The history, effects, and reason we crop ears and dock tails, plus the myths and "animal rights" debate on cropping and docking.







Fred Lanting, International All-Breeds Judge - Oct. 2012

Click here if you missed Part I


This resulted as a discussion piece I had prepared for a chat group in Pakistan, where I had judged a couple of times, but it comes up frequently when I am abroad. The subject was “Fact vs fancy in re to tail docking.” As a judge and former breeder of a docked-tail breed, I felt compelled to reply to misconceptions about the practice of cropping and docking. The complaints or myths are in italics followed by my replies.


Myth #1: Some of the advantages/qualities of uncropped tail mentioned in the Rottweiler bible, 'The Rottweiler' by Adolf Pienkoss (3rd Edition) are: Dog can move better due to a better balance;

Doberman London - photo courtesy of Patty Smith - example of cropped ears and docked tail


That is pure fiction. I have competed in, judged, and carefully observed many Schutzhund trials, water trials, conformation shows, bird-dog events, and other competitions, and state flatly that “balance” is a myth. The misconception comes from seeing a dog hold its tail in a certain way when he turns quickly or does something else, but this is only a RESULT, not an AID or necessity in balance. Docked dogs and naturally tailless breeds such as Corgis and Australian Shepherds do just as well as dogs with tails.


Myth #2: There is strong evidence that tail docking is painful for the puppy. The puppy has a fully developed nervous system and a well-developed sense of pain. Puppies scream during the procedure and they whimper, whine and cry for 2-3 days following docking. During the recovery stage they do not eat well and tend to gain weight at a slower rate.


Incorrect in many respects. I have many years of strong, convincing experience including veterinary-science training/study, consulting, and breeding. The nervous system is not “fully developed” in every part at the same time, or pups would be born with their eyes open and fully functioning.


I have docked tails, and I have watched tails being docked by a variety of methods, all the way from using local anesthesia before snipping them off with a scissors, to chopping them off with a hatchet they way you would cut a chicken’s head off on a tree stump. First job out of high school was working for a vet who was also a Boxer breeder, so I got much experience in docking as well as ear trimming. One vet I later worked with was a body-builder (weightlifter) as his hobby, and had strong hands… he would hold the pup in one hand and finding the joint with the thumbnail of the other, he’d pinch-cut through and twist off the unwanted dewclaw or tail piece in an instant. No knife, no drug, no anesthetic, and in almost no time. In all these cases, the pup typically emits one very short “Yip!” as if it were surprised, and immediately forgets about it.


None of my terriers nor any of the dogs I assisted with or watched being docked ever had more than that split-second of discomfort from dewclaw removal or tail docking. Certainly their normal life and growth is not affected. Docking is typically done in the first two to four days after birth, when the nervous system is far from developed.


Myth #3: The tail is an essential part of the body language.


That is an exaggeration. It may help a little, but is far from essential. I can read the intentions of a docked Rottie or any naturally-tailless breed just as well as those with tails. Far more is obvious from a stiff-legged stance and gait, neck-and-head carriage, ear set, eyes and mouth, all of which combined gives us a picture of “expression.”


Myth #4: Protection of the genitals against heat, coldness, vermin, etc.


A tail will not stop fleas or ticks. Heat is regulated in canines by panting, and extremely little is lost by radiation from the anus-genitals area. In fact, the reason why dogs usually have less hair around the scrotum, and the fact it hangs down away from the body, is that sperm production requires lower temperature than inside or snug against the body. The tail certainly does not keep the testicles cooler. Tailless breeds and individuals have no more or less problem with these things mentioned. Yes, bushy tails help protect eyes and nose when a Husky or Malamute is curled up to sleep through a blizzard or a cold Arctic night.


White English Terrier ABD 1891 - Example of Cropped Ears - photo courtesy of Pam GueveraMyth #5: Better development of puppies.


Nonsense. There is no evidence that undocked puppies develop any differently than docked puppies.


(Partial) Myth #6: There is considerable scientific evidence that docking can lead to complications, including hemorrhage, infection and occasionally death of the puppy.


The word “considerable” is misused. If complications were that common, the practice would have been stopped centuries ago. While these things are possible, they are relatively rare. If you have unhygienic conditions (likelihood of infection) in your whelping box, you should not be breeding dogs! While “The World Small Animal Veterinary Association considers amputation of dogs' tails to be an unnecessary surgical procedure and contrary to the welfare of the dog” (and I agree that in most cases in today’s non-hunting society it is unnecessary), it is a specious argument to say that it adversely affects the welfare of dogs in general.


Myth #7: “Tails: according to the ADRK, Rottweilers were cattle dogs, they lived with the cattle. The tails would often pick up cattle dung, which would harden, causing injuries to the hocks and flanks, thus the tails were docked.


Sorry, but that old story doesn’t hold water much better than a sieve does. Rotties were developed as much for property guard work and cart-pulling. Tails of other flock-and-herd dogs (Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, as only one example) are not docked. I have seen incredibly filthy cattle-ranch and farm dogs of various breeds and mixes, and never a tail, hock, or flank affected any more than any other part of the dog.


Other comments:

“It was in 1998 that the parent Club ADRK announced the ban on tail docking.”


Yes, docking was outlawed in many countries in recent years. So far, it is still a matter of individual choice and custom in most of America, the land of stubbornly independent and free people, where government intrusion into private lives has still been kept in check to a greater degree than in many other places. There is far more of that interference in Europe, where most breeds originated.


“The Rottweiler must be docked just to restore his beauty and graceful look”.


Fred LantingThis is a matter of personal preference and aesthetics. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I got used to seeing uncropped Boxers, tailed Dobies, etc. far earlier than most Americans and many Europeans.


Additionally, you should realize there is more than one reason to dock. Some bushy-tailed breeds such as Spaniels got tangled in thorny underbrush. The naturally tailless Brittany was developed (selected) partly because of this, and Cockers were docked.  “Fighting” breeds, on the other hand, had ears cropped and tails docked because these parts are rich in blood vessels, and injuries there would have caused much blood to be lost and splashed all over the place. Look how close the ears of Ovchartkas, PitBull Terriers, etc. have traditionally been cut.


History of Ear Cropping & Tail Docking, Part I

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Crop/Dock - Comments

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Cropped Cockers?

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Tail Docking & History

100 years of history can’t be changed by animal rights.


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