tail docking and ear cropping

Dog Ear Cropping and Tail Docking – Yes or No?

Many of us would hope the practice of dog ear cropping and tail docking is a thing of the past.

After all, it’s a procedure done purely for aesthetic reasons that causes issues for the animal. It’s plastic surgery for dogs, except the dogs have no choice in the matter. Hence it’s something condemned by animal rights groups around the globe.

Unfortunately, multiple news reports from the UK show an increase in dog breeders performing a range of animal body modifications (mutilations?). This includes dog ear cropping, tail docking and debarking. And although we couldn’t find concrete figures for NZ, over the ditch the RSPCA has reported a 621% increase in reports of ear cropping from 2015 to 2020. 

So what is causing the rise in this trend? Do ‘cosmetic’ procedures like tail docking and dog ear cropping happen in New Zealand? Is it legal, and is it ever ethical?

tail docking

What is cropping and docking?

What is tail docking? It’s when you artificially shorten a dog’s tail, usually when they’re still a puppy. The tail is either cut off with scissors or tied with a band. The band cuts off blood supply and the tail eventually dies then falls off.

Dog ear cropping is where a dog’s ear flaps are partially or fully cut off – usually with scissors, knives, or razor blades. Its ears will then be taped to stand up in a particular way… Some argue this is more aesthetically pleasing than a dog’s natural ear shape.

Why do it?

Both these procedures are done purely for cosmetic reasons. Some believe cropped ears make the dog look more ‘mean’ or ‘alert’. When it comes to tail docking, the reasons are more complex. Ancient civilizations like the Romans believed it stopped rabies. American Puritans believed evil forces could inhabit a dog’s tail.

Later, owners docked tails to differentiate working dogs from pets. Some claim that docked tails prevent matting and are more hygienic. But usually the real reason is that some people just like the way it looks.

dog ear cropping

Why the rise in dog ear cropping and tail docking?

Social media is one of the reasons this trend is on the increase. More and more, people want their dogs to ‘look good’ in photographs. There’s an ill-conceived belief that dogs with their tails docked or ears cropped fit into that mould.

According to this BBC News article, another factor has been celebrities posting pictures of their dogs with cropped ears or docked tails. These have included UK footballers Marcus Rashford and Andy Carroll, Little Mix singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Love Island UK’s Jack Fincham.

Although the practice is illegal in most parts of the world, unscrupulous breeders offer owners forged papers. These show the dog has been imported from areas like Russia or the US where dog mutilation is legal.

Back on home soil, do ‘cosmetic’ procedures like tail docking and ear cropping happen in New Zealand? Is it legal, and is it ever ethical?

tail docking

Tail docking and dog ear cropping in NZ

You’ll (hopefully) be happy to know that tail docking and ear cropping is completely illegal in New Zealand. The fine for tail docking is up to $3,000 and the fine for ear cropping is up to $5,000, according to the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations Act of 2018.

Nevertheless, illegal modifications still happen. Such as the case of Smokey, a pitbull rescued by the SPCA from a property near Rotorua after his ears were cruelly sliced off.

In the same article, a senior Auckland SPCA inspector Bruce Wills said he often sees ear cropping – especially on pitbulls.

“It is a fairly haphazard process, with a dog struggling and screaming away. The ears can get quite uneven,” the inspector said.

Our laws state that dogs may only have tail docking or ears cropping done if it’s for medical reasons. In that case, only a registered professional or vet may perform the procedure.

dog ear cropping

Why it’s so cruel

Dog mutilation like ear cropping and tail docking causes the dog unnecessary pain and stress. Procedures like these done improperly can cause blood loss, infection, hearing loss, and even death.

It also impairs their ability to communicate. Dogs use their tails and ears to signal excitement, fear, stress, happiness, anger or aggression to humans and other dogs. Without their ears and tails, communication becomes unclear and can lead to ‘dog bites dog situations.

The procedures can also have a psychologic impact. It can make the dog scared, wary, or even aggressive to humans or other dogs. Dog mutilation is animal abuse, and will lead to the same anxious behaviour.

dog ear cropping

What you can do about dog ear cropping and tail docking

Seen or or know of a dog who’s undergone tail docking or ear cropping? It’s important to report it to your local authorities. We have detailed advice on how to report animal abuse here. Also read our guide on signs of animal abuse and neglect.

If you’re purchasing one or more dogs, make sure they’re from reputable, ethical dog breeders who prioritise animal welfare. Purchasing from ethical breeders should decrease the incidence of puppy mills and breeders that abuse their animals for monetary gain.

Dog insurance for responsible pet ownership

A responsible pet owner would never do anything to intentionally harm their pet, especially for cosmetic reasons. But surgery due to accidents, illness, and other emergencies can still happen. As can plenty of other trips to the vet. An affordable pet insurance policy will give you peace of mind.

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