Is Dewclaw Removal, Cropping And Docking Cruel Or Warranted?

Is Dewclaw Removal, Cropping and Docking in Dogs Cruel Or Warranted?

Historically speaking, cropping and docking in dogs was done on working dogs who protected livestock.

The only purpose for this was to protect their longer body parts from predators.

Today, docking tails and cropping ears is banned in many countries. That’s because there, people see it as a purely cosmetic procedure.

However, there are some countries where it’s still allowed.

For example, here in the US where it’s claimed to be part of breed standards as well as tradition.  

What’s behind those breed standards? The answer are rules about a dog’s exterior appearance that certain dog clubs set.

In the US, that’s the AKC, aka the American Kennel Club. A good example is their description of the Doberman Pinscher.

If you’re interested in it, you can read it here.

Either way, it’s definitely a heated subject with fierce supporters and equally fierce opponents!

What’s your take on it? Let me know in the comment section below this post if you’d like! | Is Dewclaw Removal, Cropping and Docking In Dogs Cruel Or Warranted?

European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals

My home country Germany banned ear cropping and tail docking.

Interestingly enough, Germany even forbids the import of dogs with docked and cropped ears. That’s because both are considered purely cosmetic.

Additionally, they’re also painful (especially the ear cropping) and don’t offer any substantial health benefits. I say that because proponents claim that cropping ears helps avoid ear infections.

Most countries in Europe, but also the U.K, Australia, and several Canadian provinces have the same regulations regarding these procedures.

They’re defined in the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals (1992):

Chapter II – Principles for the keeping of pet animals, Article 10 – Surgical operations

Surgical operations for the purpose of modifying the appearance of a pet animal or for other non-curative purposes shall be prohibited and, in particular:

the docking of tails;
the cropping of ears;
declawing and defanging;

Exceptions to these prohibitions shall be permitted only:

if a veterinarian considers non-curative procedures necessary either for veterinary medical reasons or for the benefit of any particular animal;
to prevent reproduction.
a Operations in which the animal will or is likely to experience severe pain shall be carried out under anaesthesia only by a veterinarian or under his supervision.
Operations for which no anaesthesia is required may be carried out by a person competent under national legislation.

How To Naturally Avoid Ear Infections In Dogs

Did you know? The best way to naturally avoid ear infections in dogs is to feed raw dog food because it has anti-inflammatory benefits.

I’ve been feeding raw dog food since 2015 and got certified as a raw dog food nutrition specialist in 2020.

That said, I witnessed this “side effect” first hand in my pup Buzz.

He’d get ear infections several times per year back in his kibble eating days.

Only a few months into raw dog food, and his ears were never cleaner!

Truly amazing. | Buzz with his clean ears courtesy of raw dog food
Buzz with his clean ears, courtesy of raw dog food

Dewclaw Removal, Cropping And Docking In Dogs

So how exactly does dewclaw removal, cropping and docking work?

Dewclaw Removal

Most dogs have dewclaws on their front paws, but some dogs also have them on their hind paws. Some even have double dewclaws.

Did you know that dewclaws serve a specific purpose? It’s super interesting!

Dewclaws make it easier for dogs to hold items like bones, antlers, and toys.

They also provide traction when they’re running at high speed, and GET THIS, they even allow dogs to pull themselves out of an ice hole!

Dew Claws Do Have a Purpose!

Some dewclaws are not fully developed, so they actually need to be removed to ensure they won’t accidentally rip off.

With the proper care and regular trimming (just as the other nails), normal dewclaws don’t pose any threat and won’t grow into the paw, which would be very painful.

Tail Docking

When tails are docked, they’re partly removed when the dog is only a few days old. 

The main downfall of this procedure is that it takes away the dogs’ natural ability to express themselves through their tail.

It’s also harder to observe a dog’s body language when their tails are docked.

Additionally, a docked tail makes it much harder for dogs to swim because they need their tail to navigate!

Did you know?

Some dogs are born with really short tails, aka bobtails, because of a mutated gene.

For example:

  • Welsh Corgis
  • Boston Terriers
  • French Bulldogs
  • Australian Shepherds

Ear Cropping

Ear cropping is also known as cosmetic otoplasty.

When ears are cropped, they’re partially removed and trimmed into a specific shape.

This is usually done when dogs are 7-12 weeks old. Unfortunately, it’s a long and painful process because healing takes several weeks!

In addition to the pain, the risk of infection is fairly high.

I’ve experienced this a few times in my capacity as a dog walker and pet sitter here in the US. It sure takes LONG to heal!

Breeds whose ears typically get cropped are:

  • Boxers
  • Schnauzers
  • Great Danes
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • American Pit Bull Terriers
Healing cropped dog ears
Healing cropped ears on a Great Dane puppy

The American Veterinary Medical Association Opposes Cropping And Docking

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) opposes cropping and docking for cosmetic purposes:

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 result, many vet schools no longer teach these procedures.

As far as I’m concerned, I take the stand of the AVMA. I’m not a fan of painful procedures that are performed purely for cosmetic reasons.

That said, my Boxer mixes Missy & Buzz don’t have cropped ears, nor are their tails docked or dewclaws removed!

K9sOverCoffee | Missy And Buzz On A Playdate With Their Aussie Friend Shade
My pups Missy & Buzz with their Aussie friend Shade

Cropping And Docking In Dogs: Bottom Line

Nowadays, most countries don’t allow cropping and docking in dogs because they don’t offer any health benefits. On the contrary, they’re mostly considered unnecessary and painful.

I personally don’t like the concept of either when they’re done for cosmetic reasons only. I mean, why would we mess around with Mother Nature’s design, right?

She designed the shapes and lengths of ears, tails, as well as dewclaws for specific reasons. So who are we to play around with that?

I obviously don’t have a problem with surgically modifying those body parts when there’s a medical reason for it.

How do you feel about ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal in dogs?

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below this blog post!

Related Reading:

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.






35 responses to “Is Dewclaw Removal, Cropping and Docking in Dogs Cruel Or Warranted?”

  1. Talent Hounds Avatar
    Talent Hounds

    Tons of great info, thanks for sharing. Dogs are perfect the way they are!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Kate Obrien Avatar
    Kate Obrien

    I’m with you, I don’t see ANY point in these procedures for cosmetic reasons. Making the decision to have plastic surgery on yourself is fine, it’s your body, do what you want, but inflicting that on a dog…nope, not necessary.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Exactly my thoughts ~ why inflict pain on an animal for no reason other than to please the human in charge?

  3. MilitaryWifeandPugLife Avatar

    This is good to know! I’ve had several vets insist on removing the dewclaw, I think it’s stupid!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I agree, as long as there is no medical necessity to remove the dewclaw!

  4. DZ Dogs Avatar

    I’ve known a few people who cropped their dogs ears for medical reasons. First is a friend of mine who has an apbt and lives in Alabama. She loves to hike and hikes year round and her girl loves to swim, that in combo with their super hot and muggy weather meant that it didn’t seem to matter how much she cleaned her pups ears they were constantly getting infected, and having nasty yeasty break outs. After lots of debate and talking with her vet they decide to crop her dogs ears (as tall and natural as possible) using a laser technique for fast healing and the least amount of pain – best case the ear infections go away, worst case – dog has cropped ears.
    Thankfully the ear cropping worked and helped to circulate the air and now her ears dry out much better and they have maybe had once since then as opposed to all the time. In her case it had to do with the way the ear canal was shaped, and the way her dogs ears folded, they held in a lot of moisture and the ear cropping has saved her tons of money on vet visits, and medication. Not to mention she has a happier pup.

    Second example is Walks with Rama’s mama, she lives in Florida and also does tons of swimming and hiking with her pups. She crops and recommends cropping for the same reasons, hot, humid, and super floppy ears really hold in the moisture. And an angry cane corso with an ear infection is not something you want to deal with.
    Living in Oregon personally I would never crop my dog’s ears, I love how they flop! But I would consider it if we lived in a humid state.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      If surgery is necessary for medical reasons, then by all means it should be performed.

      We currently live in NC where humid summers are the norm ~ our pups haven’t had ear infections since we’ve been here (2 years in December), but they also don’t go swimming in lakes or pools a lot (they just play in their puppy pool or the sprinkler attachment for our garden hose).

      They did, however, tend to have ear infections when we lived in Northern Virginia (also pretty humid summers) and back then they DID swim a lot in lakes/rivers and dog specific pools. It’s interesting to note that back then, we fed the pups a poor diet (Science Diet, not knowing any better and trusting our vet as first time dog owners).

      As soon as we switched to a much healthier diet (Wellness, Great Life, then ZiwiPeak), the ear infections “magically” stopped, so I would always first consider changing the diet I feed my dogs before resorting to surgery as a final option.

      1. Walks With Rama Avatar
        Walks With Rama

        I agree wholeheartedly about the diet. It can head off SO many things!!!

  5. Emma Avatar

    One thing about Europe is they are ahead of things when it comes to these issues. Declawing cats has been banned like forever! I had my declawed cats in Germany and people couldn’t believe it was allowed here. We don’t support any of these procedures although Katie has dew claws on her back legs and they have gotten caught up in stuff her whole life and we wish they were not there.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Yes; my (German) aunt used to have a Boxer by the name of Quinta in the early 80s (she’s the Boxer depicted above in the post) when ear cropping was still legal, and Quinta’s ears were indeed cropped.

      When my aunt heard that Ian & I were bringing Missy & Buzz into our lives, she made sure to let me know that ear cropping is no longer legal and to please not do that to the pups. She was relieved to hear that we weren’t planning on performing any cropping or other procedures on the pups 🙂

      Aw, I’m sorry to hear about Katie’s trouble with her rear dew claws 🙁 They do have a tendency of getting caught and being torn, don’t they.

  6. Tenacious Little Terrier Avatar
    Tenacious Little Terrier

    Mr. N comes from a breed (mix) that is traditionally docked. He isn’t though and I’m glad!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Yay for Mr. N! It’s so much nicer (in my opinion) to see a pretty tail on a dog instead of just a little nub.

      1. Tenacious Little Terrier Avatar
        Tenacious Little Terrier

        He is soooo proud of his tail. And people comment on his lush tail all the time. I would be sad if he didn’t have it lol. His tail is ridiculously long proportion-wise. It’s like the girls who have hair down to their waist.

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Aww, I bet he is :-)) And isn’t it interesting to observe how a dog uses his/her tail to communicate? I love observing K9 body language!

          1. Walks With Rama Avatar
            Walks With Rama

            Canine body language is indeed very interesting. I am glad that my breed allows for a longer tail crop.

  7. Walks With Rama Avatar
    Walks With Rama

    This is a topic we deal with all the time in my breed (Cane Corsos). It is something that after so many years of negativity, I am pretty flat about in my response these days. If you want to show your Corso in the US, you crop and dock. If your dog will be a working dog, you might also want to consider the procedures, as they can head off a lot of potentially ugly injuries later on. As far as the ears being “natural”, many people are unaware that floppy ears were created by man. Dogs did not have naturally floppy ears. Ever. Cropping is returning the ear to a more natural state. Working dogs–especially those who live amongst several other working dogs–tend to grab onto ears and tails, and many dogs have had to have tails amputated as adults (infinitely more difficult for them to adjust to) due to injuries (happy tail). The procedures are relatively simple and the pain is minimal when compared to things such as spaying and neutering. When someone inquires about a pup from us, they are allowed to choose whether or not the pup is docked/cropped. I understand people feeling that it is unnecessary, and I respect their feelings on the subject. I do not, however, agree with the opinion that it is cruel.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I agree that floppy ears were created by man, but that was a side effect of domestication 🙂
      I just don’t like the idea of altering the shape of an animal’s body part for non-medical reasons. One of my clients’ used to show Great Danes and brought a new Dane puppy into her life last year. I got to witness the long process of him having his ears cropped first hand. It took several weeks to heal, and he had the hardest time walking around with that protection bridge or whatever it’s called, constantly bumping into corners and furniture, and hurting. I hated seeing that, and do consider it cruel.

      1. Walks With Rama Avatar
        Walks With Rama

        True, and then we can get into whether or not our domesticating them was a good idea or not, lol. Oh my goodness, yes, I’ve seen some pretty large taping jobs. It’s amazing to me that Dane ears will stand at all!

  8. Walks With Rama Avatar
    Walks With Rama

    Oh I forgot about the dewclaws. 🙂 We leave front dewclaws. I have not had to remove any rear dewclaws yet.

  9. Diane Silver Avatar

    I didn’t know that dew claws have a purpose. I’m sure Rocco’s happy to have them when he’s holding a chew!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I came across that YouTube video probably 2 years ago – until then I also was not familiar with their true purpose! I thought it was the coolest thing ever watching those dogs WITH DEW CLAWS pull themselves out of the ice holes with ease.
      Rocco and our pups must all appreciate their very own version of “thumbs” when holding a chew in place 😉

  10. De Hufford Avatar

    Interesting. Going to shows, I see alot of people doing these things for “breed standard”. It would be nice for the dogs if it wasn’t necessary.

    1. Walks With Rama Avatar
      Walks With Rama

      I agree. I think that if a person wants to show their dog that they should be able to choose whether or not to crop and dock. I mean, you CAN, and you can show this way, but the reality is you aren’t likely to win anything. And the purpose of all that work–training, genetic testing, more training and sacrifice–that goes into raising purebred dogs, well, it kind of makes you want to win something. The purpose? To weed out the best specimens to preserve the breed. To get the healthiest specimens out there. Is this what always happens? No. But that is another story altogether.

      I know of one Corso with natural ears and tail that was titled in this country. ONE. But then you get into a whole separate debate about how people feel that dogs should not perform any jobs for man. That they should just be companions. It opens up many avenues for discussion. The fact of the matter is, when my dogs’ tails are done they are 3 days old. They don’t remember this and are seemingly unaffected. They are 8 weeks of age when ears are done. No bandages, no taping. They don’t get crusty and infected and the dogs don’t mess with them. The skin flaps of the ears are so thin at this age that the discomfort is minimal and cartilage has no feeling. I’ve seen some horrific ear and tail injuries in my breed (ears and tails are very large). Balance is not an issue when a tail is docked at 3 days as it would be if a dog were docked older, which does happen.

      I look at what the dog is to be used for and the decision is made from there. I had a pup in my last litter that kept ears. The family must be prepared to tape those ears anyway (they are too heavy to stand properly and cartilage must be trained) and in doing so will probably deal with some ear infections. Overall, the act of cropping and docking doesn’t cause the animals any more pain than other things down the road are going to cause (spaying, neutering, treating recurrent ear infections). In many cases, further discomfort from situations such as those I’ve mentioned above are avoided. Especially here in Florida where the weather is wet and muggy. The aim is to head off more problems later and have a dog that can perform his/her intended job and have a life that is as free of issues down the road as possible. I can’t TELL you how many ear infections I saw on just a daily basis with flop-eared dogs. And those things are truly painful. Same thing with dewclaws being ripped out–see it all the time. People allow their dogs to get this way. Is this not “cruel?” Somehow this is more acceptable because the dogs’ ears were left as they were at birth? Sometimes we would see the same patients over and over again throughout their entire lives with repeated infections, some of which led to even bigger problems (hematoma) which required even more surgery, and many of them sadly ended up with mangled ears in the long run. It really isn’t done simply because people want their dogs to have short ears.

      I keep front dews on my dogs bc they serve as the dogs “thumbs” if you will. But those pesky rear dews can be a problem. So it’s not that people who crop and dock their dogs at an early age are being mean or cruel to their dogs, it’s that they are trying to prevent many things from occurring later on. Things which are more painful for longer periods, and that the animal will most definitely remember longer than the few days’ span it took for the ear crop and tail dock to heal. My dogs have no lasting negative effects. They are happy, healthy and we aren’t in the vet every other month so fighting infections and torn ears and banged up tails. I’ve never had an ear infection here.

      I’m not trying to convince anyone, as I believe everyone’s opinion is important and valuable, and people should be heard. Posts such as this allow for discussion, which is a good thing. I don’t have to agree with someone to be able to talk to them intelligently and as an adult, and I have found in the blogging community folks are more willing to discuss. At our very core we as pet bloggers care so deeply about our animals, and it’s a very good thing that this discussion has gotten this far without becoming nasty. I see it all too often on breed boards and forums. People are just mean and hateful. I applaud everyone here for being so willing to talk about this sensitive topic. Great post! Pet bloggers are pretty awesome people.

      1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

        Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! It’s definitely interesting to hear from a responsible and reputable breeder, and you are so right about this discussion being a mature one without name calling and such ~ pet bloggers are a pretty awesome “breed” after all 😉

        I understand that tail docking isn’t painful when it’s done at just a few days of age, and don’t consider that part cruel. I do, however, feel that it’s a bummer when tails can’t really be used for dogs to express themselves.

        You seem to be using a different technique for trimming ears than the one I witnessed with the Great Dane pup ~ do you use a laser?

        I am all for working dogs ~ I think it’s important to honor a dog’s genetic predisposition. So many dogs who were originally bred for specific purposes end up “jobless” and unhappy because their owners are unaware of their pup’s breed-specific exercise requirements.

  11. Elaine Avatar

    Oh my gosh, I remember passing out in the vet’s office when I was a little girl when the vet demonstrated how my mom wasn’t stretching the incisions of our miniature schnauzer’s ears enough while they were healing from being cropped. I’m not sure if it was the smell ether or something in the vet’s office or the sound of our puppy yelping in pain, but it wasn’t a good day for me.

    Something kind of related that I read not too long ago is how it’s illegal in some countries to use a crate for your dog. Obviously not in the same ballpark as cropping ears and docking tails but it’s interesting how different cultures view some of these things.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Oh goodness, I can’t blame you for having passed out…poor little Miniature Schnauzer pup. I’m so glad that the AVMA is taking a firm stand against those cropping & docking procedures.

      It’s definitely interesting to learn about different culture’s perspectives on certain things. When I came to the US 5 years ago, I was surprised to see so many dog owners not actually walking their dogs, but just sticking them in their back yards. In Germany, it’s totally normal to take your dogs with you anywhere you go ~ and many stores allow well-behaved dogs to be brought inside.

  12. jan Avatar

    I hadn’t realized dewclaws had a purpose. Two of my dogs ripped their dewclaws so badly that I had to have them removed. It was a full and expensive operation. I did keep the nails trimmed but they tore them anyway.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Ouch ~ I can imagine that this operation wasn’t cheap. Sometimes life just happens, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it…similar to when our boy Buzz fractured one of his teeth so badly while chewing on a hard beef bone that the entire tooth had to be extracted. Wasn’t cheap either ~ thank goodness for our pet insurance!

  13. Barkocity Avatar

    I did not know dewclaws served any purpose at all. Great educational video, thank you for sharing!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I’m glad you liked the video! It is one of my favorite doggie info videos out there!

  14. Tru Avatar

    Barbaric, unnecessary and purely for vanity.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by! I agree – cosmetic surgery is a human invention and should not be transferred to our companion animals when its sole purpose is to please the human eye.

  15. Lindsay Stordahl Avatar
    Lindsay Stordahl

    Our Weim puppy had his tail docked around 4 days old. While I prefer the long tail I wasn’t too concerned about the docking. Its mostly silly and cosmetic, as you said, but I’m just not worried about it as long as its done by someone who knows what they’re doing. I’ve known at least 2 dogs who badly injured their tails beyond repair and amputation was really the only option. So I can see why working dogs would have docked tails. Of course, most dogs are just pets. Ace has a long tail and his dew claws.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Yes, having it done by someone who knows what they’re doing translates into peace of mind. While I personally wouldn’t have a dog’s tail docked unless necessary for medical reasons, at least it isn’t painful (unlike the ear cropping). I just feel that it’s a bummer because I like to observe dogs using it in their body language.

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