What is Ear Cropping?
Ear cropping is the process of removing some, or all, of a dog’s external ear, which alters the size, shape, function, and appearance of the ear. Ear cropping is considered normal in many breeds, and is typically performed at 9-12 weeks of age, before the ear has fully developed.
This cropping has, through some parts of history, been performed by the dog’s breeder, but in the modern day ear crops are performed under anesthesia by a veterinarian, and the dog is prescribed pain medication afterwards.
In some breeds and crops, the dog will have their ears wrapped or taped into the desired place, which helps the ears keep their shape while the puppy’s ears develop and firm up.
What Dog Breeds Get Their Ears Cropped?
There are a number of dog breeds that have cropped ears as a standard, some of which are recognized with cropped ears by the American Kennel Club. Dog breeds that get their ears cropped are:
- Doberman Pinscer
- Great Dane
- Dogo Argentino
- American Pit Bull Terriers
- Staffordshire Terriers
- American Bulldogs
- Manchester Terrier
- Caucasian Shepherd
- Boston Terrier
- English Mastiff
- French Mastiff
- Brussels Griffon
Why Do Dogs Get Their Ears Cropped?
Although pet dogs with cropped ears nowadays is primarily “for the look,” for dogs with a standard of cropped ears there has historically been a hands-on purpose as well. All of the above listed dog breeds known for having cropped ears have served some sort of work or sporting purpose in the past in which the removal or reshaping of the ear helped them perform said task better.
Doberman Pinschers, for example, have historically been (and commonly still are) used as guard and protection dogs. The reshaping of the ear is said to provide a minor increase in sound sensitivity to aid in guard work, and the removal of a portion of the ear removes points of weakness on the dog that could get caught, torn, or infected during a pursuit or scuffle on the job.
Another example is the Caucasian Shepherd, which stands out for having a history of ear cropping that removes most of the external ear. The practical reason for this breed’s ear crop is that the Caucasian Shepherd’s breed purpose is to protect flocks of sheep from predators like jackals, wolves, and even bears. Having no external ear means there is no sensitive hanging parts on the dog’s head that a predator could bite and tear. This aids the dog in case of a nasty fight, and prevents painful injuries that could become infected and pose a much more serious risk to the dog.
In both of these examples, there are certainly cases where dogs are still performing these tasks, and so it is very common for working individuals within these breeds to have their ears cropped for that purpose.
Dogs like the Doberman, the Caucasian Shepherd, and others have such a long history of purpose-lead ear cropping that it has become a part of breed standard. This statement from 2008 from the AKC puts extra emphasis on the idea that ear cropping is not always cosmetic in nature, and has practical and medical purposes, as well.
However, there definitely are cases that a pet dog gets an ear crop for cosmetic purposes at the desire of their owner, in which case there is not always a significant reason to have the procedure done. This is often considered entirely cosmetic in nature, and in many places is left to the discretion of the dog’s breeder or owner.
Is It Cruel to Crop a Dog’s Ears?
Does ear cropping hurt dogs? In the old days, I would certainly say yes. That’s because before veterinary medicine became widely available, dog ear crops were often performed by the dog’s breeder. Keep in mind that evidence of ear cropping has suggested that the practice is over 300 years old, and formal veterinary education was not always available or accessible.
When performed by the puppy’s owner or breeder, this procedure was sometimes done with rudimentary skills and without local anesthesia, general anesthesia, or pain medication. It was, undeniably, very painful. But in communities where working shepherds and guard dogs were needed for safety and survival, ear crops often happened regardless of what veterinary medicine was accessible. In situations like these, it was likely considered a necessary cruelty.
Nowadays, it is expected that ear crops are done under anesthesia by a trained and licensed veterinarian. Puppies that get a surgical ear crop are prescribed medication to aid in healing and fight off pain. In these cases, especially when there is a medical or task purpose for the crop, it is hard to craft an argument that this procedure is specifically cruel in any way. If you’ve ever seen a young dog with wrapped-up ears after a crop surgery, you’ll find that they hardly seem to notice.
However, it’s not unreasonable to think that the process of posting, or taping a dog’s ears for a certain amount of time in order to achieve a desired shape, can be annoying or uncomfortable to the dog. Posting is often seen but is not exclusive to cropped ears, as many breeds with standing ears will sometimes be posted early in life to ensure the correct shape for the breed standard. Additionally, cropping styles for some breeds will not require any sort of taping or posting, so it would be unfair to exclusively link the two together.
However, it’s true that the standard or expectation of great veterinary care is realistically not always the case. It would be a disservice to leave out that there are dogs that do still get non-medical ear crops from owners that do not care about the dog’s wellbeing. Refusing to provide a dog medical care when it is accessible, or acquiring a dog knowing that veterinary care will not be provided, is certainly cruel.
This DIY ear cropping is most commonly done for illegal fighting dogs, in which the painful procedure is just the tip of the iceberg. All-in-all, it’s safe to say that ear cropping is not always cruel, but it certainly can be.
Can Ear Cropping Help Dogs?
So, is ear cropping beneficial in any way? We’ve already established a few examples.
Cropping the ear can help working dogs perform their task by removing points of weakness that could get caught on objects or injured by a predator. However, this isn’t the only benefit to ear crops, and not the only reason they might be considered.
It’s been widely observed that dogs with drooping ears have been shown to be more prone to ear infections. This is because the folding of the external ear over the canal increases traps in heat and moisture, which is a perfect environment for bacteria to multiply. Removing this flap of the external ear helps the ear “breathe” and can reduce the occurrence of ear infections.
There are also trains of thought that suggest that ear cropping may improve hearing in dogs with folded ears. While admittedly there is not any scientific research proving or disproving this claim, it does make common sense that removing an obstruction from the dog’s ear canal (even if that obstruction is the dog’s own external ear) may improve the travel of sound into the canal. However, it’s unlikely that the change in hearing is significant by any stretch.
On top of these potential benefits, ear cropping can also reduce the occurrence of bald or sore spots in dogs that shake their heads regularly. My own personal dog, Milo, is a perfect mix of dogs known for getting their ears cropped (though his ears are left natural). Unfortunately, he regularly cuts the tips of his hanging ears, and has hair loss on them and on the top of his head from his ears slapping against his head when he shakes himself off. This isn’t isolated to Milo as an individual, and from my experience tends to be common enough in bully breeds that there are even products for them designed to hold the ears down against the skull.
I think it is safe to say that, while ear cropping will not help every dog, there certainly do exist medical reasons that an ear crop may benefit some dogs.
Is Ear Cropping Illegal?
Countries where ear cropping is banned or restricted are included in the following list. Keep in mind that not all countries in this list have a full ban on ear cropping, but may have restrictions about the ways in which the procedure is done. In many of these countries, breed restrictions on common ear-crop breeds such as the Pit Bull and Dogo Argentino are also present.
For example, here in the U.S. and my home state of Washington, ear crops are only permitted if performed by a licensed veterinarian, and under anesthesia. Other areas have ear crop bans only for cosmetic-only purposes but allow cropping for medical or sport purpose. Others yet allow ear crops only for specific breeds. For specifics on each area with restrictions, check your local government websites.
Areas where ear crops for dogs are banned or restricted:
- New Zealand
- Parts of Canada
- British Columbia
- Parts of the United States
- New York
- United Kingdom
- Virgin Islands
- Parts of Spain
- Czech Republic
Is Ear Cropping Necessary?
By now, we understand the pros and cons of ear cropping, and why they have historically been performed on specific dog breeds throughout the years. We know that, in cases that ear crops occur, they are expected to be done under anesthesia by a licensed veterinarian, but that this is unfortunately not always the case. We know that ear crops are not accessible in certain parts of the world, and that there are both potential benefits and drawbacks to the procedure.
It’s important to note that ear cropping is not necessary for most pet dogs. Pet dogs do not have the same intense life of the working dogs that are known for ear crops, even if they are of the same breed as those dogs. Many a Mastiff and Great Dane have lived full, happy lives with or without an alteration of the ears.
Additionally, your average pet dog usually is not going to encounter severe ear-related health issues, and it is often treatable when they do get the occasional ear infection or scratch/cut.
Ultimately, ear crops do have a purpose behind their long history, but are not usually necessary for your everyday average pet dog.