Puppy Procedures: Ear Cropping, Tail Docking and Dewclaw Removal
Ear cropping, tail docking and dewclaw removal originated as means to prevent injuries. Hundreds of years ago, dog owners removed those parts of puppies' ears and tails that were likely to be snagged or torn while hunting and working. Dewclaws (rudimentary 5th toes on the inside of dog's ankles) were removed for the same reason. Dogs that were bred for fighting had their ears and tails removed to prevent loose appendages from becoming convenient grips for their opponent's teeth.
Today, the practice of altering tails and ears is primarily a matter of continuing a tradition rather than fulfilling a need. Considered cosmetic surgery, these operations are elective and should only be performed after careful consideration.
In early days, ears were cropped very short. The technique was clumsy with no regard to balance or aesthetics. With the development of anesthesia, cropping techniques became more sophisticated and "artistic." When cropping could be done as the puppy "slept," more time and attention could be placed on using the scalpel to develop certain lines and shapes.
Today there is no reason, other than personal choice, to crop ears. Of course, if you plan to show your dog in conformation classes, there are some dog breeds that are preferred to have cropped ears. Those breeds include Great Danes, Boxers, Dobermans, Schnauzers, Brussels Griffons and Miniature Pinschers.
Dog fanciers that support ear cropping defend it as being beneficial for the dog's ear health. They believe cropped ears have fewer incidences of ear infections because of increased light and air circulation.
If you elect to crop your puppy's ears, it is best to have it done as early as possible -- six weeks of age in the larger dog breeds and not more than 9 weeks of age for the small dog breeds. Since the ear cartilage is permanently set by the time a dog is 4 months old, ears cropped after this age may never stand up properly. Be sure that an experienced, qualified veterinarian in a hospital environment does the operation.
The surgery involves reshaping, sculpturing and contouring the outer ear flap in order to achieve an ear that will be erect, balanced and in proportion to the dog's head and body. After the surgery, the amputated ear will be taped into place on a "rack," which is usually a wire rod or Styrofoam cup. Follow-up visits involve stretching the healing ear along its edges and re-taping the rack. The ears are kept in the taped position until the muscles and cartilage of the ears heal enough to stand on their own.
There is a great deal of controversy as to whether or not ear cropping is a humane practice. In Great Britain, dogs with cropped ears are barred from shows. Sentiment against ear cropping and tail docking is very common in Europe. In the United States, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights has recommended that the AKC and other breed associations delete mention of cropped ears from their breed standards. In any case, the choice is still yours. Just be sure to get all the facts before making your decision.
Tails are cropped when puppies are just a few days old. The amount of tail removed is determined by the standard for that particular breed. Although many breeders perform the procedure themselves, it should be done by a qualified veterinarian in a hospital environment.
Breeds that have their tails routinely docked include Airedales, Old English Sheepdogs, Cocker Spaniels, Griffons, Grosser Munsterlanders, Kerry Blue Terriers, Irish Terriers, Poodles, Sealyham Terriers, Welsh Terriers, Weimaraners, Yorkshire Terriers, Boxers and if the tail is considered too long, the German short-haired Pointer and Wire-haired Pointer.
When you take a puppy to the vet to have the tail docked, the hair on the tail will be removed and the tail will be sterilized. A tourniquet will be applied to stop bleeding. A clamp is then placed at the length of tail desired and a scalpel used to cut off the remaining tail. A few sutures will be taken to prevent bleeding and the tail will be bandaged.
Be sure you and your veterinarian agree on just how much tail is to be removed. Dogs with too much or too little tail can be disqualified from shows. If you do not plan to show your dog, consider leaving both the tail and the ears as Mother Nature intended.
Dewclaws are usually present on the inside of the front paws and sometimes on the back paws as well. The practice of removing dewclaws was originally done because working and hunting dogs would catch and injure their dewclaws on underbrush. Although most dogs benefit from having their dewclaws removed, some dogs, especially dogs bred for sheep herding, such as the Briard, have a breed standard that requires that the dewclaws be left intact.
Since dewclaws have the tendency to become torn and even household dogs can get their dewclaws caught in the carpet, their removal is generally accepted and encouraged. If this surgery is elected, it is best done at about three days of age.
If your breeder has not had your puppy's dewclaws removed, be sure to keep the nail trimmed because it does not wear down like the nails that are in contact with the ground. If allowed to grow too long, the dewclaw can penetrate the footpad and cause a painful infection.