If you are planning to get a purebred puppy like a Schnauzer, Boxer, or Doberman Pinscher, for dog’s sake tell the breeder not to cut off the tail of the pup you want. And when you get the puppy with a tail, don’t have the next cruel and unnecessary mutilation done on the poor creature, namely, ear-cropping.
I advise against having either of these procedures done on any pup, not just because they are outlawed in the UK as unwarranted and unethical cosmetic alterations. They also cause harm, and can have long-term health and behavioral problems.
First, consider why dogs have tails. Regardless of the fact that some mutants have no tails at birth, dogs need and use their tails as one means of communication, especially for making their intentions clear to other dogs. Tails are used to signal friendliness, submission, fear, playfulness, dominance, and threats. They are even used as play-toys by pups pulling and leaping on their mothers’ tails, who will twitch them to stimulate their offspring. Thick and furry tails can provide warmth and comfort to tuck into on a chilly night, and a strong tail can help provide counterbalance when running and turning fast. So why cut them off because it is some ‘breed’?
Second, consider why dogs have ears. A normal dog’s ear, with complex muscles that enable dogs to move their ears independently and into different positions, not only plays a role in enhancing dogs’ hearing ability, and ability to locate the direction of sounds, but is also an integral part of dogs’ communication repertoire. Like the tail, different ear positions mean different things when combined with various facial expressions, body postures, and vocal sounds. Dogs with erect, cropped ears are hampered in this regard, and may be seen as more threatening by other dogs—and people too. How does this affect a naturally gentle dog, to be perceived as aggressive or dangerous? While assessing animal concerns with Masai cattle people in East Africa, after seeing that some of their dogs had cropped ears, I asked them why they had done so. They told me it was done to make chosen dogs ‘more fierce’.
Psychological problems can arise following ear cropping, especially in dogs who developed infections along the sliced, sutured edges of their ears. Often such dogs have to go in for more surgery, and have their hot, suppurating, and painful ears cleaned, dressed and bandaged for days. Frequently when one or both ears do not stand up as hoped for, the poor pup has to go in for additional plastic surgery or wear uncomfortable ear-splints for weeks.
The net result is suffering, and fear that result in some dogs becoming head-shy, either cringing, or even snapping when anyone comes close and reaches to pat or stroke them on their heads. So rather than becoming ‘more fierce’, some dogs will become more fearful or unreliable, especially around strangers. Of course many pups have no problems with their ears, but you can never be sure if they won’t.
So why run the risk, and unanticipated costs? Dogs with docked tails sometimes become almost psychotic because there is a painful abscess on the tip of their tails where the skin did not heal properly over the amputated tail vertebra. Bone infection may set in, necessitating further amputation of the tail.
Other unfortunate dogs do seem to become really psychotic when they compulsively chase their tails and have bouts of chewing them bloody. There’s no infection involved. The cause of the extreme suffering may be due to a phantom-limb effect, or to what is called an amputation neuroma. This is an inflamed and swollen severed nerve-ending that pulses pain-impulses into the heart and soul of the poor dog.
Clearly injurious, far from harmless, and not without serious consequences, the practices of dog tail-docking and ear cropping should be regarded as unnecessary mutilations that should be seen as cruelties under animal protection laws, statutes, and welfare standards. Breed clubs should set a date after which, any dog born after that date, cannot enter a dog show without a full tail and un-cropped ears. And all veterinarians should give up their income from ear cropping to the higher calling of our profession: And that is to prevent animal disease and suffering wherever and when ever we can.
I have seen more than one Schnauzer, Boxer and Doberman with their entire tails and un-cropped ears. They looked different, of course, from a distance, but behaviorally and in spirit they were still true to their breeds. I think they looked magnificent; and they were as happy as their human companions were proud!