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Is it unethical to clip Doberman ears?

The practice of cropping Doberman ears is controversial. Many argue it is an unethical procedure that is done for cosmetic reasons without medical justification. However, others say it is a historical tradition that does not harm the dogs. There are good arguments on both sides of this debate.

What is ear cropping?

Ear cropping refers to surgical alteration of a dog’s natural ears. It involves removing part of the pinnae or auricle, the external visible flap of the ear.

In Dobermans, ear cropping removes most of the natural long, pendulous part of the ear. The remaining ear is then taped and supported in an upright position as it heals over the following weeks, creating the erect, pointy ear shape commonly associated with Dobermans.

The procedure is typically performed on 8-12 week old Doberman puppies by a veterinarian under anesthesia. The ears are then taped and propped up for several weeks as they heal to make them stand erect.

Why are Doberman ears cropped?

There are a few frequently cited reasons for cropping Doberman ears:

  • Aesthetics – It gives them the classic, pointy-eared look associated with the breed.
  • Hygiene – Floppier natural ears can trap moisture and debris leading to infections.
  • Hearing – Erect ears may help funnel sound towards the ear canal.
  • Fighting history – Historic fighting dogs had ears cropped to remove something for opponents to easily bite.

Of these reasons, aesthetics and tradition are by far the primary motivators. There is debate around potential minor hearing and hygiene benefits.

What are the main ethics concerns around cropping?

Opponents argue cropping Doberman ears is primarily an unnecessary, cosmetic surgery that provides no medical benefit to the dogs and poses risks. Some of the main ethics concerns include:


Dogs feel pain during and after the ear cropping procedure as with any surgical procedure. Unlike human infants, dogs cannot consent to elective, non-medically indicated surgery.


All surgeries involve risks, including pain, bleeding, infection and reactions to anesthesia. Cropping does not improve the health of dogs and strictly provides cosmetic changes.

Natural form argument

Dogs are born with natural ears that they use to communicate and regulate body temperature. Altering them for human preferences violates their natural state.

Breed standards

Ear cropping is primarily done to meet American Kennel Club (AKC) breed standards for dog shows. This creates pressure to perform unnecessary surgery for human goals like dog shows, not the health of the dog.

Human benefit over dog welfare

The main benefits of cropping are fulfilling human desires for a certain look and conforming to breed standards. The welfare and comfort of the dogs themselves appears secondary in the decision to crop ears.

What do proponents say in favor of cropping?

Supporters of ear cropping dispute that it is an unethical practice. Some of their counterarguments include:

It’s painless when done properly

Using proper anesthesia and analgesics, the surgery itself should not be painful. Any postoperative pain can be managed with medication.

Minimal risks

With an experienced veterinarian, risks like infections are very low. Serious complications are rare.

Dogs don’t care about natural form

Dogs do not have a concept of their natural form. They adjust quickly to cropped ears. As long as pain is minimized, the dog does not know or care if their ears are cropped or natural.

Owners should have choice

As long as the procedure does not harm the dog, owners should have the choice to crop ears to align with breed standards or personal preferences. They care deeply for their dogs.

Tradition is important

Ear cropping has always been done in Dobermans. It is part of the history and tradition of the breed that should continue being honored.

Does cropping harm dogs?

The question around harm is where much debate occurs. Critics see cropping as an unnecessary harm. Supporters say when done properly by veterinarians, it does not harm dogs in the long run.

There is evidence on both sides:

Evidence of harm

  • Studies have monitored cortisol stress responses in cropped puppies indicating discomfort.
  • One study found half of cropped dogs had complications like infection or lasting pain.
  • Dogs use their ears for communication and temperature regulation.

Evidence showing no lasting harm

  • Other studies found no lasting behavior changes between cropped and uncropped dogs.
  • Cropped dogs still express normal behavior and communication.
  • Serious complications are rare when procedures are done properly.

There is also debate around how much dogs may notice or care about having altered ears. Dogs adapt quickly and do not dwell on their appearance like humans. Overall harm likely depends on the individual procedure and aftercare provided.

Are there medical benefits?

Proponents sometimes cite potential health and hygiene benefits as justification for cropping. However, these claims are disputed by veterinary medical organizations.

Hygiene benefits appear minimal

Erect ears do reduce the amount of trapped moisture and debris compared to floppy ears. However, there is no evidence of cropped dogs having lower ear infection rates. Proper ear cleaning can maintain hygiene without cropping.

Hearing may or may not be altered

Some speculate erect ears allow sounds to reach the ear canal easier. However, there is minimal evidence ear cropping significantly alters hearing ability in dogs.

No major health benefits proven

There are no rigorous studies showing cropping provides major medical benefits for Dobermans. Claims that it does appear aimed more at justifying the practice.

What do veterinary groups say about cropping?

Many official veterinary organizations have policy statements advising against elective cropping procedures for cosmetic purposes:

  • American Veterinary Medical Association: Opposes ear cropping when done solely for cosmetic reasons rather than health reasons.
  • British Veterinary Association: “We believe that ear cropping for cosmetic reasons is an unjustified mutilation and unethical.”
  • Canadian Veterinary Medical Association: “Opposes ear cropping done for cosmetic purposes.”

These major groups see no medical justification for removing dogs’ ears solely to alter their appearance. Several other national veterinary groups hold similar positions against cropping.

Is there an alternative “show crop”?

Some advocate for a less radical “show crop” leaving more natural ear:

  • Removes less pinnae leaving over 1/2 the ear.
  • Still taped upright as it heals.
  • Gives a pointy, alert ear look while leaving more natural ear.

Proponents see this as an ethical compromise between tradition and dog welfare. However, critics argue any cropping done solely for appearance still raises ethical issues of consent and necessity.

What is the position of the AKC?

The American Kennel Club currently allows ear cropping but does not mandate it for showing or breeding Dobermans. The position of the AKC is:

  • Cropping is “acceptable practice integral to defining and preserving breed character and/or enhancing good health.”
  • They permit show judges to determine if uncropped ears are a disqualification as they see fit.
  • The AKC takes no position on whether owners crop ears or not.

So while AKC breed standards indirectly encourage cropping through disqualification, the organization itself remains neutral on the controversy.

What locations have bans on cropping?

Laws regulating ear cropping vary considerably around the world. Some examples of places that limit or prohibit cropping include:

Country/Region Ear Cropping Laws
England Banned unless for medical reasons
Australia Banned in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania
Europe overall Banned in many European countries
United States No nationwide laws, varies locally

Some individual U.S. states also have local laws prohibiting cropping for cosmetic purposes, including New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Overall, trends lean toward tighter restrictions on cropping elective procedures.

What do owners think?

Many Doberman owners feel strongly about this issue, on both sides:

Owners against cropping cite:

  • Cruelty/ethics concerns
  • Risks of procedure
  • Love dogs just the way they are
  • Culture shifting away from alteration

Owners for cropping cite:

  • Tradition is important
  • Define breed characteristic and beauty
  • Right to choose as responsible owners
  • Minimally risky with benefits

Passions run high on both sides. It is a very personal issue for many Doberman owners.


There are good faith arguments on both sides of ear cropping in Dobermans. Though once a common practice, attitudes seem to be shifting against cropping in many regions based on animal welfare concerns.

Cropping does not appear medically necessary, leading many to view it as an elective cosmetic surgery done primarily to meet breed standards. However, owners who crop often genuinely believe they are acting in their dogs best interests.

Open respectful dialogue is needed around practices like cropping to reflect evolving societal attitudes toward dogs and their care. Like many complex ethical issues, there are multiple reasonable perspectives that must be weighed thoughtfully when making decisions for our beloved Doberman companions.