Dogs are born with ears and tails. They should get to keep them.
Take a look at the handsome dog above. Can you identify the breed?
Next, look at the photo below. What kind of dog is it?
Both are Doberman Pinschers, one of America’s most popular breeds. But one has floppy ears and a long tail, and one doesn’t. One looks the way Dobermans are born, and one looks the way we’re used to seeing them: With ears and a tail that have been cut by humans.
The procedures are called tail docking and ear cropping, and they’re commonly performed on this breed and many others. But they’re really amputations by other, more euphemistic names. They are said to have started with the Romans, who believed that tails spread rabies, and been continued by ranchers, hunters and dog-fighters who thought they prevented prey or adversaries from downing dogs by the tail or scalping them by the ears.
Mills, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, grew interested in the topic of medically unnecessary animal surgeries — a category that includes cat declawing and dog debarking — as a third-year undergraduate. With her animal welfare professor, Marina von Keyserlingk, and a fellow student, Mills published a review of the scientific literature and history of docking and cropping earlier this year in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. While researching, she said, she noticed that surveys on the procedures were based on veterinarians’ and breeders’ opinions of them. She wondered how ordinary people perceived them.
That question led to a study whose findings were recently published in PLOS One. First, Mills and colleagues asked 810 participants, all Americans surveyed online, to look at the photo of the docked and cropped Doberman, as well as photos of three other breeds whose ears and tails had been altered, as they commonly are: the Boxer, the miniature Schnauzer and the Brussels Griffon. When given a list of 10 traits — including fur color and number of teeth — and asked to rate the extent to which they were hereditary or human-caused, participants overwhelmingly answered that the dogs had been born with short tails and erect ears.
‘They don’t want to know about it’
Von Keyserlingk, a co-author of the study, said she thinks the results indicate that many people have come to accept dogs’ typical appearances at face value, not as products of centuries of human decisions. Mills added that she believes that lack of awareness could be intentional.
“People disconnect themselves from things if they find it uncomfortable,” Mills said. “They don’t want to know about it.”
They’re not particularly pleasant procedures to know about. Tail-docking is performed by veterinarians or breeders when puppies are three to five days old, either by cutting the tail with scissors or a scalpel or putting an elastic band around it that restricts circulation and makes it fall off. Anesthetic is rarely used.
Veterinarians usually, but not always, do ear-cropping on seven- to 12-week-old puppies and use anesthetic. After cutting the ears into the owner’s chosen shape (Dobermans might get a ‘military crop’ or a ‘show crop’), the ears are held upright for months, at first in a styrofoam cup and then with tape, until they heal and stand on their own.