There are several breeds of dogs that owners will consider altering by docking tails or cropping ears. Tail docking is often done for safety reasons, while today, ear cropping is usually a stylistic choice of the owner. For the purposes of this post we will focus on the practice of ear cropping and the pros and cons of the issue. This is a hot topic in dog ownership communities as well as in the vet industry and because of this we want to stress that this can be a weighty personal decision an owner may grapple with and we are not passing judgement one way or the other.
What is ear cropping?
Ear Cropping is the removal of part or all of the pinnae or auricles, the external visible flap of the ear, of an animal; it sometimes involves taping to make the ears pointy, such as in a Doberman Pinscher. This procedure is usually performed between week 6 and 16, which is the typical length of time after birth that a person adopts a puppy.
There is a quite a bit of current speculation as to the history of this practice but it is generally believed that ear cropping was performed for safety reasons to protect a dog's long, floppy ears from injury. This was especially true with dogs within agricultural communities that needed to protect livestock from prey. A long ear can be bitten or torn in a fight, or caught in fencing or other objects around a farm. Hunting dogs that came into contact with brush and killed prey were (and still are) in danger of ear injury. Historically, dog fighting was socially acceptable, and owners would crop the ears of dogs used to fight. In some situations, like agriculture and hunting, dogs are still used to these ends. Some dog breeds are prone to ear infections and other ear-related maladies and ear cropping is thought to decrease this tendency. However, this line of thinking is highly debatable.
The most common breeds that undergo ear cropping are: Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Bully breeds, some Mastiff breeds, Kane-corso, Beauceron, Manchester terrier, Schnauzer and others. Many of us are accustomed to the sleek, clean lines of a Doberman or Great Dane with cropped ears; it's part of the desired look. Breeders of these lines will often keep up the practice of ear cropping to maintain expectations.
Post-op care an other concerns
After the initial ear cropping surgery you will need to bring your pup in for follow-up visits. His ears will need to get taped and posted so they heal in an upright position. Do you have young children or other factors going on within the home that may affect this healing process for your dog? If you do have children in your home they need to understand that they will not be able to pet the dog's head or anywhere around the ears. A puppy that has undergone a cropping surgery needs a minimum of 6 weeks to heal (4-5months to fully heal) and keeping a child away from a new dog for that long may be tough. Do you own other pets, and will they also want to play with the new puppy?
Keep in mind that healing animal can experience pain from time to time and be prepared for some grumpiness. If young children are present, an extra eye should be kept on their interaction with the post-op puppy so that they don't get nipped by an ornery dog.
A puppy undergoing an ear cropping surgery will need its ears taped, braced, and posted. It is possible for the owner to do this but many people aren't comfortable with it and take their pet into the vet. This process should be repeated at least one to two times a week. If the pup's ears respond well, connected, solid posting may need to be done for for 4-5 weeks followed by several weeks of individual posting to keep the ears from flopping.
Things to consider
Time, time, and time. Do you have the time to spend bandaging, posting and going in for numerous vet check ups? Can your home provide the healing environment your pup will need to recover from a surgery like this? Will other animals or children be a complicating factor? Are your children old enough to give your pup time and space to heal? Children will often not want to leave the puppy alone and visa-versa, and asking a child not to play with a new puppy for a minimum of six weeks—yes, you read that right SIX whole weeks at the minimum (realistically it will probably be about a complete 4-5 months until fully healed).
To crop or not to crop?
Ear cropping is not necessary for the health of your dog. Are you a breeder? Do you want a show dog? Are you purchasing a dog for the classic look of the breed? If these things aren't a factor for you then consider leaving your dog's ears alone. Other pets, children, time restraints, money, the pain your pet may experience—these are all things to consider.
Amanda Furman VA, CCA