To Crop Or Not: The Debate on Doberman Ear Cropping

Depending on your age, hobbies, and interests, when asked to picture a Doberman pinscher, you most likely imagine something like the zombie canine from the Resident Evil franchise, or perhaps Zeus and Apollo from Magnum P.I.

Either way, ask a hundred people to describe the breed, and hands down, one commonality will come up: Dobermans have pointed ears. Did you know this is the result of a controversial practice with Dobermans called “ear cropping”?

Dobermans are actually born with ears similar to other canines — puppy-big, soft, and 100 percent droopy.

The practice of cropping Dobermans’ ears has caused much debate in the animal rights community. Naysayers argue the procedure is cruel and unnecessary, while supporters perceive it as an important part of the breed standard, capable of increasing the health and well-being of the dog.  

There are two sides to the argument. Before bringing that new Doberman puppy home, it is important to investigate the history of the procedure, the pros and cons of performing the surgery on your pet, as well as the current perspectives on the topic in the canine industry. 

Two dobermans lay on the grass with tongues out

What is Ear Cropping? 

During the procedure of ear cropping, qualified veterinarians surgically remove, or cut back and reshape, a dog’s ears to give them a pointed, erect appearance.

In the United States, the most common dog breeds undergoing the elective procedure include boxers, schnauzers, pit bulls, Great Danes, and the Doberman pinscher.

The surgery typically takes place when the dog is between eight and 12 weeks old. The procedure itself takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, with the entire healing process taking up to 10 weeks. After the procedure, dogs must wear special headbands or wraps to keep their ears standing up straight while they heal.

There are several different types of ear cropping, such as:

  • Battle crop

  • Short crop

  • Show crop

  • Long crop

When it comes to Dobermans, the show crop is the most common.

Doberman runs along a trail of fallen leaves

Where and Why Did Ear Cropping Start? 

Believed to have first started in medieval times, ear cropping was originally born from practicality. The practice dates back hundreds of years as an efficient preventative measure.

The Practicality of Ear Cropping

Back before your vet lived around the corner, animal medicine fell by the wayside when it came to dogs. Veterinary medicine didn’t always offer antibiotics and anesthesia to heal a dog’s cuts and wounds. Before they became domesticated pups cuddling in human beds, owners bred dogs to have a purpose — a working job that made the life of the owner easier.

From guarding property to sheep, dogs served as more than just a companion. People believed that the shorter the dog’s ears, the less likely they would get infected or injured.

Shepherds supposedly started the procedure in central Europe to assist their sheepdogs with protecting their flock, hunting vermin, and guarding the property. Ear cropping made the sheep dogs appear more aggressive and intimidating and thus better able to protect the sheep from predators. 

For Dobermans, the original practice of ear cropping held a useful purpose over a purely aesthetic one. Dobermans, bred for guard duty and security work, needed to run without distraction. By cropping a Doberman’s ears, they would be less susceptible to being bitten in fights. This caused them to become fearsome adversaries in combat and guard situations. 

Aesthetics of Ear Cropping

Eventually, ear cropping became less about preventative measures and more about aesthetics.

The practice made its way to America, where it became popular among dog fighters. However, in the early 1900s, ear cropping became less common as animal welfare organizations began speaking out against the practice. 

Since the early 2000s, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of ear cropping — particularly among dog show enthusiasts. While the AKC does not require cropped ears for canine registration, many people believe the pointed, erect appearance gives Dobermans a neater appearance and helps them conform to acceptable breed standards. 

Aesthetically speaking, cropped ears feed into the stereotype of an alert, aggressive dog — which is exactly what many people are looking for when they select a Doberman.

The Debate About Ear Cropping

As of 2022, ear cropping is no longer a necessity for either working dogs or dogs who are strictly companions.

There’s no denying that ear cropping is a surgical procedure, but supporters claim that a dog’s pain tolerance is much higher than a human’s. Performing the procedure when the dog is young curbs the chance that the dog will have lasting trauma from the experience. Puppies also heal quickly, which is why most supporters encourage having the surgery done while the animal is young.  

On the other hand, though, many people believe the outdated and cruel practice should no longer have a place in the dog breeding community. Veterinarian Louisa Lane argues that “Ear cropping on dogs is otherwise completely selfish, unnecessary, and performed solely for misguided cosmetic reasons, which makes it wrong.”

Where is the line between what history has written as fate for the ears of Dobermans and current animal activists?

Doberman with cropped eats

The Pros of Ear Cropping

While ear cropping is now perceived by many as a purely cosmetic procedure, some still support it for a variety of reasons. 

There are two principal arguments for why people choose to crop their Doberman’s ears: aesthetic reasons and health benefits.


Supporters believe that cropped ears give Dobermans a regal appearance and make them look more “like a Doberman.” The appearance also conforms to pop culture and mainstream media’s perception of the breed.

Calming Dog Ad

Although the roles dogs play in people’s lives have changed, Dobermans, among other breeds, still work in various professions — including working as K-9 officers. Some officers believe cropped ears are necessary for certain working roles that Dobermans perform, such as police work or military service.

Uncropped ears may get in the way and impede a Doberman’s ability to do its job effectively. Some working dogs, such as police dogs, may have their ears cropped short so that they can wear protective gear without causing discomfort.

Dogs who appear more alert and vigilant ease stress and offer a sense of security, especially for those who specifically want their dog to create a sense of safety. 

Many people still believe that ear cropping is an important part of the Doberman breed standard. They argue that cropped ears give the dog a more streamlined appearance.

Doberman with uncropped ears runs along the beach

Health Benefits

Many veterinarians believe that ear cropping is no more painful nor cruel than other common veterinary procedures like spaying or neutering. And if done by a qualified veterinarian, complications are rare.

According to supporters, cropping the ears also helps reduce the risk of ear infections or injuries.

The snip provides better airflow to the ear canal. Avoiding ear infections also decreases the likelihood that your dog could become deaf in old age. When a dog’s ear flaps are erect, they funnel sound directly into the ear canal, which helps amplify sounds and improve hearing. This is especially helpful for working dogs who need to hear commands from a distance.

Ear cropping also makes grooming easier. Dogs with longer ears often require special grooming techniques (and extra time!) to keep their ears clean and free of mats. Cropped ears are much easier to groom and don’t require special equipment or techniques. 

Many dogs who have their ears cropped seem to suffer no ill effects and live happy healthy lives. 

The Cons of Ear Cropping

Animal welfare organizations such as PETA have long spoken out against the practice of ear cropping, citing it as a form of animal abuse.

Those against ear cropping argue that it is an unnecessary procedure that does nothing but cause physical complications, pain and suffering, and emotional trauma. They also point out that there are potential complications that arise from ear croppings, such as infection or permanent damage to the dog’s hearing. 

Critics point out that there are many health risks associated with cropping. Some of these complications are physical like unnecessary pain and suffering, while others are emotional.

Physical Complications

Like any surgery, there are risks involved in ear cropping, including infection, excessive bleeding, and complications from anesthesia.

Puppies typically have their ears cropped between seven and nine weeks of age when they have developed some of the adult canine emotions—including the ability to feel pain as we know it. This means that they are likely feeling at least some amount of pain during the surgery, as well as during the healing process. 

Some dog specialists also believe that cropped ears make Dobermans more prone to infection, as they are more likely to collect dirt and debris within their ear canal. In addition, they believe that cropped ears do not actually improve a dog’s hearing and may even make it worse. 

Doberman sits in field of grass

Unnecessary Pain and Suffering

Some veterinarians are opposed to ear cropping because they consider it to be an unnecessary and cruel practice. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not condone ear cropping except for medical reasons, and they urge pet owners to consult with their veterinarian before having the procedure done. 

Cropped ears require special care and maintenance. They need to be cleaned regularly and protected from injury to heal properly — which means no playing rough with other dogs or running through the thick brush!

In addition, cropped ears may require tape or other forms of support to stand erect (this is called “standing scotch”). 

Another common argument points to the fact that most dogs are domestic pets who will never find themselves in a fight. They argue that the pain and stress of going through the ear cropping surgery are not worth it for aesthetics alone.

Emotional Trauma

One of the largest arguments against ear cropping involves a different type of complication. Physically altering a dog’s appearance affects how the animal interacts with other members of its species.

Cropped ears may make it difficult for your dog to express emotion. Dogs communicate a lot with their facial expressions and body language, and their floppy ears are an important part of that communication. With cropped ears, a dog may lose the ability to communicate important emotional cues, like when they’re feeling scared, threatened, or playful, inhibiting their form of communication among their species.

Those against the procedure argue it is difficult to find homes for rescued dogs with cropped ears. Sometimes, shelters will not even adopt dogs with cropped ears because of the negative stigma surrounding the practice. Not having a good home wreaks havoc on a dog.

Cropped-ear dogs may also have trouble getting insurance coverage. Although most pet insurance companies don’t discriminate against dogs with cropped ears, some companies will charge higher premiums or refuse coverage altogether. This is because insurers perceive dogs with crops as belonging to a more aggressive breed than their floppy-eared counterparts, and therefore more likely to bite or cause an accident. 

Finally, some people believe cropped ears give Dobermans an aggressive appearance that contributes to negative stereotypes about the breed. 

It’s important to note that in some countries — including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and parts of Europe — it is illegal to crop a dog’s ears except for medical purposes. Europeans consider ear cropping “a convenience surgery,” an unnecessary medical procedure.

If you’re planning on moving overseas with your Doberman, think twice about cropping their ears first. 

Doberman lays in grass with ears perked

What’s the Verdict? 

Is Doberman ear cropping cruel or necessary? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

While it’s true that most dogs don’t need their ears cropped, there’s also no evidence to suggest that doing so is cruel either. It comes down to a matter of opinion.

Should you crop your Doberman’s ears or not? It’s ultimately up to you as the owner to decide what’s best for your dog and choose whether you want your pet to experience this cosmetic elective procedure.

Before making a decision, weigh the potential risks and benefits involved. If you decide to go ahead with ear cropping, find a reputable and qualified vet who has experience performing the procedure. Whatever you choose, remember that your dog will still be your best friend—cropped ears or not!

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