Ever seen a dog like this? Selective breeding has created enormous variation in appearance between dog breeds, in terms of size, shape, coat colour and muzzle length. But humans haven’t (yet) managed to breed a dog breed without pinnae (ear flaps). This dog wasn’t born without ear flaps – somebody cut them off.
The RSCPA has reported a massive 236% increase in reports of dogs with cropped ears in the past 5 years, and I certainly have seen a larger number of these dogs in practice. Actually, I had never a seen a dog with cropped ears until the past couple of years.
Why do humans crop dogs’ ears? Historically, it was considered by some to have preventative health benefits for working dogs, as smaller, less exposed pinnae were not so susceptible to injury. There is no reputable evidence to support this, and it is a practice that has been largely confined to particular breeds, such as the Dobermann, and not widely performed in all working dogs. However, the huge increase in the practice seen recently is not in working dogs; it is in pets, particularly the ‘American Bully’ type and Cane Corso, and is performed for purely cosmetic reasons.
Ear cropping is considered to be a mutilation and is illegal to perform in the UK. Anybody performing the procedure can be prosecuted under Section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
It’s a welfare issue for a number of reasons. Have you ever had an ear piercing? Now imagine having your ear flap cut off – painful right? Given the ‘backstreet’ nature of ear cropping, the puppy is very unlikely to be anaesthetised for the procedure or given adequate (or perhaps any) pain relief. A dog has the same nervous system that will sense this pain as you or I would experience it. And aside from the acute pain caused by the procedure itself, the wound created has to heal, with risks of infection. Animals have evolved to have ear flaps for a reason, and for dogs, as well as having some protective function for the ear canal, are a vital means of expression; a way that dogs communicate their emotions and intentions to other dogs. A dog without ear flaps is very difficult for other dogs to read.
Why has ear cropping become more popular? Ultimately, it is because people like the striking, and intimidating image it gives the dog. Celebrity ownership of these dogs and glamorisation on social media perpetuates the problem. The more people are exposed to these images, it begins to seem normal. Try searching ‘exotic bully’ on Instagram – you’ll be confronted with a plethora of pages all with hundreds of horrifying images of very peculiar looking dogs, all with their ears cropped, that look like they have been given a handful of anabolic steroids with their kibble. One of the captions I stumbled across for a photos was ‘freak of nature’.
These pages have tens of thousands of followers. What really concerns me is that the ear cropping seems to be just another manifestation of the growing popularity of dogs that have extreme conformations. Many of the most popular breeds right now are the ones that we have moulded into a shape that is almost unrecognisable from the canids we humans bred them from. People seem to want dogs that have a striking and unique appearance, and we have arrived at a point where, frustrated by the boundaries of genetics, we have resorted to cosmetic surgery to make our pets look the way we want them to. They are both companion to us, and fashion accessory. But our society has become increasingly blind to the suffering these extremes cause to the animal.
The vast majority of dog’s with cropped ears are imported. Usually they are bred abroad in countries with a more lax approach to animal welfare, have the mutilation performed at a young age and are imported with pre-cropped ears. Or, they are dogs bred in the UK, but sent abroad as puppies to have the procedure carried out.
The RSPCA have got behind a petition, calling on the government to ban the importation of dog’s with cropped ears, which you can sign here. Please do.
Ultimately the issue is not going to go away whilst these dogs are considered desirable, and the demand for them remains. Though they are in fashion now, hopefully very soon, tiny ear flaps will be SO last season.