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Ear Cropping

A Personal Choice

Puppies are born with long “hound-dog” ears and tails. Tails are customarily docked (Doberman style is at the second joint) and dewclaws are removed by a vet at the age of about 3 days. Ears are cropped at 8-12 weeks of age. The ears are sutured or stapled after cropping and taped over the head by the vet and then covered with gauze or glued to a piece of Styrofoam between them. My vet uses staples and a locally constructed device to hold them in place on the head. She then surrounds the head with an Elizabethan Collar to prevent the puppy from being able to scratch at or remove the device. This is what it looks like:

Once cropped, they must be “taped” for several weeks to make them stand. If they are cropped too late, the chances are very good that either one or both ears will fail to stand. In fact, many vets will refuse to crop after 12 weeks of age. The usual vet fee for cropping can be in the neighborhood of $250-350 or more. 

The ears heal and, after about 10-14 days, the sutures or staples are removed and the ear can be taped to begin the process of keeping them upright. Of course, some owners prefer not to crop the ears but most prefer to do so. If for some reason, you must sell the dog later, its resale price is usually much higher if the ears are cropped and the tail is docked.

The question of cropping the ears is not always a personal choice. In many countries it is illegal. Assuming, however, it is legal, people may consider that it is cruel and unnecessary. After all, it could be argued, ear cropping is only done to improve the appearance of the Doberman.

If you look at pictures of my dogs on this site, you could figure out pretty fast that I subscribe to the group that favors cropping a Doberman's ears. To me it's primarily what makes a Doberman look like a Doberman. Furthermore, even if you never show your dog, Dobermans with floppy ears are prone to ear infection and I believe it improves their hearing and cleanliness. 

As far as it being cruel, I don't believe that for a second. However, I must admit that the first time I had a Doberman’s ears cropped, I was concerned. When the procedure was completed, the puppy naturally appeared a little confused and nervous but soon got over it. Since he had stitches in his ears, I also assumed my puppy would be in pain and would just want to remain inactive for several days. I couldn't have been more wrong. As soon as we got home, the puppy immediately started running around and playing as if nothing had happened. If I didn’t know the surgery had been just done, I wouldn’t have been able to tell by the activity.

The worse part of ear cropping occurs about a week after it is done. When the ears have been in a dressing for a week or so, they become itchy as they heal and the puppy will want to scratch them. To me, ear cropping could be be considered cruel only if it is not done properly.

If you decide to get your puppy's ears cropped make sure it is done right. If you are purchasing a very young puppy that you will be responsible for getting it done when it is between 9-12 weeks old, you need find a good veterinarian as far in advance as possible. Ask to see pictures and examples of the vets recent work with the style you want. Make sure you understand that ear cropping should only be done by those vets that are very experienced in this procedure.

If you cannot find an acceptable vet to do the ear cropping on your own, you can always make inquires to a local kennel club in order to contact a Doberman breeder/handler/vet in your area. This will enable you to see adult dogs with various lengths and styles of ear crops. Then seek advice about who did the cropping and learn about the time and commitment it may take for the ears to stand up properly. If you plan on showing your Doberman, make sure that you find out about a show crop.

When you take the puppy to the vet for ear cropping, be sure to tell your vet EXACTLY what ear shape you want because vets have their preferences too and those preferences may not match yours. If possible, show them a picture of the ear shape you want and stress it several times or you may be dissatisfied with the result.

Length of Ears 

Military/Pet Crop: 

The ear is shorter in length and has a wider base (bell). Does not (usually) take very long to stand. Not seen on many Dobermans today. 

Medium Crop: 

A longer ear with a little less bell. This is my personal favorite.

Show Crop:

This crop is longer and a little narrower than the other two crops. 

Ear Taping 

Post-op care of the Doberman's ears should be done under the guidance of an experienced Doberman vet/breeder/handler. It will require a little extra time and commitment on the part of the owner. Most with experience would agree that the ears should be initially taped for about a week. They should then un-taped long enough to allow the ears to breathe/dry-out and then be re-taped. The longer the ears are left un-taped, the longer it will take for them to stand on their own. Before the time when pup's permanent teeth come in (6 months), the ears should already be standing upright without artificial support.

Care Of Ears Following Cropping

1. Sutures will probably be removed from the edge of the ears about 7-14 days after surgery. The ears are usually re-taped a couple of days after suture removal (check with your vet to know exactly what schedule he or she prefers). This allows a little time for them to be exposed to the air and heal prior to being wrapped up again. During this time, the puppy should be separated from other dogs if possible to prevent them from licking the exposed sutures holes thus delaying healing and causing excessive scar tissue formation which, in many instances, will prevent the ears from standing properly.

2. During the interval between suture removal and the time the first re-taping is scheduled, massage the healing edges of the ear twice daily using a triple antibiotic gel or vaseline as a lubricant. Employ a stretching motion as you massage to help prevent scarring as healing progresses. DO NOT use a lubricant on the day of re-taping or the tape will not stick to the ear. The ears must be kept CLEAN and DRY both before and after re-taping. If they get wet after re-taping, remove the tape IMMEDIATELY and either take the dog to the vet for re-taping or, if you are SURE you know how to properly do so, re-tape the ears yourself (see taping instructions below). If you re-tape yourself, DO NOT cover the exposed sutures at the base of the ear.

3. Avoid playing with the puppy excessively while he is learning to perk the ears up. If you play excessively, you puppy will instinctively pull the ears down. Avoid “rough-housing”. Try to get your puppy to pick the ears up as often as possible by making unusual noises or blowing a whistle to get his attention.

4. On rare occasions, a puppy will develop a soft, pliable, thick cartilage which simply does not have the ability to stand and the ears will never stand properly.

5. Some puppies simply are not all that interested in what is going on around them and do not try to work their ears by perking them up. If your puppy displays this behavior, use a silent dog whistle and any other means possible to try to stimulate some interest in perking the ears up.

6. Ears which are continuously wet after taping are very slow to stand. The cartilage loses its rigidity and develops scar tissue formation. Keep the ears CLEAN and DRY!!

7. If your puppy is hyperactive and insists on scratching at the bandages the first week following surgery, give him from ½ of a 5 grain ASPIRIN, not acetominophen (like that found in Tylenol) which is TOXIC TO A DOG. Many times, the aspirin will reduce inflammation and alleviate the itching associated with the sutures and bandages. Administer up to one full 5 grain aspirin every 4-6 hours.

8. If you work with your puppy and your puppy works with you, the ears should stand well in several weeks to a couple of months with a minimal amount of discomfort to you or the puppy.

9. Baby socks taped over the rear paws may help prevent the puppy from scratching at its ears and pulling out the sutures. 

Tips For Re-taping Puppy Ears Yourself

There are sevearl advantage to learning to tape your puppy’s ears yourself. It may save you from having to pay the vet’s office an additional fee to do it for you. The vet will probably only do one or two re-tapings without charging you additional fees. There is also the inconvenience having to take the puppy back and forth to the vet's office. It also helps your puppy to become accustomed to being handled by you. You won’t have to worry if your first attempt is not as pretty as the vet can do it because you can always start over if you don’t think you’ve done as good a job. With just a little practice, you’ll get to be quite good at it. Knowing how is done allows you to do it as often as you think it needs to be done in case the tape gets wet, soiled or ragged or if you wish to inspect the ears for healing progress or infection. An old tape job may be easily removed by carefully sliding a blunt ended pair of scissors between the edge of the ear, then cutting the tape and finally slowly peeling the tape from the ears. You will always remove a little of the ear fur but that is normal and it will grow back.

Prior to re-taping, inspect the puppy's ears for dampness and infection and clean them inside and out with warm water and bacterial hand soap, rinse them thoroughly and let them air dry. Massage the ears carefully for several minutes along the edges to prevent scar formation and in the middle of the ear with a slight pulling motion from the base of the ear toward the tip while rubbing the ear back and forth between finger and thumb to stimulate circulation and to encourage the cartilage to grow straight. If your puppy’s ears are sensitive or if your puppy objects to being handled, you may need a helper to hold the puppy while the taping is performed.

Materials needed are: A a roll of ½ inch diameter “backer rod” (available at Home Depot in the hardware section), a pair of blunt ended scissors and a couple of rolls of ½ inch width waterproof first aid tape. 

Cut a 6 to 8 inch length of the backer rod off the roll and, starting at one end, wrap it with a spiral from one end to the other with the first aid tape to provide the rod with some rigidity. Leave about ¼ inch of the rod uncovered at one end to provide a soft cushion which will not irritate the inside of the puppy’s ear when the rod is inserted. Next, wrap a second spiral layer of tape STICKY SIDE OUT around the rod from one end to the other still leaving the ¼ inch foam rubber end of the rod exposed. This sticky side out layer will help the rod stick to the inside of the puppy’s ear and help it to remain in place. Cut 6 four or five inch lengths of tape off and lightly stick one end of the tape to the edge of the surface area you will be working on so that they will be easily available when you are ready for them.

Place the foam rubber exposed end of the tape-covered rod into the bottom of the ear well, NOT THE EAR CANAL, which is at a right angle and at the bottom of the ear well. Then press and wrap the inside and the edges of the ear around the sticky rod so that it sticks to the rod. Stretch the ear upward slightly then press it to the tape so the ear is in a completely erect position. Make sure the inside of the ear makes contact with the sticky rod from top to bottom.

Place a single band of tape around the outside of the ear and rod where the ear meets the top of the skull and trim off any excess tape. Place a second band of tape around the ear and rod about halfway between the base and the tip of the ear. Place a third band around the tip of the ear and the rod. DO NOT MAKE BANDS TOO TIGHT OR YOU WILL INDUCE SWELLING IN THE EAR TISSUE OR CUT OFF CIRCULATION. Cut off any excess backer rod and tape about ¼ inch above the tip of the ear. You may also wish to place a “cap” of tape from below the tip of the ear up and over the end then down the side of the rod to help keep the rod in place.

There are several additional steps that may be done as you see fit for your particular puppy or situation. For instance, you may place a band of tape stretching from the tip of one ear across the span to the tip of the other ear forming a “bridge” to hold the ears straight up and down. Depending on how active the puppy is or if there are other pets present, you may wish to use additional precautions such as bracing the band of tape between the ears with a rod made from an additional piece of reinforced backer rod. You may completely cover the space between the ears to deny the puppy or its playmates a place to grab and remove the dressing. You may also wish to run a “chin strap” strip or two of tape under the puppy’s jaw and up to the top of the rod in each ear. You may then put a strip of tape around the ear and the end of the chin strap where it meets the rod to help keep the tape on the ears and the rod in the ears and from being pulled out. Remember not to place the chin strap so far forward under the puppy’s chin that it prevents free chewing or swallowing movement or so tightly or far back that it can choke the puppy if the bridge becomes entangled on an obstruction or on pulled on by other pets.

After every 3rd day, remove the tape, clean the ears and let them air out for a day or so before re-taping them for another 3 days, using the same procedures outlined above. You may wish to extend the period between tapings to 5 days unless the dressing becomes ragged or dirty. Usually 4-8 weeks of taping is sufficient to ensure that the ears will stand but the time may vary. As a rule the longer cut ears must be taped for longer periods before they stand well than will be necessary with shorter cuts.

Other Ear Taping Tips

* Check for odors (taped ears should not have a foul smell)

* Don't allow the ear become wet.

* Immediately begin re-taping again if an ear looks like it is not ready to stand properly. 

* To learn more about ear taping consult Joanna Walker's The New Doberman Pinscher, Chapter 27.