Ear Cropping and Tail Docking in Dogs: A controversial practice

Linnea Heid

Ear cropping and tail docking is a common practice for dog owners. Essentially, both of these procedures are intended to modify the appearance of “tough” dog breeds, such as rottweilers, german shepherds and bulldogs. Although normalized, these cosmetic procedures are traumatic and risky, and there is a great deal of controversy around whether they should be allowed in veterinary circles. 

Procedures such as ear cropping and tail docking are usually intended to enhance the looks of the “tougher” dog breeds. Shorter ears and tails make the dog look more threatening and alert. There is speculation that, along with aesthetic reasons, ear cropping helps prevent ear canal infections, but there is no direct correlation between ear cropping and decreased risk of infection. At their core, these procedures are purely for the sake of appearance, and this is what makes them so controversial. There are a variety of ways these surgeries can negatively impact the dog. Ear cropping and tail docking are usually performed on dogs at 8-12 weeks old. At this age, the severe trauma of these surgeries can seriously affect the dog for the rest of its life. In addition to the surgery itself, the dog’s healing ears have to be taped and retaped to ensure that they heal correctly. This is an agonizing experience for the puppy, and this contributes to the public opinion that these procedures are inhumane. 

In addition to the physical and psychological trauma that comes with these surgeries, there is a high risk of dogs developing infections as a result of the procedure being performed carelessly. Without the proper care and attention after the fact, their ears and tails can become infected and deeply scarred. In severe cases, the dog’s ears have to be removed completely, so that the infection doesn’t spread. The myriad of negative effects and risks associated with these procedures has shifted public opinion against them, for the most part. Some veterinary practices refuse to perform these surgeries at all. Organizations like PETA and the AVMA publicly oppose ear cropping and tail docking. 

Aside from the physiological effects on dogs, surgeries like these propagate the idea that dogs are fashion accessories. This has been an issue throughout history- practices like dog shows and breeding have perpetuated the idea that dogs are nothing more than an accessory, to be modified as the owner sees fit. This concept is harmful for a variety of reasons- it normalizes the practice of these kinds of aesthetic surgeries for the sake of fitting in with the public’s perception of a dog breed. Hopefully, with the help of animal activists everywhere, these surgeries will become a thing of the past.