Pets & Their People / Perspective

Miriam Yarden

Designer Dogs

by C. Miriam Yarden, B.Sc., MS, APDT Contributing Editor

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  • (August 13, 2009) -- Many years ago while walking my large Dobermann, I was stopped by a woman who asked what kind of "funny looking dog" he was. Having told her that he was a Dobermann, she peered at him and exclaimed in horror:

    "He has EARS!"

    "Of course he has ears. Why would he not have ears?" I asked.

    She was outraged at my response and with incredible vehemence proceeded to take me to task for not having had his ears cropped and his tail docked. Finally, with utter disgust she shouted at me:

    "He doesn't look natural! The AKC will never accept him!"

    I often wondered if she ever realized how contradictory and silly she was. How can a dog look natural AFTER he has been re-designed, re-cut and re-shaped in the very areas that make him unique, different, individual and above all --expressive?

    How can one remove body parts that are essential for communication? How can a dog signal friendship, affection, alarm, warning, anger and even impending attack if the vitally important "instruments" that send these messages are removed?

    There a few things more sad than the frantic wag of a small stump where a proud tail should be. There are few things more grotesque than two misshapen flaps where soft, silky ears should be -- merely to satisfy the owner’s misdirected vanity and blind obedience to AKC fashion dictates.

    Apart from the truly unnatural appearance and total lack of any medical indication for these procedures, there is the operation itself to be considered. Ear cropping is major surgery and a bloody one at that. It is painful, stressful and all too often, drastically alters the dog's personality and emotional stability. The remaining stumps must be re-bandaged repeatedly again and again, causing more pain and stress when the scabs are torn off in the process, and infections are also frequent.

    Now the ears must be "racked up" in a wire or plastic rack on top of the dog's head with the stumps taped to it, because the mutilated ears will not stand up by themselves -- more irritation and stress. Finally, if the job is not done by a veterinary "artist", they are often uneven, un-matched and not in proportion to the size and appearance of the adult dog.

    Cropped ears will not make a Dobermann more ferocious or a Great Dane more alert. They will not improve the looks of a Schnauzer, a dignified Boxer or a tiny Terrier. Remove the tail and you remove the smile of a friendly dog -- the same tail that also signals "I like", "I'm happy", "I'm afraid", "I dislike", or "I'm going to attack".

    The most offensive and dangerous practice is by the breeder who removes the tails of neonates by dubious and unknown methods, without the necessary training, without the necessary sterile conditions and above all -- without a license to practice medicine. (The veterinary community might consider demanding that such activity on the part of breeder be stopped).

    The argument for cropped ears and docked tails is that it is necessary to prevent them snagging on bushes and branches in the field - right? Wrong! For one thing, your dog is a pet who does not work in the field; he reclines on the sofa, the rug or the grass in the backyard. Following this argument, why don't we crop and dock Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Bassets, Beagles and all others with pendulous ears? Why don't we dock the tail of Collies, Irish Setters, Poodles, and all others who carry them like proud and happy flags? After all, they can also snag on a bush or a branch -- ...unreasonable, isn't it?

    Cropping and docking are man-designed looks for no other purpose than to blindly follow a "fashion" for which the animal is put through a painful ordeal. How can that be natural?

    In England, Germany and most European countries these surgeries are not performed and cropped/docked animals are disqualified from show because they are considered mutilated. In the U.S., several states have also started to move in that direction where such "re-styling" is frowned upon or no longer accepted. Most owners are relieved to find that these surgeries are not required except by the parent breed clubs with the cooperation of the AKC (of course!).

    As for behavior issues, the first thing to consider is that the dog develops hand-shyness (justifiably so) and dislikes being touched on the head or ears. This can result in a bite to the bewilderment and surprise of the owner of the friendly hand.

    What a pity that greeting your pet with a friendly head-rub or ear-stroke becomes difficult or even impossible. Such surgeries are extremely traumatic and the effects last for years, often for the life of the poor dog. Dobermanns in particular become edgy, nervous and restless. One wonders what a Miniature Schnauzer or a tiny Terrier goes through during and after such operations. And the reassurance the owner receives is that the pup is "too young to remember".

    First of all, they are NOT too young to remember and second, why do proponents of such mutilations maintain that youth is a protection against pain and suffering?

    Enjoy the truly natural look of your Great Dane, Dobermann, Boxer, Schnauzer etc. Let him talk to you with his tail and soft, silky ears. With a little vigilance and care, you can prevent ear infections and if he does get scratched by a bush, the injury is much smaller, much less painful and easier to treat than subjecting him to months of pain, stress, irritation and all too frequent emotional problems.

    He will look and be truly NATURAL that way!

    [ note: To view a May 2009 AKC website statement on cropping/docking, click here.]
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    Ms. Yarden's Archives:

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  • Driving With Your Dog

  • On CSULB's Unwelcome Coyotes & Formerly Welcome Feral Felines

  • Not Merely Birth Control: The Other Side of Spay & Neuter

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