Tail Docking and Ear Cropping:
I had the most interesting conversation the other day with Tammy Ahn from Dog Days San Diego and Ruby Balaram from Real Dog Box. We talked about Tail docking and Ear Cropping. This article isn’t going to be a How To or even to truly educate you on the history of these practices. I’ll just be summarizing my thoughts on it and some things I learned. Let me also say, that I don’t know enough about this subject to be considered anywhere NEAR an expert and therefore don’t have the education to judge anyone else on their choices. These are just my thoughts, not my declarations.
I am a believer in leaving things as nature intended OR at least, not making physical alterations to beings that have no say in the matter and without any medical justification for the change. For example, after doing a shit load of research, I decided NOT to circumcise my son. I made this choice because there seemed to be no reasonable medical reason for circumcision and therefore it felt wrong for me to make a purely cosmetic and irreversible choice for my son before he had a chance to weigh in on it. I do recognize that Tail Docking and Ear Cropping are NOT the same as circumcision and that dogs are NOT people, but my feelings about this practice stemmed from my experience making that choice for my son, so I thought it an easy place to start and to give you a window into where my head was at.
My initial belief was this: If there is no safety concern with maintaining a dog’s natural ears and tail, then they shouldn’t be cut.
Issue #1 The Ability to Safely Perform A Job
I fully acknowledge that there are major risks to maintaining floppy appendages in many of the jobs that dogs are bred to do. For example, if you are bred to protect a property where you may need to fight another animal or human to do so, you can’t have extra handles sticking out all over the place for the enemy to grab onto. In that case, it seems the risk to maintaining these appendages outweighs the discomfort the dog experiences removing them.
Issue #2 The Human God Complex
BUT if a dog can’t do his job right WITH a long tail and floppy ears, then aren’t we not done with the process yet? Like, where is the line when we are creating/breeding a living being to be used as a tool? Was it ok for us to say “I did it! I made the perfect guardian! I mean, these ears and tail are gonna be a problem so I’ll have to cut those off myself but everything else is PERFECTO!”? If it wasn’t possible to maintain the behaviors and instincts we needed while selecting out the floppy ears and tail, then at what point should we have just accepted we in fact COULDN’T breed the perfect guardian and stopped trying?
And what about the bulldog?! UGH! In this case we DID create a dog perfect for a job. Then somewhere along the line we gave in to aesthetics, tweaking it and messing with it until we created a being that can’t be born naturally, that can’t breathe, that gets constant skin infections and requires regular spinal adjustments to live pain free. Where is the line when it comes to abandoning the selection process and just chopping the rest of the way there? Why is it ok to intervene to birth a bulldog but not ok to intervene with a different breed’s ears/tail to prepare it for its job?
Issue #3 The Greater Good
Every argument here seems to bring up ANOTHER point. In this one we talk about the jobs themselves. There are some jobs that humans needed dogs for in the beginning because we had no other way to accomplish them efficiently. Now, with advancements in technology, there are some jobs that I hesitate to feel are important enough to warrant the physical alteration of a dog specifically so it can succeed at that task. HOWEVER, there are other jobs that dogs still do for us that SAVE ACTUAL HUMAN LIVES. When tails and ears are cropped and docked CORRECTLY and at the appropriate time, there is VERY little discomfort to the animal and absolutely no long term negative effects. With that in mind it seems like a no brainer: The reward outweighs the risks.
Issue #4 Public Perception of the Breed
Now, what I am still trying to understand is what is the reasoning behind cropping/docking a working dog that is NOT going to be working in the field AT ALL. But if you really think about that…there is a problem with the question, isn’t there? Namely, WHY ARE YOU GETTING A WORKING BREED THAT ISN’T GOING TO BE WORKING?! This dog was CREATED to do this particular job, and to do this job well, it’s safest for them to have a short tail. IF we start saying it’s ok not to dock the tail, then are we also saying it’s ok for them not to have access to the job they were bred to do? That it’s ok to purchase a weimaraner as a companion for your elderly parents? Or to try to fit any breed you want into YOUR life – purchasing a bulldog for a hiking partner or a cattle dog to downstay at the kids soccer game or a working line malinois as a service animal. I get there could be exceptions in all these breeds but in general NO! That’s NOT OK! And if docking the tails and cropping the ears reminds people that these dogs have specific characteristics that need to be taken seriously and needs that MUST be met, then so be it. (and yes… I know that only one of the examples I used actually gets docked lolol but you get the point!).
Issue #5 Breeding Standards
Now…ON THE OTHER HAND (haha do y’all have whiplash yet?) what if you are a responsible owner in search of the perfect dog. Maybe you fell in love with the Viszla and did all the necessary research. You fully comprehend their mental and physical stimulation needs and are committed to and capable of meeting them in a variety of ways However, and this is important, you do NOT plan on hunting with them. You seek out a reputable breeder that specializes in breeding for temperament over stamina and you pick out the calmest pup from the litter. Here is the question – Should this person be denied a dog because they will not be hunting?? And come to think of it, should this breeders reputation be lowered because they are focusing on temperament instead of overwork ethic? Or is it ok to attempt to make a breed more accessible to the public and allow the purchase of these dogs into suburban households so more people can share in the love? AAAAA! I dont knoooowwww!!! What I do know is this. Even though some reputable breeders are selecting for softer versions (companion-washing as sommmme might say), they STILL dock all the tails REGARDLESS of the intended use expressed by the purchaser. You will NOT have the option to abstain. The reason they give? “Maintaining breed standards” So let me make sure I have this right. Its ok to breed a working dog for temperament in order to help it survive in a home that will not be using the dog for the work it was designed for… but its not ok to leave the tail intact??? On the official list of “standards” I can’t imagine the ability to perform the job well falls below tail docked on the list of importance. Right?? How did tail docking become the thing that separates a reputable breeder from a non reputable one? This. Makes. No. Sense to me.
Let me be clear that I am not calling out the breeders, I’m calling out the standards. One of the (MANY) things I learned in my chat with Tammy and Ruby is that any reputable breeder will be trying to maintain breed standards. Those standards include docking. SO if you seek out a breeder that is willing NOT to dock, you probably aren’t talking to as reputable a breeder as you thought. You may be headed down a scary path… that leads to the backyard….IF ya know what I’m saying… This definitely puts the purchasers in a difficult position. They can either make a stance against unnecessary docking, or they can get a well bred dog. Additionally, there is a concern out there that BECAUSE the standards still dictate the tail should be docked, if the breeders stop doing it or if the practice is stigmatized before the desire for the dock decreases, the owners will start doing themselves!!! I am not going to get into the horrors of the at-home crop/dock. Suffice it to say, while a veterinary crop/dock ISNT torture… an at-home one could be.
I’ll end this long ass section by saying I have also been told things are changing pretty quickly in Europe where docking and cropping has been outlawed. Europe still manages to produce some incredible breeders and cares just as much about maintaining the essence of the breeds. I’m not sure how I feel about the practice being outlawed, but I do wish the owner of the dog had a choice.
Revisiting the original belief ( If there is no safety concern with maintaining a dog’s natural ears and tail, then they shouldn’t be cut ) my feelings have pretty much stayed the same. I am ecstatic to be coming from a place of education now but when it comes down to it, I still believe if a working dog is NOT performing their job in the most raw way, and are instead acting mostly as a companion, I can see no reason for the discomfort of removal, no matter how small that discomfort is. The main thing I learned is that the problem isn’t that simple. The reality is, if you choose to go with a purebred dog, you may be faced with a choice between purchasing from a reputable breeder and leaving the appendages intact. What would I do??…shit. (Im sitting here with my head in my hands in the middle of Covid19 because that choice is so difficult). I guess I’d have to rethink my breed choice and wait for the standards to catch up to the times. But thats me.
Thanks for reading!
*This article was written by Pack Method Prep’s Owner, Zoe Sandor.