club has been a strong supporter of these elective procedures since it was founded in 1884. Its position is that ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal preserve the breed standard for dogs such as Boxers, Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, Miniature Schnauzers and Boston Terriers, among many others. In the AKC’s “In Session” Spring 2011 newsletter, it notes, “Ear cropping and tail docking are historical procedures… that help some dogs better and more safely perform the functions for which they are originally bred.”
Ear Cropping And Tail Docking Today
I checked in with Ben Brown, a veterinarian in the Salt Lake City area, to get his take on current trends in ear cropping and tail docking in puppies.
“There have been no specific studies evaluating popularity of these procedures to my knowledge, but it does appear that the demand for ear cropping and tail docking has waned over the past few decades,” Brown says.
Michigan State University College of Law estimates that each year, more than 130,000 puppies are elected for cosmetic surgery; this means surgery that is not medically necessary.
What Ear Cropping And Tail Docking Involve
“Cosmetic otoplasty, or ear cropping, alters the shape of a dog’s pinna, or ear flap,” Brown says. “The surgery involves removing a portion of the pinna to create a vertical appearance. The length of surgery time can vary greatly, depending on the surgeon’s experience level.”
He says that recovery time for this procedure also varies based on the surgeon’s skill level, as well as the quality of post-operative care, which can be high-maintenance and expensive for pet owners.
“Suture removal is typically planned for approximately two weeks after surgery — barring complications,” Brown says, “and specific bandaging must be done for weeks to months to encourage the best outcome with ear position. Frequent re-checks with the surgeon are advised to ensure proper healing.”
Brown also notes that proper pain control is absolutely necessary to decrease the patient’s discomfort, of which there can be a lot, and to aid healing. Veterinarians who perform ear cropping surgery recommend the procedure be done between 8 and 13 weeks old.
Tail docking is typically performed on puppies before they are 5 days old.
“The tail is measured to a desired length, and the remainder is amputated with a surgical scalpel blade or a laser,” Brown says. “The end of the tail is either closed with suture or skin adhesive. Healing time is about one to two weeks.”
Controversies Of Ear Cropping And Tail Docking
The American Veterinary Medical Association, which sets standards of excellence for veterinary medicine, has recommended since 1976 that the AKC and other breed associations remove the mention of cropped ears from breed standards and prohibit showing dogs with cropped ears. Similar recommendations have been made in more recent years regarding tail docking as well, but there have been no outright bans on the procedures in the United States. There are, however, many countries that have bans in place, including Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and parts of Canada.
“The controversy lies in the fact that the concern for chronic medical issues is not strongly supported by scientific research,” Brown says, noting that the AVMA’s Literature Review on the Welfare Implications of Tail Docking in Dogs from January 29, 2013 concludes: “Although tail docking may reduce the risk of tail injury, based on the most current data available, approximately 500 dogs need to be docked to prevent one tail injury.”
Brown also notes that the AVMA’s Literature Review on the Welfare Implications of Ear Cropping in Dogs from March 13, 2013 concludes that: “Ear cropping is a cosmetic procedure with potential negative outcomes for the animal.”
While many general practitioners and veterinary surgeons still perform these elective procedures and believe they are “acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health,” according to the AKC, Brown has a different take.
“It is difficult to justify the statement ‘integral to defining and preserving a breed character,’” he says. “It is my opinion that the verbiage of the breed standard can be changed much more easily and painlessly than the surgical alteration of many ‘purebred’ dogs.”