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Healthy Dogs

Ear Cropping and Tail Docking

Should You or Shouldn’t You?
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Unclear Benefits

Though docking and cropping are done mostly for appearance’s sake, many owners and breeders say removing hunting and farm dogs’ tails might prevent injuries during chases or herding. Others say docking keeps energetic breeds like boxers from hurting their tails by thumping them against walls or dog crates. Some owners believe ear cropping lowers the odds of infections.

James Serpell, PhD, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that docking itself could be considered an injury. On the other hand, he says, “research shows that an intact tail is unlikely to become injured, and if it does, injuries are usually minor and heal easily.” Research shows that at least 80 percent of dogs won’t get ear infections, “and the breeds that are most likely to get them, such as cocker spaniels and poodles, don’t get their ears docked,” Patterson-Kane says.

Falling Out of Fashion

Vets say both procedures -- especially ear cropping -- are becoming less common. “I’ve worked with nearly 40 animal doctors during my career, and I know maybe two who perform crops,” Roark says. Banfield Pet Hospital, the largest network of animal hospitals in the U.S., no longer performs docking or cropping. And the AKC says dogs without docks or crops are just as likely to win at dog shows. 

Fifteen of the 225 dogs showing in the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club dog show agility contest are mixed-breed (also called “all-American”). “We're seeing a lot more natural-eared dogs in the ring, and the occasional undocked," says Westminster spokesman David Frei.

“We’re seeing a rapid change in American dog culture. It’s no longer unusual to see schnauzers without cropped ears and boxers with long tails,” Roark says.

Remember: Alteration Is an Option

If you’re thinking about getting a puppy whose breed often gets docked or cropped, ask yourself: Are the risks and pain my dog may experience worth it? “When I bring surgery up with [potential pet owners], many don’t even realize it’s a choice,” Roark says. If you’re getting your dog from a breeder, make sure he knows before the dog is born if you don’t want your puppy docked, Serpell says.

Or avoid the question altogether by getting an older dog.

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Reviewed on February 03, 2014

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