Dogs are more than just companion animals - they are our best friends. They are there for us whenever we need them, offering their love and comfort and expecting nothing in return. We care for them and make sure that they receive everything they need to live a happy and healthy life. We do everything we can to make sure we make the best decisions when it comes to their welfare, and while most times we succeed, sometimes what we think might be the best is actually not, such as cropped ears or docked tail.

In this article, we will explain what ear cropping and tail docking are, how they originated, what is people's attitude towards them today, why they might actually not be a good choice and more. So, let's get started.

What Is Ear Cropping and Tail Docking?

The first thing we will be talking about in this article is ear cropping and tail docking. Let's start with ear cropping.

Ear Cropping

Ear cropping is the process of removing either all of or just a part of external flaps of the animal's ears. The procedure is usually performed on dogs between 6 and 12 weeks old. In some cases, after the ear cropping is done, the rest of the ear is braced and taped in order to train them to point upright.

Why Do Dog Owners Crop Ears?

Hundreds of years ago, cropping was done for practical purposes - for example, to stop the ears from being snagged in the rough territory and being injured while hunting or working.

For dogs that were bred for fighting, it gave less for an opponent to grip on to rip off and sure gave a real "don't mess with me" look. For guarding breeds, it made them look very alert and in tune with everything around them.

Some of those purposes have carried on through to today and it's an important part of the breed's feature for many people, for aesthetical reasons (they like the look). It can be looked at as a breed's trademark, so to speak, and has been said to have even given the upper hand in the show ring on more than the odd occasion.

Types of Crops

There are two types of crops:

Long Crop: skinny and tapered at the end and here are some typical breeds that experience it. Usually taping, splinting and bandaging will occur with this crop and it is not always guaranteed to hold that perfect erect posture, especially if done poorly of course. -

 Doberman (pictured) - Great Dane Schnauzer (Giant – Miniature) - Boxer - Miniature Pinscher

Doberman Ear Cropping

Short Crop: Cut rather short and no taping required but may need a support molded inside the ear for a while. Even with this cut, there is a difference between being good or bad and show judges will look for the perfect crop true to set breed standards. - Cane Corso (pictured) - Neapolitan Mastiff - Caucasian Mountain Dog - Canary Dog - Dogo Argentino

Cane Corso cropped

By Whom and When Should It Be Done? 

You will hear different ages for different breeds. For this reason, it is better to seek good advice from experienced breeders and specialist veterinarians who actually do perform crops on the breed you are considering, as they will shed the best light on the subject.

Many vets will actually not go near cropping for various reasons - a couple of them being issues like awkward after-treatments such as infections or complaints about the look. Early puppyhood most will agree on to get the surgery done and let's say between the tender age of 7-12 weeks old typically to give you an idea.

Ear cartilage sets early in dogs, so this explains one reason why needed so soon. The puppy goes under general anesthesia during the surgery (made to sleep), which always poses a risk of the puppy not waking up! After the long crop, taping your dog's ears will be required (for Dobermans, Great Danes, Schnauzer, Boxer and Miniature Pinscher).

Tail Docking

Tail docking, also sometimes referred to as caudectomy, is a cosmetic surgery during which either a piece or the whole tail is removed. There are two ways in which tail docking can be docked. Firstly, the procedure can be performed with surgical scissors or a scalpel. Another method of docking dog tails is tying them with a rubber ligature so that the tail falls off on its own, which might take up to a few days or weeks.

Tail docking is usually done either when the dog is a few days old or three months old. What's more, in many cases, the procedure is done without anesthesia. According to a representative of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the reason behind it is that while it might bring some pain to the puppy, they are not fully aware of what is happening, and will most likely not even remember that it happened.

There is no specified tail length to which it is docked, as it all depends on what dog breed the puppy undergoing the procedure is - it varies among different dog breeds, and it is usually specified in the breed standard.

Boxer docked tail

Why Do Dog Owners Dock Tails?

Similar to ear cropping, tail docking is not a new practice. It's been around for centuries, however, it wasn't until recently that the practice started to be looked at as unnecessary, and sometimes even considered animal cruelty. So, let's go back to the beginning - how did the practice of docking dogs' tails even start?

It all dates back to ancient times. In ancient Rome, it was believed that removing the tip of the dog's tail or parts of the dog's tongue (sometimes both) could prevent them from getting rabies. During the course of history, a few other beliefs were created, which made the practice of docking tails more common. For example, it was believed that a tail helped a dog during a chase, which is why dogs that belonged to poor people who did not have permission to hunt game had their tails docked. This is quite ironic taking into consideration the argument that docked tails increase the dog's speed or strength.

Another reason why tail docking was practiced was to prevent the dog from tail injuries, to which it was prone during activities such as hunting.

Why Ear Cropping and Tail Docking Should be Re-considered?


As we already mentioned, in the past, it was believed that ear cropping and tail docking could prevent injuries (for example, tail injury), ear infections, and more - however, up until this day, there's no scientific evidence that it is actually the case.

Nowadays, ear cropping is becoming less and less popular generally with an ever-growing resistance and controversy to it, as well as public lack of approval from major medical organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Australian Veterinary Association (cosmetic ear cropping is illegal in Australia), the American Animal Hospital Association or Canadian Veterinary Medical Association when it comes to the procedure being done solely for cosmetic reasons.

What's more, today, ear cropping is banned in some countries, especially in Europe (an example of such a country is Germany). This is rather interesting, as many of the breeds that typically have the ears cropped originate from there. In Great Britain, dogs with cropped ears are actually barred from entering shows.  When it comes to the United States, one of the biggest issues with ear copping is that it is not regulated - only nine states regulate ear cropping.

Now, tail docking. Today, the most common reason for this kind of what is deemed by many as medically unnecessary procedures are cosmetic purposes. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the owners often dock their dog's tail to 'conform to a distinctive breed appearance or standard.' In countries that prohibit tail docking, such as the UK, the breed standards have been amended so that cosmetic tail docking is no longer necessary to meet them.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, after reading this article, you'll have a better understanding of what ear cropping and tail docking are. However, if you're still unsure, here's a quick recap - both tail docking and ear cropping are surgical procedures performed on many dog breeds. When it comes to tail docking, either a part or a whole tail is removed, while during ear cropping, either all of or just a part of external flaps of the animal's ears are removed.

There are four dog breeds that most commonly undergo both tail docking and ear cropping - those are Boxer, Brussels Griffon, Miniature Schnauzer and Doberman Pinscher.

In recent years, the topic of both ear cropping and tail docking has become quite controversial. Many organizations believe that tail docking, ear cropping and other similar surgical procedures are unnecessary and impact negatively animal welfare, and express their discontent publicly. For example, as we already mentioned, AVMA opposes ear cropping when it's done for cosmetic purposes. On the other hand, some organizations, such as the American Kennel Club, believe that ear cropping and tail docking do not constitute animal cruelty.

In Europe, the cropping of ears is prohibited in all countries that have ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. Some countries that ratified the convention made exceptions for tail docking. In many places, neither ear cropping nor tail docking is regulated, which means that although there's increasing disapproval of those cosmetic surgeries, they are not illegal, meaning that dog breeders can decide to make their dogs undergo the procedures. Will they become illegal someday? No one can answer that question - only time will tell.

Since this is such a huge topic that often sparks discussions, do feel free to have your say and leave any comments or advice below.