For the love of you pet: To dock or not to dock, that is the question

By John Beck
Jan. 31, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 30, 2013 at 7:31 p.m.

Our female dog just had four puppies. They are schnauzers, and we can't decide if we need to have their tails docked or leave them be. What do you think?

There are a lot of optional things that people have done to their pets to make them 'prettier' or like the standard they are accustom to seeing. Dewclaw removal, tail docks and ear crops are all elective surgeries that a lot of pet owners have done.

The dewclaws are the digits located on the carpal or tarsal joint (wrist or ankle). Some dogs are naturally born without this digit and some only have front dewclaws while others have all four. A lot of people choose to get them removed to avoid future problems with snagging them on rugs, carpet, etc.

Tail docking is another popular procedure that is usually done at the same time as the dewclaw removal. A lot of people are used to seeing Yorkshire terriers and Doberman Pinschers with cute stubby tails. They are not born this way but made to look that way by docking or trimming off the excess tail.

There are a couple of breeds like Pembrook corgis and Australian shepherds that are born with naturally shortened tails. The bulldog breeds and Boston terriers are born with a swirling "pig" tail and usually don't need to be altered. If you are considering having tails docked or dewclaws removed, we recommend doing so between three and five days of age.

Usually by this time we know the puppies are viable but it is still early enough that there is not a lot of innervation to those areas. Their neurologic system is still immature, so there is less pain associated with this procedure if done early. Also, having the procedure done early can reduce scarring.

If you are considering having your dog's ears cropped, then 14-16 weeks of age is the prime time. This gives the dog time to develop some strength and cartilage in the ears, so they will stand properly after the trim. Because they are still young, it also leaves a little time to mold the ears to look the way they should.

Some people consider these procedures cruel and unnecessary. They are elective procedures, and it is a moral decision for each owner. Keep in mind that pain medication and antibiotics are needed for these procedures to manage post-op infection and pain. If you are unsure or still have questions, please feel free to contact me.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at



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