Ear cropping: Dogs need their ears - and here's why
It sounds obvious, right? Dogs are born with ears - so they must have a purpose and they must be important. They are. Dogs don't just use their ears for hearing but also for communicating with other dogs and with us too.
What is ear cropping?
Sadly, there are some people out there who believe that certain breeds and types of dogs should have their ears surgically altered or even completely removed. This awful process is called ear cropping.
Is ear cropping illegal?
Ear cropping is illegal in England and Wales, under Section 5 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It's a painful process where a dog's outer ears are removed altogether or are surgically altered, with the tips or huge sections of the outer ear being cut off.
It's against the law to carry out this procedure yourself or to send your dog to a vet in this country or abroad to have their ears cropped. Unfortunately, it still happens.
In some medical situations, vets may perform a procedure called a pinnectomy that can look like the ears have been cropped. This is only done in the case of disease of the ears and is more usually required in white cats who can sometimes get skin cancer. The procedure is allowed when there are clear medical reasons - clearly very different to when ears are surgically altered for cosmetic reasons.
Tail docking is another procedure that is illegal unless carried out by a vet for medical reasons - and having a 'working dog' is not an exemption to the rule. No dogs should have their ears cropped. Period.
Why shouldn't dogs have their ears cropped?
Why all the fuss? Well, dogs need their ears. Here's why:
Hearing - Dogs' ears can move independently of one another and move towards the direction of sound so that they can be positioned in the optimal place for hearing. The outer ear is shaped to capture sound waves and funnel them into the ear canal and towards the eardrum. It's not yet known whether surgical changes (such as ear cropping) affects hearing but it's possible.
Communicating - Dogs use their ears to help us, and other animals, understand how they're feeling. Without their ears, dogs have fewer ways of communicating with us.
Body language - Where a dog's ears are placed, also known as their ear carriage, can help us understand if a dog is worried or happy and relaxed. If a dog's ears have been removed, it can be more difficult to know how they're feeling.
In five years, we've seen 236% more reports of ear cropping
Sadly, the RSPCA is seeing increasing numbers of dogs coming into our care with cropped ears. In fact, we've seen a 236% increase in the number of reports of ear cropping during the last five years (178 reports in total between 2015-2019).
Dogs like Jess (pictured) are victims of these very reports. The two-year-old cane corso was saved by our rescue team earlier this year along with a litter of six pups.
She'd had her tail docked and her ears almost entirely removed. She was - unsurprisingly - incredibly wary of people and it took staff months to build up her confidence and ability to trust.
We fear increased numbers are being driven by dogs who are being sent abroad to have their ears cropped or who are being purchased and imported from countries where cropping is still legal.
Celebrities and fashion are normalising ear cropping
The practise of ear cropping is legal in America and other European countries. While, in the UK the cropped look is becoming normalised - and even glamorised - due to an increase in celebrities owning cropped dogs. In fact, images of cropped dogs are even being used on items of clothing and other merchandise, as well as in advertising.
RSPCA dog welfare expert, Dr Samantha Gaines, says:
Ear cropping is painful and completely unnecessary. Despite what some breeders will claim, cropping a dog's ears does not benefit them in any way. It can be detrimental to their health, behaviour and welfare in the short-term and in the long-term.
Dogs have their ears cropped for one reason and one reason only; to achieve a certain 'look'. In short, it makes them look tougher, more intimidating. Historically, breeds such as Dobermans had their ears cropped as puppies and then splinted - taped to bits of wood or cardboard - to make their ears grow upwards instead of leaving them to go floppy. Now, we tend to see breeds such as American bullies having their whole ears removed.
Dogs are being put through this painful process simply to make them look a certain way. It's entirely for the owner's taste and could affect the dogs for the rest of his or her life.
Stand with us against ear cropping
We want to see tougher regulations in England and Wales to ensure that we stamp out ear cropping and the importation of cropped dogs from abroad once and for all (unless through a reputable rescue organisation for rehoming).
That's why we're supporting dog trainer, Jordan Shelley's petition, calling for a ban on the importation of dogs with cropped ears. More than 16,000 people have added their names to the online petition.