When you get a cute new canine addition to your family - particularly belonging to certain breeds - you may wonder whether you should dock its tail or crop its ears.
It may seem “normal” to you to have a specific breed of dog with a short tail or spiky, upright ears, as this was common practice in certain pedigrees in the past. It means we’re used to seeing dogs like this. Certain breeds may even look “silly” to you with a long tail or floppy ears.
But all of this is sheer vanity - and cruelty: cropped ears and docked tails are purely cosmetic and have no advantage to your dog. In fact, these practices may disadvantage your pet and are considered cruel.
Tail docking and ear cropping: cosmetic surgery for dogs
It may be considered “cuter” to have a dog with a short tail. Or you may think your dog would look more “aggressive” or more “macho” with cropped ears.
According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - the largest animal rights organisation in the world):
“Humans can opt out of cosmetic surgery, but dogs aren’t so lucky. We choose for them—and we often choose painful, unnecessary procedures such as ear-cropping and tail-docking. To give certain breeds so-called “desirable” traits, unscrupulous veterinarians perform cruel, disfiguring surgeries that cause dogs great suffering.
Dogs usually have their ears cropped when they are just 8 to 12 weeks old. At this stage in their development, the trauma of the procedure can have a strong psychological impact on the maturing pup. The process of taping and re-taping a pup’s ears to force them to stand erect after they have been cropped can be agonizing for the dog.
Puppies are normally just a few days old when their tails are docked. They are generally not even given anesthetics to numb the pain. Compassionate veterinarians object to the arbitrary removal of body parts used for communication, balance, and expression. Dogs “talk” to their human companions and other dogs using their ears and tails.”
Do dogs really need long tails?
Yes – dogs use their long tails every minute of their lives.
Tails are essential for communication – with other dogs, and to communicate with their human counterparts. Dogs will wag their tails when they are happy, have a stiff, straight tail when they are feeling threatened, or tuck their tail between their legs when they are feeling scared.
A stump is much less effective in communicating how a dog is feeling, especially when interacting with other dogs. A long tail is a more effective communication tool and results fewer fights.
Tails are also integral to balance, especially when your pooch is running or making a sharp turn, and affects the way your dog is able to move. Tails also act as rudders when your dog is swimming, and dogs with long tails have been proven less likely to attack humans.
Finally, tails are used to spread a dog’s scent, which comes from the anal glands in the rectum. Dogs use their unique scent as an additional form of communication.
Do dogs really need their pinna? (flaps of the ears)
The pinna are another crucial means of communication between dogs: dogs read body language and facial expressions to understand what another dog is thinking. The pinna are highly flexible, and can even be moved independently of one another. With cropped ears, dogs are unable to express their feelings and communicate effectively with each other, potentially leading to misunderstandings and fights.
The pinna are also shaped in a specific way to capture sound waves and funnel them into the ear canal, thereby assisting dogs’ amazing sense of hearing.
Did you know that dogs can hear four times’ better than us?
Are these procedures legal?
No. In South Africa, it’s illegal for vets to perform these procedures for cosmetic purposes. So you’ll no longer find vets who dock tails or crop ears.
However, because there are still people who want this appearance in their animal, you’ll find breeders who do it at home, using unhygienic, painful and unorthodox techniques despite the pain and suffering to the animal. This puts the animal at risk of infection and can open them up to behavioural problems as adults.
NB: There is no advantage to your dog to have their tail or ears altered. As a matter of fact, it can have many serious, negative effects on your beloved furbaby.
How can I help put an end to these cruel practices?
If there’s no demand for these modifications, there’ll be no point in performing them. So, when getting a new addition to your family, insist on getting a pet with a naturally long tail and intact ears.
As long as people want to buy cosmetically altered pets, breeders will continue to perform these procedures. If we can change the perception of how a dog should look, there’ll be no need for breeders to mutilate our pets.
It starts with you. Here’s to loving our dogs the way they were born and meant to be - they’re perfect just as they are.
Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The Zuki.co.za blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.