Human-dog relationships can be extremely asymmetric, complicated and messy. One area of concern. because dogs can become victims of humancentric indifference and arrogance, focuses on elective cosmetic/convenience surgeries in which tail docking, ear cropping, debarking, and declawing are performed for human desires.
Spaying, neutering, body piercing, and tattooing also can be thrown into the mix. Many people care—often selfishly—about their dog’s looks and violate—sometimes painfully—the dog’s right to keep the tail, ears, and voices with which they were born, traits that were selected by humans usually for self-serving purposes.
Elective cosmetic procedures, often performed without anesthesia or pain-killing drugs, also are used to meet breed standards and to establish breed registries. In one recent summary titled “Declawing, Debarking, Tail Docking, Ear Cropping” we read:
“The American Kennel Club supports owners who choose to crop: ‘…ear cropping, tail docking, and declaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health.’ However, dogs with cropped ears may not compete in United Kingdom Kennel Club events”.
In another summary called “Overview of Non-Therapeutic Procedures for Companion Animals” we’re told:
“Despite most veterinarians agreeing that tail docking and ear cropping serve no therapeutic benefits for dogs, breed registries still require the procedure for many dogs. Breed standards are set by American Kennel Club parent clubs, the national organization devoted to a particular breed. Some kennel clubs do not make allowances for undocked or uncropped dogs. Even though cosmetic procedures serve no purpose, no state law prohibits tail docking or ear cropping. State laws that regulate the practices typically require that they are performed by a licensed veterinarian when the dog is under general anesthesia.”
Dogs need to keep their voices, body parts, and physical and morphological integrity
Simply put, dogs need their highly varied tails, ears of different shapes and sizes, vocal cords, and claws to communicate with us and other dogs, and they don’t give a hoot or a bark about how they look or sound.
Barking is a good and easy way for dogs to tell us how they’re feeling, and they don’t typically bark excessively from their point of view. We may think they’re barking too much but what we call excessive barking usually occurs when they’re trying to tell us that something is upsetting them.
It might take a bit more interest and expertise in dog behavior, but knowing about how tail and ear position also are used to communicate with us and other dogs and other animals is important for developing and maintaining long term reciprocal relationships. Nonetheless, many people routinely change and butcher these phenotypic traits because their don’t like what they look like. However, if they don’t like them, they shouldn’t get a dog who has them only to have them excised later on.
As I point out in Canine Confidential, it’s important to keep in mind that we can do whatever we want to dogs, whether they like it or not. While some dogs, but surely not all dogs, may still love us regardless of what we decide to do to make them more attractive or less vocal or easier to live with, it’s essential to honor that this imbalance in power is not a license to do whatever we choose.
An overview of what is being done to curtail cosmetic or convenience surgeries can be seen here. The author concludes:
“Current trends point to more states banning non-therapeutic procedures in the United States at the state level. Public perceptions towards procedures like declawing and devocalization are changing, with more pet owners opposing the practice. As for practices like docking and ear cropping, there seems to be a movement to regulate the procedures to only be performed by a veterinarian.”
More details about how different cosmetic surgeries are performed, the downsides of this sort of butchering, and how different organizations weigh in on their use can be found in the 2022 report called “Declawing, Debarking, Tail Docking, Ear Cropping.” In some places anyone can perform these horrific procedures even if they’re not a licensed veterinarian.
Should we use life-extending drugs on dogs?
Recently, there has been a flurry of interest in a drug (LOY-001) that can extend a dog’s life.1 A number of people have asked me how I feel about this possibility, so I came up with these preliminary guidelines that might change if and when this drug or others become available.
1) If I had to make a yes-no decision, I would be against using life-prolonging drugs on dogs because there are too many loose ends and far too many ways in which these drugs could be misused for the benefit of humans who want their companion dog to live longer even if it’s not natural or in the best interests of the dog and the dog doesn’t want to.
2) If someone wants a long-lived dog, they should get one–preferably rescue or adopt one—and shouldn’t try to extend the life of individuals of breeds or mixes who are known to typically have short lives. Biologically, many other anatomical and physiological traits have co-evolved along with a shorter lifespan and keeping one of these dogs alive past their “natural” lifespan, even if humans were responsible for breeding them in the first place, can be harmful.2
3) If for some reason someone persists in wanting to use a drug and it seems reasonable, they must get four licensed veterinarians to independently sign off on their use offering clearly-stated reasons that are consistent with the dog continuing to have a high quality life.3 Some people might complain this will be very expensive and time-consuming, but that’s the price they must pay for messing with their dog’s lifespan and possibly their well-being.
What does a dog think and feel about what we’re doing to them?
We do not have the right to modify companion animals—to disfigure, disembody, or mutilate them. If you want a dog with certain looks, find one, and if you want a long-lived dog, take in a member of a breed that is known for longevity and let them live out their “natural” lives for which those humans who breed dogs are responsible.
My hope is that increased understanding of who dogs are and what they want and need will foster more caring and put an end to cosmetic/convenience surgeries. A dog’s feelings matter to them, and they should also matter to us.
We must take into account the dog’s point of view and what they’re thinking and feeling in every aspect of our shared lives. We should not subject them to procedures that we choose but that do not also enhance their quality of life. We’re their lifeline and their best interests and well-being must come first.