Today I’d like to share my thoughts on tail docking, earcropping and removal of the dew claw. Such practices have been around for a long time, and each time, different reasons are cited for them. At one point, dog shows mandated such amputative procedures, making them “trends”. Now new information is emerging that suggests that we need to rethink the ease with which we opt for these procedures. Kennel clubs are gradually changing their stance on this, and governments are banning such procedures as well. It’s time for more pet parents to have informed opinions on the matter.
The dew claw is the little claw on the side of the foot, mostly in front paws, sometimes in the rear paws as well. You could consider it a bit like your thumb. Though not really an opposable thumb, it still plays a critical role in the anatomy and movement of a dog.
A bit about the anatomy of a dog: There are five tendons that attach to the dew claw. Tendons are attached to muscles. Removal of the dew claw will cause those muscles to atrophy. This is not good for the movement of a dog.
The innermost and outermost claws play critical roles in controlling the pronation of a dog’s foot. If the innermost claw is removed, the dog’s foot will roll inward when walking. The runners among us know that pronation can cause severe injuries in the knees and the rest of the leg. Leg injuries are particularly painful because there is just no escaping movement. This affects behaviour.
Then there’s the tail. Part of the spine, it is used extensively in movement, communication and expression. When a dog runs he uses his tail like a rudder, to set direction. The tail also seems to have a role in breaking when running and banking.
Anyone who has seen a dog will agree that the tail is also used extensively for expression. In fact, to most of us, the tail is the most expressive part of a dog. Latest studies seem to point to observations that might indicate that they are used in communication as well.
One might suggest that these organs get hurt if not removed. True. But that’s true of most organs. The only difference is that we perceive these organs as being unnecessary. But here’s the thing. Our appendix is unnecessary. And it does get infected too. But we don’t remove it pre-emptively. And these organs in a dog are not vestigial like an appendix. They play an active role in a dog’s everyday life. Why not address the injury when it happens instead of preemptively removing it?
Consider our street dogs. They have most of these organs intact. It’s easy to observe that not all of these dogs go around with dew claw injuries and tail injuries. In fact many of the street dog mixes have dew claws on their front and rear leg. And yet, the injuries sustained in these parts are not significantly more than injuries sustained in other parts of the body.
Nature is rarely wrong. Dogs were given these organs for a reason. While we might have erroneously assumed that they did not play a significant role in a dog’s life, we now know otherwise. So it’s perhaps time to reconsider if we really need to go around pre-emptively amputating our animals or give them the benefit of what nature designed for them.