Tail docking and ear cropping are performed either to meet certain show standards or simply to improve the appearance of an animal. They bear no relation to health.
In regard to tail docking, the amount of tail to be removed depends either on show requirements for the particular breed or on personal preference. The best age at which to perform the operation is when the animal is a couple of days old, although it can be done at any time during the animal’s life. At the very early age, however, the tail docking is very simple, is accompanied by very little pain or hemorrhage, can be performed without anaesthesia, requires no sutures or bandages, results in very rapid healing, and seldom has any undesirable consequences. At a later age at least local anaesthesia is necessary, bandages and sutures are required, some pain and annoyance are invariably encountered, healing is slower, and infection, though quite uncommon, is much more likely.
As for ear cropping, the amount of ear to be removed also depends either on show requirements for the particular breed or on personal preference. The best age at which to perform this operation depends both on the breed and on the animal’s state of health. The best time to operate on Danes, Dober-mans, and Boxers is when they are ten or eleven weeks of age. Bostons, Bull Terriers, Toy Manchesters, and others may be operated on when they are four to six months of age, if the conformation of the ear is the usual one for the breed concerned. If the conformation is unusual, it may be necessary to operate at an earlier or at a somewhat later period.
In contrast to the tail docking, ear cropping is a major surgical operation, performed under general anaesthesia. In some techniques the cut ears are merely bound with adhesive tape, without the use of sutures. But the more common approach is to stitch the cut ear, and after a couple of days to have them bound in wire splints until healing is complete and the stitches can be removed. A third technique, which the author prefers, is to stitch the ears with a dissolvable suture material and then paste them together in a standing position on top of the head. The latter technique requires no bandaging and all the aftercare can be performed by the owner. This method is also accompanied by the least amount of discomfort to the animal.
Often the ears will not stand after healing is complete. But if the operation was properly performed, the ears will stand erect after the cartilage develops. If the ears do not stand by the time the animal is nine or ten months old, it is unlikely that they ever will. In such cases no amount of taping, rolling, or stretching will do any good, and only corrective surgery can remedy the defect.
Dogs that have their ears cropped must be in a vigorous state of health, because good health will result in proper development of ear cartilage which is essential in causing the ear to stand erect; poor health might result in deficient development of ear cartilage, in which case the ear might never stand erect. If it is determined that the animal’s health is not as good as it might be, it is advisable to get the animal into proper condition before the ear-cropping operation can safely be performed.
Tail docking and ear cropping are at best inhumane whims of fancy. While it is true that tail docking or ear cropping do often improve the appearance of an animal, they also seem to give it an artificial freakishness. It is hoped that we can some day arrive at standards based on the natural attributes, and not have to resort to cosmetic surgery. The issue will come to a head only when an informed and sufficiently outraged dog-loving public will raise its voice toward the abolition of these barbarous and unnecessary practices.