Docking and cropping is an age old custom done on varieties of animals but in this article we will focus on the controversy that revolves around docking and cropping dog tails and ears.
Firstly, docking is the process of cutting the tail of a dog whereas cropping is the process of cutting the external part of the ear (the pinna) to a desired shape. Both docking and cropping is breed specific and currently around seventy dog breeds are known to have their tails docked. The Doberman and the Rottweiler are the most common breeds with docked tails. The breeds that are known to have their ears cropped are fewer in number but it is majorly done on Dobermans, Boxers and Pit Bulls.
The process came during the Roman period as it was believed to prevent rabies. Later during the middle ages it was believed that by docking the tails of the parent dogs they will naturally give birth to puppies with smaller tail. Some reminiscence of this theory is present even in modern day beliefs however it is constantly ridiculed by doctors and scientists as this theory dismisses the theory of evolution.
During the medieval period, long tailed and floppy eared dogs were used for hunting and farming and owners didn’t have to give taxes for dogs who worked. Since working increased the chances of injury, owners started cropping their ears and docking their tails as it would provide lesser body parts for a predator to grab on to. As a result the dogs with cropped ears and short tails were believed to be ‘work dogs’. More people wanted their dogs to look like work dogs to avoid taxes. This is how cropping and docking became a common practice since history.
Cropping and Docking in the 21st Century
In the present both cropping and docking is done more for the look factor than anything else. Docking is done within five days of birth as it is believed that their bones and ligaments are soft during this time and is easy to penetrate through the bones. There are two methods of cropping. The first method is the surgical removal of a desired length of the tail. The second method is called the rubber band method. The rubber band method is used by illegal breeders who tie a rubber band to a desired length of the tail when the puppy is four to five days old. This stops blood flow to the rest of the tail and causes the tail to fall off within a few weeks after tying the rubber band. Neither of the methods use any kinds of anesthesia as it is believed that puppies as young as five days old will either not feel any pain or they will not remember it as they grow old.
Since cropping is a far more complex surgery it is usually done with general or total anesthesia when the puppy is about 7-12 weeks of age. During this time 2/3rds of the external portion of the ear or the pinna is cut to pointed shape and is stitched at the ends. Ears are then bandaged on a frame so that it heals in the shape of the frame. During this period the dog is taken to the vet several times for follow ups and in case if the ear did not take the desired shape, the dog might have to go through the surgery again. Though the surgery is done with anesthesia, few doctors prescribe pain killers after the operation.
When cropping is done by illegal breeders unsterilized scissors and a homemade frame may be used to bring the ear to a desired shape to meet the standards of breeds sold by reputed breeders. It may lead to complications later on in the dog’s life if it is not done properly because cropping is a major operation which requires the dog to heal in a sterile environment.
Debates on Cropping and Docking
Recently cropping and docking have become a very controversial issue and most people who own a breed that is usually cropped and docked are constantly faced with a question- Should I crop and dock my dog? Below are some arguments put forward by veterinary doctors and experts as to why should or shouldn’t docking and cropping be done.
Cropping and docking reduces the chances of ear infections and tail injuries.
A popular argument states that by reducing the size of the pinna it reduces the chances of any kind of infection. Also if working dogs have shorter tails and ears it would reduce body parts to grab on to for the opponent. There have been attempts to prove this through research. A study conducted in Sweden showed that tail injuries for dogs increased in Sweden from 35% to 51% after tail docking was banned in 1989. However those opposing tail docking put forward the loopholes present in the study. This data contained records of all tail injuries of that particular year but tail docking is a very breed specific practice. Dogs like Labradors, cattle dogs, border collies are mostly used as hunting dogs in the west and these dogs are not known to have their tails docked. Also, the study did not include the severity of the tail injury. Veterinary science practitioners argue that most tail injury need a few dressings and natural healing. It is very rare for a tail to be amputated because of injury.
As for ear cropping, a similar argument is put forward by those against it. The dogs that are known for getting ear infections are poodles who do not get their ears cropped. Dogs like Dobermans and Pit Bulls, usually have their ears cropped even if they have a reasonably healthy immunity and are less susceptible to infections. This suggests that cropping is a cosmetic operation that is purely done to attain a particular look. Some vets argue that ear infections are easy to cure and cropping ears is just a lousy solution to general health care.
They do not ‘need’ long tails and droopy ears
This is another major argument put forward by advocates of cropping and docking. Why keep a body part that is not needed? This gives rise to many ethical questions. Are we humans allowed to decide whether a body part is required by another animal or not? Recently many scientists are trying to discover the usage of a dog’s tail and research suggests that a tail helps a dog to balance not only while walking but it also helps them maintain balance during excretion. A tail also helps dogs communicate their feelings to other dogs. A tailless dog may be misjudged by other dogs when trying to make friends. As for dogs with long ears, scientists believe that a larger pinna (or the external part of the ear) helps capture sound. It also protects the inner and more delicate portion of the ear.
Docking and cropping was adapted into the society because people believed that it was beneficial for the dog’s health. It may have been essential in the past because there weren’t enough procedures to treat a dog. However, recently, the number of work dogs have reduced and people are largely keeping dogs as house pets. Veterinary sciences and medicines has also improved. This means that external injuries and ear infections can easily be treated.
Many countries have banned cropping and docking because of ethical reasons. The cruelty of this practice is always open for argument but all can agree that this operation is not at all necessary and is done purely to attain a particular look.