Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. Technician  
Male, 53
Indianapolis, IN

Interests: animals, Reading (sci-fi and fantasy)
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Banfield Bans Tail Docks and Ear Trims

Jul 31, 2009 - 31 comments

ear trims


tail docks





Interesting news today…according to USA TODAY, Banfield, the Pet Hospital has banned tail docking , ear cropping and “de-barking” in dogs at all of their hospitals.

In case you don’t know them, Banfield is the USA’s largest network of animal hospitals.  Many of them can be found in the local PetSmart store, but I believe some of their hospitals are free-standing as well.

This policy, like many that deal with cosmetic surgeries, has a lot of controversy associated with it.  We have already seen how passionate people are about declawing cats so I am interested to see responses to this entry.  Let’s take a quick look at what each of these surgeries entail.  Note, I do use some graphic detail…if you don’t want to know about these surgeries skip the next several paragraphs.

Tail docking is probably the least controversial of the three.  2-3 day old puppies (dependant on breed) are brought to a veterinarian (hopefully) who then will take each individual pup, briefly examine it for problems like a cleft palate and then the assistant shaves the tail.  Again, depending on the breed, an incision is made all the way around the tail at a joint in the tail vertebrae and the tail is sliced off.  Skin sutures are placed to help aid in healing.  Done correctly, the process is relatively safe since no drugs are used.  Also, some breeds have their dewclaws removed at this time as well.  Tail docks are commonly done in Cockers, Rottweilers, Min Pins, and Yorkies.

Some DVMs have discussed using epidurals or local anesthesia for some puppies but the results are mixed and there is no consensus as to the effectiveness.  Given the state of the immature nervous system in these days old puppies, it is likely that they don’t “remember” the event and past the initial shock, the discomfort seems to fade quickly, similar to a circumcision in a male infant.  Although complications are rare, some pups can get bone infections post operatively if littermates chew on the tail stub.

Ear cropping is a little more serious surgery, although it is still most often performed on puppies.  This time, the puppy is closer to 10-16 weeks of age and intravenous and gas anesthetics are used.  Breeds commonly presented for ear cropping include Dobermans, Min. Schnauzers, Boxers, Great Danes and the various Pit Bulls and their crosses.  After a sterile preparation of the ear, the surgeon will make a cut down the ear and remove about half of the ear flap.  An artery is quickly removed and after some finessing by the surgeon, the outer (cut) edge of the ear is sutured.  This surgery is often referred to as one of the most artistic surgeries because each surgeon must learn the appropriate cut for individual breeds and adapt it to the individual puppy.  After surgery, many breeds (esp Boxers and Great Danes) have their ears taped in a standing position.

Thankfully, pain relief for these dogs has advanced greatly in the last 15 years.  Although it is still an uncomfortable surgery, veterinarians now do a much better job of managing the pup’s pain.

Owner compliance and rechecks are extremely important in the proper healing of ear crops.  Many ears fail to stand simply because the owner allowed the tape props to get wet (other dogs chewing on the ears) or failed to show for rechecks.

Some animal behaviorists have stated that a permanent “ears up” look on a dog impacts how other dogs perceive him and that it is perceived as a permanent threatening signal.

Finally, devocalization, or the “de-bark” surgery provides a lot of fuel for intensely heated discussions.  Most veterinarians will not do this surgery, but a few will for special clients with special needs.  Some will opt to remove the vocal cords altogether by making an incision in the throat and others choose to go through the mouth and remove pieces of the vocal cords with elongated forceps and curved scissors.  According to my research, about 65% of dogs “de-barked” with an intra-oral approach have some form of bark return.

Sadly, many breeders and hobbyists feel that they are qualified to do all of these procedures.  I have seen rubber bands on tails in attempt to dock the tail, bloody ears from someone using pinking shears and/or a meat cleaver to do an ear trim and the mess inside a dog’s throat from a breeder using a sharpened PVC pipe to “de-bark” his breeding stock.

While I heartily agree with Banfield’s decision to avoid these types of surgery, the policy does not help resolve the overall situation of cosmetic surgeries in general.  Many breed standards still require docked tails and although natural (floppy) ears are allowed to be shown, are those dogs winning enough to sway the breeding community into considering a movement away from cropped ears?

Regardless of how you feel about these surgeries, I am hoping that you will agree that it won’t matter how many veterinarians stop doing the surgeries or how many laws get passed, it won’t mean a thing unless the breed clubs themselves and the kennel clubs actively find a way to change their breed standards to allow for more “natural” looking dogs.  When these surgeries are unavailable or illegal, they will go underground and animal ERs will see more bloody ears and infected tail stumps.  I congratulate the kennel club in England for actively taking a stance to improve the English Bulldog’s conformation by changing their standards to reflect a longer nosed dog.

Devocalization is a little trickier and we will get into a similar debate as we did with declaws.  Imagine you have a dog that has been a big part of your life for a period of time and he is a great dog other than excessive barking.  Now, your landlord/homeowner’s association comes to you and says that you need to get rid of the dog or face removal from your home.  You are not wealthy enough to afford a new home nor can you afford the time/effort to move.  Would you consider devocalization in an effort to keep your dog and your home?

I apologize for any graphic images I may have portrayed, but I think everyone should know about these surgeries so that they can make an informed decision (like with declaws).  I personally would like to see ear cropping go away in my lifetime, but even I have to admit that a Doberman or Great Dane with floppy ears looks weird, even funny to me.  There is an aesthetic beauty to a dog with well done ears, but I realize that these dogs are not here for me to simply change and admire.

So…let’s hear from you…do you own pets with trimmed ears?  Has anyone experienced a de-barked dog?

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172023 tn?1334675884
by peekawho, Jul 31, 2009
I agree wholeheartedly, and am a Dobe owner, as well as a Great Dane owner.

Our first Dobe came to us many, many years ago, already with cropped ears.  When we got our next Dobe, we simply wanted to abide by the look of the breed standard, and had his ears cropped, too.  

Ditto for our next 2 Dobes.  It wasn't until Jefferson (our youngest) came along that we were even aware of the issues surrounding ear crops.  He had to have his done late, due to a severe respiratory illness he had.  We had difficulty finding a competent practitioner...there were literally 2 vets in our entire state who did them.  (this should have told us something).
His ears never stood, despite taping for many months.  He despised the ear posts, and often got them off within minutes. It was a full time job.  Eventually, we gave up and now he just looks like a funny eared Dobe.  

I totally regret the cropping now.  Our Dane has natural ears, and he is the most beautiful dog on earth (to me, of course).   I understand now that it is a very painful procedure, not without risk to the dog, and sometimes no matter what, you don't get a good cosmetic outcome.  

And now, with the rarity of competent veterinarians who will crop, there are more and more "backyard" croppers.  

Thanks for your thoughts on this.


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by sk123, Jul 31, 2009
I have two Samoyed sisters and they loved to play-fight growing up. It seemed that their favorite body part to chew on was the others' ears. We didn't think anything of it at the time and didn't stop them. Now as adults, they have floppy ears. I thought about cosmetic surgery, but it's just not worth making them go through surgery. It makes no difference to them and I think they're even more adorable with their floppy ears. They look gentler and more bear-like. Now we worry that our next dogs will grow up "normal" with perky ears.

203342 tn?1328740807
by April2, Jul 31, 2009
Banfield still does declawing though (ok, I'm ducking now!) Yes, I've used Banfield for several years.
How do I feel about the tail docking and ear cropping? I've honestly never thought about it! Although I did just adopt two toy poodle pups who obviously had their tails docked. I guess I'd wonder how this would affect show dogs, you know? They do have to look a certain way. Although, I guess it wouldn't matter to me how long their tail or ears are.

I don't know what to think about the devocalization, either. I had a dog who barked way too much, too. We tried so many different routes, including training, etc. Finally, the only thing that worked for him was the shock collar. We actually didn't even have to use it much after the first week or two because he picked up on it fast. We did hate to use it but we had tried everything else and this was the only thing that worked. We kept it on the lowest it could go and only used it certain times of the day, etc. The do say not to use it at night or when you're gone because you actually want a dog to bark to warn you if there's intruders, etc. After awhile we were able to turn it off but keep the collar on and he'd not bark. Then we were finally able to just remove the collar all together. Anyway, that's what worked for us for the excess barking.

Thanks for posting this. Very informative.

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by ginger899, Jul 31, 2009
Gosh!! Good! About time too!............here we go again.........

389974 tn?1331018842
by swampcritter, Jul 31, 2009
Though Swampy can easily understand why they would wish to ban these procedures, there is a downside. Its better that a vet who is well trained and safe do these procedures than an underground operator.

203342 tn?1328740807
by April2, Jul 31, 2009
Good point, Swampy.

506791 tn?1439846583
by Piparskeggr, Jul 31, 2009
Mankind has a habit of wanting to alter nature to suit its own internal aesthetic.
I do not, preferring to take what is natural at face value.

Let dogs be dogs, cats be cats...our idea of what "breeds" should look like is artificial and facile.

To quote one of my favorite songs, "History shows again and again, how nature points out the folly of man."

Boycott Breeds!  Ban the kennel clubs! Up the Mutt!

Pip ;-)

Pip...that was one of the best quotes I have seen in a very long time.   Thank you for that.

I personally have a fondness for purebreds...have known many great "mutts" but my true favorites have been the sighthounds, the northern breeds, and, now of course, the Mastiffs

203342 tn?1328740807
by April2, Jul 31, 2009
You've got a good point, Pipar, but you know man will never be satisfied unless they're constantly playing around with "creating" whether it be different breeds or cloning. We're always looking for a way to improve things, whether it be pets, genetically altered foods, or creating the perfect baby, which is where this is headed next.
Mutts can make the best pets too! Interestingly enough, I've heard they tend to be healthier. Maybe we shouldn't keep messing with genetics so much, huh?

675347 tn?1365464245
by ginger899, Jul 31, 2009
April and Pip........I do agree with you both.

I have a mutt. She's the best.

203342 tn?1328740807
by April2, Jul 31, 2009
I've had both, mutts (cats and dogs) and purebred. I try to go by the temperament that I want. I do have to admit I like the smaller dogs who don't shed because I have so many family members with allergies. That's why I have 2 poodles right now and before that I had a Maltese mix. So he was part mutt!

In theory, you would think that mutts would be healthier at least with respect to genetic or hereditary diseases.    Hybrid vigor basically says that breeding parents of different genetic backgrounds minimizes the chance of deleterious recessive genes that often get "fixed" in purebred populations.   However, against infectious diseases, parasites, etc, mutts don't really enjoy any kind of advantage.

A quick search online couldn't find any verifiable proof of hybrid vigor, but there were some studies that were very inconclusive.   Lots of data but once you started selecting and categorizing for ages, etc, there was no proof mutts were healthier.   There was some proof that mutts are euthanized earlier in the medical decision making process because of a perception of "lesser value" when compared with purebreds.  Purebreds often suffered from diseases related to being intact (testicular cancer, mammary cancer, etc) while mutts were usually neutered and avoided these diseases.

Having written that, I am just now recalling a study showing that purebred cattle did not thrive as well as crosses.   I will have to try and find that.

13167 tn?1327197724
by RockRose, Jul 31, 2009
Interesting article and thoughts.

I,  personally,  have had great mutts and purebreds,  but personally prefer purebreds because if they're bred correctly you know what you're getting personality and behavior-wise,  typically.  Don't expect a Basenji to move off the "good spot" on the couch without biting you,  and expect a Cairn terrier to rid the barn of rats.  It works.

Avatar universal
by nudma, Jul 31, 2009
As an x-pound employee and a passionate animal person, I am totally in favor of banning cat declawing, ear cropping, and debarking.  If all hospitals and veternarians were on the same path, it would certainly be quite a blessing.  The animal world needs all the help it can get in many areas.  Sincerely, Nudma

746512 tn?1388811180
by Tammy2009, Jul 31, 2009
I can understand debarking in extreme cases but many people use it before they have done the work to try to correct the behaviour (same as declawing).  I personally don't like tail docking/ear cropping but of course the former is done before you even see the dog for sale.  I would not crop the ears of any of my personal dogs but I'm not sure if I would do the surgery when I become a vet, haven't thought about it much.  

Then again, a lot of things we do to animals shouldn't happen; leaving a 3 month old puppy alone for 8 hours a day, not socializing our dogs and allowing it to become spoiled, breeding dogs to the point of having major health problems like the bulldogs etc etc etc.  

Working in a pet store I see many people that turn to a shock bark collar, before they even try training with them, a lot of people refuse to put in the effort it takes to properly raise a dog, they want the quick fix.  Typical story: 1-3 year old small dog (like pomerian, daxi, chihuahua etc) that gets maybe 2 walks a week and is barking anytime someone walks by.  Problem: probably left at house to fend for itself most of the time and no one puts the effort into training and stimulating the dog both physically and mentally, they just want something that will fix the behaviour itself.

203342 tn?1328740807
by April2, Jul 31, 2009
Well, that wasn't the case with my situation. My dog wasn't left alone. I stayed at home. He was socialized and I took him to training classes, etc. to be around other dogs and people. We actually did work with him a lot because he was a pound dog that needed some work but I saw the potential in him. We tried many methods to stop the excess barking before trying the shock collar. I'm not saying I liked it but we did try it and it worked. Fortunately we didn't have to use it long for him to stop barking. We even had tried the high pitched noise one first but that didn't phase him. He was a pretty stubborn dog and would continue to bark and bark. The shock collar was the only thing that worked for us. It doesn't mean we didn't love our dog, we were just trying to correct the behavior.

746512 tn?1388811180
by Tammy2009, Jul 31, 2009
Oh sorry April .... they are the few like you that use the shock collar at the end because nothing else works and I enjoy selling them to owners like you :) because they will work then (... that actually put in the time and effort).  There are many cases of people getting older dogs that just need a little quicker, extra correction to get barking under control, and then shock collars tend to work well.  I have found though that they don't work on dogs that are understimulated, underexercised and/or suffering from separation anixety.  

We stopped carrying the ultrasonic sound collars for that reason, they rarely work, even the spray citronella ones are iffy and only work for some dogs.  

More than half of the people that ask about the collars however haven't tried anything else to stop the barking. The major thing that gets them to rethink their plan is the high cost, most of the collars are over $100 Canadian.  

506791 tn?1439846583
by Piparskeggr, Aug 01, 2009

Thomas, I too love the looks of "purebreds," be it horse or hound, not so much cats (save maybe Maine Coons or Norwegian Forest).  My favorites are Morgans, all draft breeds and Apaloosas - Corgis, Norwich's (most "chunky" terriers) and Labs.  I like the sturdier breeds in cattle, swine and sheep, too.  Must be a reflection of my self image =)

But some, heck many, of the "style" guidelines have gotten so ridiculous.  A living being will never be perfect and can not be perfected.  Last three of my in-laws German Shepherds were almost perfect examples of the AKC standard for looks.  All three had/have problems from the "close tolerances in manufacture;" physical and mental.  Best two they had before these three.  They were deemed "pet," not "show" quality.

As for the main point of this discussion, living beings are neither clay nor stone, to be sculpted by surgery, which is unnecessary to preservation of life.  I feel the same way about the procedures done on cats and dogs as I do about vanity driven "cosmetic" surgery on people.

be well - Pip

881165 tn?1265988188
by AireScottie, Aug 01, 2009
It's great that there is more awareness about these issues, but I think it's a good point that until the breed standards change, many people will still alter their dogs.  My Airedale came with docked tail as a rescue, but I can't imagine choosing to put a dog that I love through a procedure like that!  If you read up on working dog/terrier breeds, you'll find there can be a lot of animosity between show ring people and field trial people about breed standards.  Not just docking and ears, but the whole conformation, because true working dog people contend that dogs who aren't sound to work shouldn't be able to win just because they look pretty.  The JRT and Parson Russell camps are an excellent example of this.  Guess what I'm trying to say is that show-ers and workers have more energy invested in tail and ear cropping than those of us who just love our buddies.  From what I've read, none of conformation issues are likely to be resolved any time soon!  

It doesn't make sense to me that upright ears are seen as aggresive by other dogs; I've had Scotties that other dogs love, and their ears come that way naturally.  Also, wolves, foxes, and dingos come that way naturally, and I'm sure they don't always perceive each other as threatening.  Threatening is when the ears go flat!

Thanks for bringing this up for discussion :)

Avatar universal
by zdog818, Aug 02, 2009
I'm a 2nd year veterinary student and have been a veterinary technician for several years before vet school. I'm not a fan of declaw/debark. However, with pet overpopulation rampant and shelters filled to the brim, I feel that declawing and debarking are perferable to a person giving up an animal to a shelter (to be possibly euthanized) due to noise or a shredded couch. In this case, declaw (and occassionally debark) actually becomes necessary for the animal in question so as to avoid potential euthanasia at an overwhelmed shelter.

Additionally, I feel that unnecesary cosmetic procedures should be avoided because they are simply not a requirement for the health of the animal and society. The risks generally outweigh the health benefits (which usually there are none). Some determined, unscrupulous people might try (and some already do) these procedures on their own (without the aid of anesthesia, sterility, and pain medication) if these procedures were made illegal. Thus, I agree with the poster that the change really needs to start in the purebred dog communities and breed associations.

I personally perfer the look of a natural dog. My rottie is tailed (love that wagging) and I hope to find another tailed rescue rottie. This has proven to be relatively easy since most rottweiler enthusiasts will pass a completely beautiful (but tailed) dog by. The evidence speaks for itself: as long as people are so preoccupied with how they think a dog is "supposed" to look docking/cropping is not going away anytime soon.

389974 tn?1331018842
by swampcritter, Aug 03, 2009
There is, of course, a fundamental difference in declawing because it is an active defense that the animal has.

A dog with a shorter tail or cropped ears can still defend itself. A loud bark isn't an active defense, but certainly assists in looking menacing, and a call for help.

Avatar universal
by Wear/a/Jimmy, Aug 04, 2009
I believe in the begining, ears were croped for saftey reasons. Hunting dogs and fighting dogs often had their ears croped. The idea was the ears "pulled back" would keep them from harms way....   I am not sure if there is any truth to that....

Any how, I had an absolutley stunning Great Dane Blue female, without a bit of white on her. If you saw her, you would mistake her for a male, she was did not have the typical feminine neck and head that female Danes have. She was a block of a Dane.

I did not have her ears cut and I had no regrets. I believe in Europe they have reverted back to the "natural" look, but I could be wrong on that.

Eventually I had to have her tail cut off in her "older" years, but that is a different story all together.

Avatar universal
by Jim Humphries, B.S., D.V.M.Blank, Aug 04, 2009
I like this quote also:

"History shows again and again, how nature points out the folly of man."

applies to politics as well.  

506791 tn?1439846583
by Piparskeggr, Aug 04, 2009
Hail all;

I must confess in all fairness, the "History shows..." quote is from the Blue Oyster Cult song "Godzilla."

It is a truth, nonetheless ,-)

be well - Pip

675347 tn?1365464245
by ginger899, Aug 04, 2009
Nature always points out the folly of man. We strut our stuff, changing, shaping, trying to 'conquer' Nature (I find myself laughing at the very notion!.....like the notion of 'conquering' a Mountain)
But Nature always has Her way, in the end, by foul means or fair...She will destroy our vanities, and return things to the natural order.

506791 tn?1439846583
by Piparskeggr, Aug 05, 2009
Agreed Ginger 899;

Mankind has a "bonfire of vanity," which we dance around.

When I hear someone commenting on how much we affect things through our works, I just look at what a small volcanic eruption or medium class hurricane can do, shake my head and mutter, "Putz!"

675347 tn?1365464245
by ginger899, Aug 05, 2009
Our works affect human thought and sense of aesthetics. The closer we are to Nature the more powerful our works I think.
But true, Mother Nature is good at throwing huge rocks or the Earth's crust around/lava flows/tornadoes.....that's her canvas. Unfortuantely because of our over-populated world we are obliged to live in the places She most likes doing these things! Ancient people would have avoided such places like the plague!  
She also makes dogs' ears, and tails to wag.... I can't help thinking we use surgeries and various re-shapings to make up for our own lack of understanding or willingness to learn the language of Nature and how to communicate with her Creatures in order to work better with them. It's hard work, learning a dog's 'bark-language' and what we might be able to do to harmonize it and make it more sociable. It's easier to cut out the dog's voice-box. (And whatever twisted sense of aesthetics ever gave us the idea a dog with its tail cut off (when a tail is one of their main methods of emotional communication) -was a good idea....well that's just a vanity I'd be happy to set fire to any day, far as I see it.

My whole thing with good old Mother Nature is I'd rather ride along with Her than try a head-on collision with Her, if and when possible.

667078 tn?1316004535
by HVAC, Aug 06, 2009
I worked in veterinary medicine and held animals for all kinds of mutilations to make there owners happy. I remember a puppy dying during an ear crop. A cat throwing a blood clot and losing its leg from a declaw. I had a Doberman with natural ears and tail and much prefer it. Tail docking was done with these things that looked like a lock cutter and no anesthesia on new born puppies. I think the owner should have to watch such a procedure before agreeing to it. The problem is if veterinarians do no provide this service people will get some one else to. I have seen some homemade tail docks on adult dogs and ear crops done wrong. The owner brings it in when infection or worse has set in.

Avatar universal
by bkwrm679, Aug 18, 2009
Honestly I hadn't even heard of a couple of these things before this post, but I think they're all inhumane. I mean, we literally have carte blanche when we pick out a pet. There are more than enough breeds and temperaments of pets available to choose from without having to bring one to the doctor and have it hacked up to our liking.

Avatar universal
by Chopinsky, Oct 10, 2009
Cutting vocal cords doesn't ensure a secure home--devocalized pets are abandoned for the same reasons as any other, because their owners move, have a baby, lose a job or simply don't want the responsibilty of a pet anymore.

But reality is: Devocalization doesn't happen often to pets. It seems to be most prevalent in the breeding community, among those who want to run businesses without complaints from neighbors or who don't want to hear their own inventory, I mean animals, communicate. What happens when those mutilated animals are past their prime for breeding or exhibition? Bingo. Abandonment or euthanasia.

The argument that if vets can't mutilate, others will is nonsense. The little Pomeranian who choked to death after a respected licensed vet devocalized him is just as dead as he would have been had it been done by a hack. Ditto the Cocker Spaniel who bled through her mouth and nose, trying but unable to cry, after devocalization by a prominent licensed vet. Or the Yellow Lab who required $1,500 corrective surgery because scar tissue blocked more than 50% of her airway after a licensed vet devocalized her.

We're talking about vets in metropolitan Boston, not the backwoods.

Devocalization is risky regardless of the vet's skill. It's unnecessary, done only for convenience or profit. Committed owners who select, care for, house and train their animals responsibly and humanely are the best assurance of a good home. Convenience surgery never is.

Avatar universal
by vettech444, Jun 18, 2012
Look, purebreds are not natural. These dogs were bred by people usually for a specific purpose. Tail docking, ear trims, and even the hair cut of a poodle didn't just happen because we thought it was cute. These conformations were used for the breed to better enable them to do what what they were bred to do. If you want just a pet, that's fine. There's no need to have any of these surgeries done but there should always be the choice for those that use the breed for what it was bred to do.

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