Last Monday the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) issued an important position statement on tail docking and ear cropping. Stronger than the 2005 version, which frowned upon the practice without showing any teeth, this statement still stops short of opposing ear crops and tail docks in all cases. Here’s the wording for your consideration:“The AVMA opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes The AVMA encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.”


As a veterinarian who once practiced ear cropping and occasionally docks tails under certain uncomfortable circumstances, I find myself fully supporting this position statement. If I never docked a tail again in my entire life (except when medically necessary) I would be a happier person for it.

In truth, there’s no good reason for me to continue to dock tails. Once I decided that cropping ears was a horrific practice I could no longer engage in it shouldn’t have taken me so long to arrive at the same conclusion regarding puppy tails. I see them as very similar, unnecessary procedures (though the ear crop is inarguably more painful and risky).

Instead, I required that my clients’ pups receive nerve blocks before tail and dewclaw removals, thereby bumping the price way up beyond what the average breeder would support. But I didn’t put my foot down. Not really. Some breeders still came my way, excited that I would take such an enlightened view on pain control. Sigh. So much for my easy way out.

Now that the AVMA has spoken out in opposition of the practice, it gives me further impetus to finally put an end to my career in cosmetic medicine. Wimpy vets like me can now hide behind the AVMA’s skirts the next time breeders come calling. It’s unethical, I’ll say. I won’t do any more cosmetic surgery. And I should have said so sooner.

So you know, my rationale for continuing to dock tails hasn’t been completely selfish and cowardly. I’d always felt that if I could do a great job, offering pain relief and aseptic technique (typically dispensed with at $10 a tail), I was justified in offering a service at a level others wouldn’t match in my area.

“If I don’t do tails someone else will do them poorly,” goes the common veterinary lament. But that position isn’t morally tenable, is it?


In response to the AVMA statement, breed clubs have circled the wagons. They don’t want their breeds going the way of their European cousins. They want a historically, functionally appropriate breed standard to include the tail docked, dewclaw-free, ear-cropped versions they’ve come to support through their careful breeding regimens.

Though the current statement is weak enough to provide a loophole for those who would argue that cosmesis isn’t the impetus behind the docking, cropping and de-dewclawing, the plan to ban cosmetics outright is ivisibly in motion. Increasingly, vets don’t want to do these procedures. And we sure as hell don’t want them done by laypersons. But this latter loophole isn’t yet sealed shut, either. 

Dogs need these procedures to maintain their ability to hunt without incurring injury, goes the working dog breeder’s common refrain. The long tails get caught in the brush. The dewclaws get caught in the brambles.

My rejoinder: Wolves and foxes keep theirs. Why shouldn’t our hunting dogs?

But most of the outcry? It’s not foremost about loopholes for working dogs. It’s about, “encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.” After all, serious working dogs will always have their “non-cosmetic" cosmetic needs met—by their handy owners if not their sympathetic vets. It’s the show standards that rile the breeder base on this one.

That's what prompted the AKC to issue this statement in response:

"...At a joint meeting this Wednesday AKC explained to the AVMA that we recognize ear cropping and tail docking, as prescribed in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character, enhancing good health, and preventing injuries. These breed characteristics are procedures performed to insure the safety of dogs that on a daily basis perform heroic roles with Homeland Security, serve in the U.S. Military and at Police Departments protecting tens of thousands of communities throughout our nation as well as competing in the field.

Mislabeling these procedures as "cosmetic" is a severe mischaracterization that connotes a lack of respect and knowledge of history and the function of purebred dogs.  Breed standards are established and maintained by AKC Parent Clubs (each of the 158 AKC registered breeds is stewarded by a breed-specific Parent Club) keeping foremost in mind the welfare of the breed and the function it was bred to perform."

Puh-lease. Hearing the AKC throw military and police working dogs into the mix is laughable. Having treated many police and working dogs through a contract with Miami’s Metro-Dade police, I never once removed tails and dewclaws and never saw one dog with cropped ears.

Correction: I did amputate a couple German shepherd tails—after they continually beat them senseless against the metal grates of their handlers’ squad car interiors. This is a common police dog injury. But no one’s advocating we prophylactically remove German shepherd’s tails. I don't hear anyone from the AKC championing tail docks on military and police dogs. I guess “history” trumps “function,” even where working dog welfare is concerned (as long as it's a purebred whose standards we need to protect).

The hypocrisy of advocating cropping and docking so that I can properly respect the health and welfare of an animal as I muse on its historical role in society is absurd. Moreover, invoking patriotism in this matter by appropriating police and military dogs as integral to the AKC’s mission is insulting—more so when they’re used to propagate standards that are as unnecessary in their breeds as for so many others.


Ultimately, the AVMA’s position statement is a moderate one. I actually wish it had more teeth. But it IS a step in the right direction—one for which the AKC would do well to relinquish its strong opposition. This is especially critical given that Europe, Canada and Australia already have already gone way beyond our AVMA’s comparatively meager standards when it comes to cosmetics for dogs.

No, I guess I don’t expect the AKC to gravitate towards the standards the rest of us (myself included) are finally adopting, but I do expect some concessions on the subject of non-working dogs whose primary task is to achieve show-ring perfection. And I won’t stand for the hypocrisy they use as battlefield rhetoric. It has no place in this debate.

In the meantime the kudos belong to the AVMA's side. Just keep it coming, OK?