28 July 2016

RESEARCH - Cropped and Docked Dogs Perceived as More Aggressive

Cropping ears and docking tails does not only do no good to a dog's overall health and happiness but can damage its ability to communicate with fellow canines and impact its impression on humans, too.

A recent study shows surgically-altered dogs are often seen as more aggressive than unaltered canines which are viewed as more playful and pretty.

Given perception plays a large part in animal welfare and adoptability, for instance, cropping and docking can put a dog in a disadvantageous position.

The study, highlighted in a recent Scientific American piece, claims dogs cut up for cosmetic reasons can also alter perceptions people have about their owners who are viewed as more narcissistic than owners of dogs who don't go under the knife.

In the study participants were shown images of dog breeds commonly given cropped tails and docked ears - the Doberman pinscher, miniature schnauzer, boxer and Brussels griffon.

Shown images of the dogs of the same breed modified and images of ones in the natural state – participants were told the canines were siblings and asked why the ears and tails looked so different.

(Fig. 2 Mills et al 2016)
Fifty-eight percent correctly identified “some dog breeds have part of their ears and tails surgically removed after they are born,” while 40% did not know that these dogs are not born with their ears cropped and tails docked and figured the differences were due to genetic variances.

Increasingly, this surgical modification is being seen as unnecessary, cruel and simply cosmetic and as such is being banned, restricted or strongly discouraged in many jurisdictions.

The American Veterinary Medical Association and Canadian Veterinary Medical Association oppose the procedures on pooches – stating they cause “pain and distress” and are associated with risks inherent to anaesthetic which can range from blood loss to infection.

Opponents say that if you take vanity out of the equation as justification for docking and cropping, there really isn't any reason for the surgeries.

“The essential question is not, 'How harmful is the procedure?' but rather, “is there sufficient justification in performing it?” the AVMA states on its website.

“Performing a surgical procedure for cosmetic purposes, (ie, for the sake of appearances,) implies the procedure is not medically indicated. Because dogs have not been shown to derive self-esteem or pride in appearance from having their tails docked (common reasons for performing cosmetic procedures on people,) there is no obvious benefit to our patients in performing the procedure. The only benefit that appears to be derived from cosmetic tail docking of dogs is the owner's impression of a pleasant appearance.”

Dog ear cropping is done under anaesthetic (and requires cutting a large portion of the floppy part of the ear off and taping what's left to a hard surface to force them to stand erect,) when the canine is just six to 12 weeks of age.

Tail docking often happens when a dog is just days old and involves muscles, tendons, nerves, bone and cartilage being severed.

There appears to be a shift away from the practices, with many popular veterinary textbooks no longer including information on ear cropping procedures.

But still, dogs everywhere are hardly immune from being cosmetically modified.
Despite the surgeries widely being dubbed as “elective,” the cropped ear and docked tail is often par for the course for breed standards and as of 2014, only two U.S states have restrictions on tail-docking and just nine regulate ear cropping.

The American Kennel Club continues to advocate for these procedures with their website stating, "Each of these procedures is a safe, humane standard practice that serves a practical purpose, and in the case of ear cropping and tail docking, preserves a dog’s ability to perform its historic function."

In parts of Europe and Australia pooches are protected by bans on the surgeries.

As of January 2017, the cosmetic procedures will be banned in Quebec - Alberta and Ontario being the only Canadian provinces without legislation outlawing ear cropping and tail docking.

The procedures are painful but that isn't the whole picture behind why some are so adamantly opposed to docking and cropping.

A University of British Columbia study claims docking a dog's tail “impairs communication with other dogs” - the lack of a full tail which is used to convey messages between canines leaving the dog stumped, so to speak, when it comes to communicating with other dogs.

While the practice of cropping and docking isn't new, tails were docked during Roman times to reduce the spread of rabies and ears were cropped to prevent damage during fighting and hunting, it appears to many that it is has no place in modern times.

“Docked tails can also develop a neuroma or nerve tumor. This can cause pain and make your dog snappy if her tail is touched,” Andy Roark, a Cleveland Park Animal Hospital vet told webMD.

Studies show that dogs communicate emotion like anger and excitement by wagging their tails, so docking may interfere with your dog's ability to interact with other dogs.”

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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