The Practice of Cropping Dog Ears

A doberman puppy with freshly cropped ears

John M/flickr/CC By-SA 2.0

Ear cropping, sometimes called ear trimming, is a surgical procedure that involves the cutting and shaping of the ear pinna (the floppy part of the ear) to make a dog's ears stand erect. This is an elective cosmetic surgical procedure done to achieve a specific look that coincides with the desired image (and sometimes the breed standard) of certain dog breeds.

How Is Ear Cropping Done?

Ear cropping surgery requires precision and skill in order for the ears to stand up and appear as intended after healing. This procedure must be performed by a licensed veterinarian and is best done by a vet with experience in ear cropping. Dogs must be under general anesthesia for ear cropping surgery. Ear cropping is generally performed on puppies between the age of eight to twelve weeks.

After surgery, the ears are bandaged and propped up to help them heal in an erect position. This is often called "posting." Some vets prefer to wait until the incisions have healed a little before posting the ears. Bandage changes are typically done weekly. The ears remain taped and propped up until they stand on their own. The healing process typically lasts about 4-8 weeks.

What Kind of Dogs Have Cropped Ears?

Any dog may be subject to ear cropping. However, ear cropping is often done on specific dog breeds to meet established breed standards. Some common breeds with ear cropping in their official published standards include BoxersDoberman PinschersGreat Danes, and Schnauzers.

Breed standards were developed based on the historical use of the dog breed. Many dogs with cropped ears in the breed standard were historically used as working dogs. They may have had their ears customarily cropped to improve hearing and prevent any issues or injuries that might arise from having a floppy ear.

In rare cases, ear cropping or similar types of surgeries are deemed medically necessary due to health conditions. Some people believe cropping a dog's ears will prevent ear infections. However, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Unless recommended by a vet, the decision to crop ears is one made by the dog owner or breeder. Other common elective cosmetic procedures include tail docking and dewclaw removal.

Mantel Great Dane portrait with ears up
Great Dane with cropped ears. Barbara Rich / Getty Images

Is Ear Cropping Humane?

Ear cropping is a very controversial subject. The practice is believed by some to be cruel and unnecessary. Others consider the procedure quite routine and harmless.

The official position of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that it "opposes ear cropping and tail docking of dogs when done solely for cosmetic purposes."

The American Kennel Club (AKC) publicly states that it "recognizes that ear cropping, tail docking, and dewclaw removal, as described in certain breed standards, are acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving the breed character and enhancing good health." However, dogs with natural ears are not disqualified from entering dog shows.

Ear cropping has been made illegal in many countries, including much of Europe. Some experts believe the practice will eventually be banned in the US as well.

Should I Have My Dog's Ears Cropped? 

The choice to crop your puppy's ears is ultimately yours alone, but it is a decision that requires serious consideration. 

First, ask yourself why you want your dog's ears cropped. If you want to have your dog's ears cropped for health reasons, talk to your vet about why it is actually expected to benefit your dog’s health. Make sure the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Again, ear cropping is not proven to reduce the occurrence of ear infections in dogs.

If you want to have your dog's ears cropped for appearance only, then think about how important this truly is to you. Consider factors like the normal risk of surgery, the cost of surgery, the maintenance you will need to do during recovery, and how you think the surgery and recovery will affect your dog's happiness and quality of life. There are plenty of risks involved in ear cropping, and the healing process demands your constant attention. Consider whether or not it is truly worth the risks, hassle, and expense. 

If you have any hesitation about having your dog's ears cropped, then it's probably better to opt against ear cropping. Fortunately, the "natural look" for dogs is becoming more and more popular. 

Close-Up Of A Dog
Schnauzer with "natural" ears. Tara Gregg / EyeEm / Getty Images
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.