Louis Dobermann, a tax collector in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, developed a breed of dog to accompany him on his rounds. Dobermann needed a strong dog with an intimidating presence that could protect him from thieves and wild animals on his travels. The Doberman Pinscher, as the breed came to be called, is known for its strength, protection ability, and noble appearance. The dog's smooth features, docked tail, and cropped ears contribute to the breed's striking appearance.
History and Tradition
As early as the late 1600s, ears were cropped on dogs used for protection, fighting and hunting large game, primarily for safety reasons. Ears are a ready target for attackers to grab, or for other animals to bite. The thin ear flap, or leather, is easily cut or torn, and injured ears can be difficult to heal. Running through brush and bramble can also cause injury to small, floppy ears. Although today's ear crops leave more of the ear intact than those done 400 years ago, the cropped look has become a recognized characteristic of many breeds.
The cropped ear more closely resembles the shape of a natural canine ear. Floppy ears are a deviation from nature; research on foxes shows that the dropped ear is a side-effect of domestication. Some cropped breed fanciers theorize that dogs with erect ears can hear better than dogs with floppy ears, not as a result of a larger ear opening, but rather because of a better ability to detect and localize sounds.
Hygiene and Health
Dogs with thick, long dropped ears are prone to ear infections, because the heavy ear leather traps moisture. Doberman ears aren't long or heavy, so infections are less of a problem; however, cropped ears do generally stay cleaner than uncropped ears do. Additionally, a cropped ear is less likely to develop a hematoma (a blood-filled pocket on the ear leather), which typically requires surgery to repair. In some cases, especially in dogs with allergies or ear infections, constant shaking of the head can cause the tips of the ears to split and bleed. These injuries are very difficult to heal, since every shake of the dog's head can re-open the split tips. In extreme cases, cropping is the only option to alleviate the problem.
The Cropping Process
Ear cropping is a surgical procedure, performed by a veterinarian when a puppy is between 7 and 16 weeks old. The surgery is carried out under general anesthesia, and puppies go home that afternoon or the next morning. The ears are trimmed and the edges stitched; most vets will then tape the ears to a foam block or cup to keep them erect while the edges heal. After the stitches are removed, the ears must be taped to train them to stand upright. Taping may last for few weeks, or, in some cases, up to a year. Succeeding in getting the ear's to stand is strongly related to the owner's dedication to keeping them properly taped.
While the AKC Doberman breed standard calls for a cropped ear, an uncropped ear is merely a deviation from the standard, rather than a disqualification. If you aren't showing your dog in conformation, cropping is a personal decision. If you decide to crop, find a veterinarian experienced and skilled in the procedure. Most puppies do not show signs of lingering pain from an ear crop, but an unskilled vet and a poorly performed crop can be traumatic. Ask for a recommendation from your puppy's breeder, or breeders in your area; generally one or two vets perform most of the crops in a state or region.
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