By​ ​Courtney​ ​Emken

co-written​ ​by​ ​​Jen​ ​Larson,​ ​CPTD / KPA-CTP, and Bart Emken, CPTD-KA

Many people might not recognize the dog breed in our header picture. If you guessed “Doberman,” then you’d be correct! Most Americans imagine Dobermans with tall ears and short tails, but these are actually unnatural features created by ear cropping and tail docking.

Ear cropping and tail docking have their origins in ancient times, when humans would remove ear tissue and sever tails from working dogs to prevent injury and stop infections. However, modern ear cropping and tail docking is almost entirely cosmetic, meant to maintain the desired look of certain breeds like:

  • Dobermans
  • Great Danes
  • Pit Bulls

However, what many owners don’t realize is that these “traditional” looks actually stem from dog fighting. Long ears and tails provided easy targets for an opponent’s jaws, so fighting dogs would have these appendages forcibly removed to make them harder to grapple.

While tail docking and ear cropping may improve a dog’s chances in the ring, they otherwise cause irreparable physical and psychological harm. In this article, we’ll explain how these cosmetic procedures are entirely unnecessary for the vast majority of pets, and explore easier, more humane alternatives to the “happy tail” problem that many owners face.

The Physical Damage Of Ear Cropping And Tail Docking

Similar to feline declawing, ear cropping and tail docking are crippling procedures that mutilate and permanently mar an animal’s body. Tails are more than just wiggly-appendages— they’re an extension of the spine critical for maintaining balance and swimming. To sever it is to remove a body part integral to a dog’s physical capabilities.

Both procedures also cause intense pain and physical stress. Many vets don’t utilize anesthetics during the operation, forcing puppies to experience the incredible pain of surgery fully-conscious. On the other hand, if your dog is put under for the operation, then you risk further complications, such as:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Vision impairment
  • Allergic reactions
  • Clotting disorders
  • Seizures

While these may be necessary evils for dogs who have severe disorders that require surgery, they are huge risks for a cosmetic procedure that provides no tangible benefit whatsoever.

The closest analogy we can make is to imagine having your pinkies “cropped.” The pain of the experience would probably land somewhere between excruciating and agonizing, but would you survive? Absolutely. However, you would certainly miss the use of those fingers, and would probably not elect to remove your pinkies unless absolutely necessary.

The Psychological Impact Of Cosmetic Canine Surgery

While the physical injuries will heal with time, the psychological wounds will have a more lasting effect. The mental anguish and stress will persist long after the surgery, making your puppy fearful and anxious about the world. They may come to distrust vets, hospitals, and even you.

Worse perhaps, is that your dog’s ability to communicate will forever be impaired. Tails and ears are incredibly important signifiers in canine body language. An intact tail can show that a dog is happy or nervous, but a stump is mute. This can lead to scuffles and fights because your dog can’t tell others that they’re not a threat.

How To Solve The “Happy Tail” Problem Without Docking

Due to perpetuation by the American Kennel Club, the popular image of many dogs includes modified ears and tails. Despite this, the American Veterinary Medical Association maintains that “elective” surgery is dangerous and unnatural. Many hospitals are now refusing to perform these operations, and vets across the nation are turning their backs on cosmetic surgery.

However, some breeds do have a problem known as “Happy Tail Syndrome,” where medical complications arise from their overactive tail wagging. In enclosed spaces, especially kennels and shelters, these dogs can easily lacerate or possibly break their tails. This can even prompt dogs to chew off their own tails for relief.

While tail docking may be the more humane option for shelter dogs, owners can take preventative measures to keep happy tails in check. For instance, if your dog constantly sweeps items off the coffee table, relocate the objects or increase the height of the table.

If you need help getting your dog’s “happy tail” under control, or want more information about the dangers of canine cosmetic surgery, please contact us today. We’ve had dogs with lively tails before, and we’d love to share the tips and tricks earned by our experience.

Image Permissions

Doberman Pup by Peyri Herrera

Ear Cropped Doberman by John M

Tail Docked Dog by Abay Kushwaha