Animals

Here Are All The Reasons You Should Never Cut Your Dog’s Tail Or Ears

The American Kennel Club endorses this practice but many veterinarians don't.

Picture a Doberman pinscher. You’re likely thinking of an athletic-looking dog with a sleek coat, perky ears and a short, nubby tail, right?

But, did you know that Dobermans naturally have floppy ears and a loopy tail? They are among the dog breeds that are customarily docked and cropped — meaning their tails and ears are cut to conform with breed standards.

In recent years, the practice of cutting dogs’ tails and ears has been lambasted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as a cosmetic practice that needs to be done away with. The American Animal Hospital Association is also opposed to docking and cropping. Several veterinarians classify the practice as unnecessarily painful, and, in 2009, Banfield Pet Hospitals said it would no longer perform ear cropping or tail docking.

However, the American Kennel Club (AKC) remains a staunch proponent of ear cropping and tail docking, arguing it helps preserve breed characteristics and promotes good health.

doberman photo
Getty Images | Andrew Burton

Here’s what you need to know about cropping and docking, including why it’s supported by the AKC, as well as the arguments against these customary procedures.

Why Does The AKC Support Cropping And Docking?

The AKC recognizes 20 breeds with cropped ears, including Doberman pinschers, Boston terriers and great Danes. They argue, for example, that boxers have served as seeing-eye dogs and guard dogs and that cropped ears enhance the breed’s hearing. Historically, Brussels griffon helped catch vermin, and cropped ears apparently helped them avoid harmful bites while cornering rats.

Sixty-two AKC breeds — including Rottweilers, cocker spaniels and Yorkshire terriers — have docked tails, though the length of the tail that is removed varies by breed. The AKC makes the point that a docked tail on a terrier is stronger, which could help owners easily pull burrowing dogs out of holes. Tail docking, according to the AKC, happens shortly after birth, when the puppy’s nervous system is not fully developed, meaning the puppy feels little to no pain.

boxer dog photo
Getty Images | Sarah Stier

Concerns About Docking And Cropping

The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes, and encourages the elimination of the procedures from breed standards.

Here are some of the major concerns about cropping and docking, according to the AVMA and the research (or lack thereof) that it cites:

  • There can be complications with ear cropping surgery: Cropping should be carried out under full anesthesia, according to the AVMA, and there are associated risks when a dog goes under for surgery. Also, dogs will experience discomfort while they are healing from the surgeries. There is potential for complications, as cropped ears can become infected. They may also fail to stand or have a distorted shape, which could just mean more surgeries are in order.
  • There is no evidence ear cropping improves a dog’s health or hearing: It’s been argued that dogs with cropped ears are less likely to suffer from ear canal infections and that it can improve hearing. However, there’s no evidence to substantiate these claims, according to the AVMA.

boston terrier photo
Getty Images | Laurence Griffiths

  • Tail docking is painful: Surgically amputating a dog’s tail is painful, the AVMA argues, and there’s the potential for chronic pain to develop. Potential complications include excessive bleeding and infection.
  • Tail docking can cause chronic health issues: Dogs of breeds that are typically docked have a higher incidence of incontinence, according to the AVMA. However, the association notes, it’s not clear whether this is linked to the surgery or the traits in the breed. Also, docking could lead to less developed muscles near the tail.
  • Tail docking is only cosmetic: There has been no evidence showing that dogs gain self-esteem or pride from having their tails docked. “There’s no obvious benefit to our patients in performing this procedure,” the AVMA says.

Are These Procedures Legal?

Tail-docking and ear-cropping procedures are illegal in many parts of the world, including Australia and several countries in Europe.

In the United States, for the most part, ear cropping and tail docking remain legal, though some states have regulations when it comes to timing of the surgery and requiring it be done under anesthesia. Maryland and Pennsylvania are the only states that have provisions that restrict tail docking and nine states have measures in place to regulate ear cropping.

What are your thoughts on the practices of ear cropping and tail docking?