Is Ear Cropping & Tail Docking Illegal or Not in the UK?

dog ear cropping

With so many people now parading their cropped and docked dogs around the streets, it is difficult to believe that ear cropping is banned in the U.K. It has been illegal for well over the lifespan of any dog born in the U.K. since the Animal Welfare Act 2006 came into force so realistically every dog should have an intact tail and natural ears.

The situation is not helped by the celebrity culture. Over the years there has been a long line of “celebs” parading their cropped and docked dogs on social media all professing either ignorance or indifference to the fact that it fuels the demand, their only interest being the “coolness” of it. The latest is Diversity star Jordan Banjo who in December 2020 posted pictures of his new dog Sergio with cropped ears which was thankfully, to his apparent surprise, met by a barrage of condemnation. In his defence he is quoted as saying:

“I can’t pretend to have known all of the information on cropped ears, I don’t even want to pretend to be misinformed, to be blunt I didn’t even think about it in the first instance. I didn’t get his ears cut, I didn’t even import him. It upsets me to think that Sergio or any dog goes through this purely to look ‘cooler’” Jordan Banjo

Such obviously bogus outpourings of ignorance and upset over the cruelty involved highlights the mentality of people who insist on treating animals as cool and cute objects.

Jordan Banjo with Sergio
Jordan Banjo with Sergio. Celebrities have no problem about encouraging ear cropping and sadly many people think it is a natural look.

The ban on ear cropping impossible to enforce.

The reason for any confusion is that once again when formulating animal welfare laws in the UK, the powers to be did not give sufficient thought to the practicalities and what dog owners might do to circumvent the law. It was a simple case of importing ready made cropped and docked dogs from countries where the procedures are still legal such as from Europe and the USA. There is nothing preventing anyone owning such a dog as long as any suffering has been caused abroad which has given the public the impression it is acceptable.

The common sight of mutilated imported dogs on the streets has made it easier for UK entrepreneurs to continue cropping and docking illegally and assimilate them into the population without comment.

The confusion is not helped when the England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland governments all have a different interpretation and approach over the legality of docking. The RSPCA has had to turn to the veterinary profession for help in curbing illegal activity and in turn veterinarians have had to ask their governing body what they are meant to be doing about it.

The RSPCA are backing a petition to ban the import of ear cropped dogs instigated by a dog trainer and welfare campaigner (2020) which is long overdue and needs your support.

U.K. celebrity dog breeder prosecuted

The recent prosecution of a so called “celebrity UK dog breeder” puts the whole situation into focus. The breeder was found in possession of dozens of puppies with cropped ears and tools of the trade for cropping ears i.e. syringes, razor blades and forceps like a burglar going equipped. He was given a suspended prison sentence, banned for life from keeping and dealing dogs, (appeal possible after 15 years), made to pay £11,000 ($14,000) court costs and told to take part in community service.

Various cuts just like going to the hairdresser.

There are at least 20 breeds of dog that are traditionally docked and/or cropped including Dobermans, Mastiffs, Schnauzers, American Bullys and Pitbulls, Boston terriers and Boxers mainly to comply with show standards but increasingly owners think they look better or “hard” and some even think it is a natural look. Sadly there are a variety of styles of ear cropping available to suit the circumstances just like going to the hairdresser. Unfortunately many kennel clubs around the world still live in the dark ages and endorse the practice to maintain breed standards.

Most countries that have imposed bans went down the same route as the U.K. by allowing dogs to be imported and some have even allowed them to continue entering dog shows. Ironically, Germany, the birth place of many of the traditionally mutilated breeds, has also imposed a ban. There was recent controversy in Malta, when a cropped Doberman won the national dog show even though they have a ban, again because it was imported. The FCI, the international body behind most international dog shows, allows cropped dogs and publishes lists of countries without bans, so obviously supports these practices.

Confusingly, the UK doesn’t allow docked or cropped dogs to shows where people pay admission fees, but allow them at shows where no charge is made. The U.K. Kennel Club in 2016 changed their policy from not allowing cropped dogs to allowing “spectator” cropped dogs to be present to basically show them off. They oppose the showing and docking bans, but insist they want consistency in legislation.

The procedures are totally unnecessary and have no health or welfare benefits

As with all controversial issues opposing sides line up with a variety of reasons for either keeping mutilation legal or not, some of them rather nonsensical or surreal opinions. Pro mutilators maintain it is good for the dogs’s health and painless and that they can hear better, suffer less ear infections and if a guard dog an attacker has less to grab hold of. Those using them for fighting like them to be ear less and tailless so that the dogs cannot show submissive signs to their opponent. Those in between in the argument state the choice is that of the owner to decide “based on what is best for your dog“, but the bottom line is that such procedures are totally unnecessary involving painful aftercare and have no realistic welfare benefits.

Of course there is and has always been a simple solution to the problem. If we were really sincere in stopping the practices we could make it unlawful to be in possession of a cropped or docked dog and to ban imports, but of course that would be too easy.

Tailless Boxer dog, tail docking

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Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.