Exposed: Tail Docking and Ear Cropping of Dogs in Australia

Boxer with docked tail

Multiple news reports from the UK indicate a rising number of dog breeders are taking part in animal body modification (mutilation?) practices such as tail docking, ear cropping, and even debarking. Animal welfare organisations confirm they’re seeing this too, with the RSPCA reporting a 621% increase from 2015 to 2020. 

The reason? News outlets say social media trends are fuelling the demand for dogs to look a certain way, including celebrities posting pictures of their dogs with cropped ears or docked tails.

Sadly, dogs who’ve had these procedures are often worth significantly more than their purebred counterparts who are left untouched in their natural state. And, although these practices are illegal in many areas of the world, breeders have found a loophole. Basically, they offer forged papers to show the dog is “imported.”

Off the back of this, we wanted to investigate ‘cosmetic’ procedures like tail docking and ear cropping in Australia. Is it still happening, is it legal, and is it ever ethical?

What is tail docking and ear cropping?

The process of tail docking is where the tail is artificially made much shorter. In plainer words, it’s an amputation of a puppy’s tail (partial or whole).

Most commonly, the tail is either cut off with scissors or a band is tied around the tail. This slowly chokes off the blood flow, causing the tail to eventually die and fall off.

Ear cropping is where a dog’s ear flaps are partially or fully removed. This is usually done with scissors, knives, or razor blades. Often after the ears have been cut they’re taped to make them stand up in a particular way.

It’s important to recognise that both ear cutting or cropping and tail docking are done purely for aesthetic reasons. They’re cosmetic procedures without any medical benefit. But unlike humans, dogs can’t opt out of “plastic surgery”.

However, some dogs have been bred over the years – no cosmetic procedures involved – to have short tails or shaped ears. One such example is the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

puppy with docked ears - an illegal practice, along with tail docking

Why are these practices unethical and harmful?

Firstly, the cutting of the ears and cutting or banding of the tail are usually done without anaesthesia.

Even with sedation, the dog is put through unnecessary pain and stress for nothing other than cosmetic reasons. These procedures are unnecessary and uncomfortable (to say the least) for the dog, and aren’t conductive to positive animal welfare.

Put simply: they’re inhumane procedures, hence are considered by many to be animal cruelty and abuse.

Health issues

On top of this, there’s the inherent risk that comes with any cutting or surgical procedures, such as blood loss, infection, and other complications.

And in addition to the obviously-cruel nature of practices such as tail docking and debarking, there are other consequences.

Communication issues

Just as they need their bark to communicate properly, dogs need their tails to communicate. They’re a key part of dogs’ body language, and the way a dog’s tail is moving or positioned is a valuable part of communication between dogs.

Clear communication is essential to avoid ‘dog bites dog’ situations, have friendly conversations and resolve misunderstandings. This goes for both dog-on-dog interactions and dog-human interactions. Tail docking and debarking can make it very hard for a dog to communicate the way they want to.

Dogs also use their tails to help them balance as they play, run, and jump.

When it comes to ears, it’s a similar story. Dogs use their ears to communicate with each other as well as us. If the ears have been removed or altered, it’s much harder to tell what a dog is feeling and challenging for them to express themselves properly.

Psychological issues

And of course, there’s the fact that these practices can have a significant psychological impact.

It’s not unusual for them to make a dog very scared or wary of humans. This in itself can lead to aggressive or anxious behaviour, which has an impact on the dog, other animals in its vicinity and the humans it comes into contact with.

Are tail docking and ear cropping legal?

You’ll likely be glad to hear tail docking and ear cropping are both illegal in all states and territories in Australia. Each jurisdiction has their own specific legislation, but rest assured these practices are outlawed nationwide.

The only way they can be performed is if they’re done by a qualified veterinarian who agrees they’re in the dog’s best interest. Basically, tail docking and ear cropping can’t be done for aesthetic reasons, only for health reasons.

If people are found to be docking tails or cropping ears, they can be prosecuted. The sentences applicable vary from area to area.

For those in NSW, the maximum penalty is $5,500 for individuals or six months imprisonment, or $27,500 for corporations. In Queensland, a conviction carries a maximum penalty of $13,785 for individuals and up to five times this for corporations. In 2015, breeders in Victoria were successfully prosecuted for ear cropping. This culminated in a fine of over $40,000 and the culprits being disqualified from breeding dogs going forward.

Doberman who has had tail docking done

Buying from a breeder? Take responsibility

Remember, you should always buy a puppy from a reputable breeder who has a strong commitment to animal welfare.

Finding ethical dog breeders is the best way to shut down these inhumane practices. Buying from reputable, registered breeders can also reduce the demand elsewhere, which can help stop puppy mills from breeding with reckless abandon.

Does dog mutilation like tail docking still happen here?

Fortunately, we can’t find many news reports indicating this is happening often in Australia. That said, the UK craze has only developed recently, and wasn’t obvious to the public for quite some time. So it’s important that potential buyers and breeders remain vigilant and well-informed around these issues.

If you know of or suspect that anyone is taking part in practices such as ear cropping, tail docking, or debarking, you should report it immediately to your local authorities. Dogs deserve better than being treated in such a thoughtless and harmful manner. So much better.

If you’re not sure how to go about, read our detailed advice on how to report animal abuse and other signs of animal abuse and neglect if you see them.

Dog insurance for responsible pet ownership

If you’re reading this, we’re going to go ahead and assume you’re a dedicated pet owner or are planning to be one. One who would never do anything to intentionally harm your pet, especially for cosmetic reasons.

But accidents, illness, and emergencies can still happen. With an affordable pet insurance policy in hand, you’ll have peace of mind that your dog is covered for the medical attention they need.

How would you, like to proceed?

How would you, like to proceed?