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Tale Of Tails & Ears

by  Avi Marshak

The aim of this article is to try to cover as many aspects as possible which rise from the prohibition against showing cropped & docked Dobermanns in many countries around the world. To explore the past, to deal with the present and to try to foresee the future of our beloved breed, the Dobermann. It is funny to think that the future of our breed maybe lies between the two edges of the dog; the ear and the tail.


In our collective memory, we have and we shall have forever the mental image of a cropped and docked Dobermann. Even Dobermann clubs from countries that outlawed cropping such as Norway and Finland have on their clubs badges the image of a cropped Dobermann, interesting isn´t it?

Let us look back at the “good old days” when we had the freedom to crop anything that could be cropped. Ear cropping began centuries ago as a preventive measure because in those times, there were no antibiotics for infections or anaesthesias and no veterinary surgeons to repair cuts, wounds and infections.

The practical dog breeders learned to remove those portions of a puppy´s anatomy that had the tendency to tearing; they cropped ears, docked tails, and removed dewclaws. Looking at the photos of the early-cropped breeds we can see that all early ear crops were short and crude.

Today, thanks to the modern medicine, cropped ears are longer and it is very easy to crop but still it required the hand of the expert, for ears cropping is varied from one breed to another.

In the F.C.I. list of purebred dogs there are more than 100 breeds that are customarily cropped. Those who oppose the ear cropping claim that it is pure cosmetic surgery and it has nothing to do with the dog health.

Now let us try to answer the “one million dollars question” that people always ask and probably will ask in the future: why are Dobermann ears cropped? Well, I believe that Louis Dobermann the founder of the breed and many other early breeders had the vision of a breed with standing natural ears. If you can not get natural standing ears, the aim justifies the means; you achieve your desired goal by cropping. So they created a Dobermann with cropped ears, ears that prevent yeast infections and at the same time improve the silhouette of the new breed.

Cropped ears create an alert expression and menacing appearance that brought the Dobermann more fanciers. So we have learned that ear cropping was very popular in the early days and the Dobermann was no exception. If we take a look at the Bull Terrier history, a cropped breed that was created for fighting dog sport, once the breeders could get by selecting breeding small erect ears, they stopped cropping.

The late Herman Palmer “Von Fuerstenfeld” kennel told me many years ago that he played with the idea to cross the Dobermann with the ancient Pharaoh Hound breed (a breed with standing natural ears), and to create a Dobermann with natural standing ears, but as far as I know he has not done it.

Countries like England and all the Scandinavian countries have since the early years of the 20th century legislation prohibited cropping and docking of dogs; this legislation prohibits showing cropped and docked dogs in dog shows as well. Lately Holland joined these countries. Starting in 2002, showing cropped and docked dogs in dog shows in Germany will be prohibited. On the other hand an attempt to apply this legislation in Italy has failed.
I don´t believe that the following countries will join this prohibition : France, Portugal, Russia and rest of new republics in central Europe, and all South America countries.


There are almost 100 breeds that are traditionally docked. Docking is done when the puppies are 2 – 4 days of age; it has been scientifically established that the nerves in the tail are not activated at that age and the puppies feel no pain what so ever.

To those people who claim that dog uses his tail for balance and communication, the answer is very simple. Puppies that have been docked have not encountered any problems with balance or communication…

The reason for docking Dobermann is very simple, the Dobermann used to be a police dog and service dog and by docking the tail we prevented the criminal from grabbing the dog by his tail during action.

In his book “The Dobermann Pinscher” 1959 edition, Philipp Gruennig disclosed that in the past there were Dobermanns born with “Bob Tails”: a natural short tail — however these blood lines were lost for those early Dobermann breeders concentrated their breeding efforts on improving the production of deep tan markings.


The European Convention for Protection of Pet Animals, that was held in Strasbourg, France in 13.11.1987 calls for the prohibition against docking tails, cropping ears and removal of dew claws, it deals also with many other aspects of keeping and breeding of pet animals.

Although it calls for the prohibition against docking and cropping, it specifically recognizes the rights of nations which otherwise accept the Convention, to reserve their position on the issue.

Unfortunately, so far many governments ratified these Convention resolutions and the result is prohibition against docking, cropping and showing cropped and docked dogs.

In Britain the prestigious Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon decided not to press for Britain to sign up the controversial European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
Today Europe and tomorrow? Any American, Canadian or Australian dog lovers believing they are safe from those seeking to ban tail docking or ears cropping, may be interested to know what their veterinary associations have to say on the matter.

In the USA, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights opposes various surgeries done to meet “breed standards”.

In Canada, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association also opposes surgical alteration of any animal, for cosmetic purposes.

In Australia, the Australian Veterinary Association calls on the states to ban cosmetic operations.


When the “flood” has started and more countries have adopted the anti cropping and docking legislation, the World Kennel Club, F.C.I initiated an elegant wise step to meet the new challenge.

The Standard Committee of the F.C.I stating published a circular :

“The fact that in more than a hundred breeds ears are either cropped or uncropped and tails docked or left their natural length should no longer influence the judgement at any exhibitions (National, International and World).

All shapes should be judged without distinction since the cropping of ears and docking of tails are in some countries legally prohibited.

The judgement, however takes into account w
hether the ears are well-cropped or not, whether the natural shapes and carriage of the ears in accordance with the standard and whether the tails are either correctly docked or the tails correctly carried.”

This circular is a preliminary step but it does not solve the many problems and questions that have been risen by the anti-cropping and docking legislation.

The F.C.I (Federation Cynological International) or the World Kennel Club customarily recognizes a breed’s standard that is recognized by the leading non-organizations (the AKC and the English Kennel Club).

Under the F.C.I jurisdiction, only the national club of the country of the origin has the authority to alter the breed standard.

The German Dobermann Club (Dobemann-Verein e.v.) – the standard-patron of the Dobermann, is the only organization that is authorized to alter the Dobermann standard.
Let see what changes have been inserted in the Dobermann standard re-ears and tails.

In the 1994 standard under the ears paragraph it is written:

“The ear, which is set high, is carried erect and cropped to a length in proportion to the head. In a country where cropping is not permitted the uncropped ear is equally recognized. (Medium size preferred and with the front edge lying close to the cheeks).

Here the standard provides us with reasonable answers in accordance with the spirit of the F.C.I standards committee circular.

Re-Tails it is written:
“It is high set and docked short whereby approximately two tail vertebrae remain visible. In countries where docking is legally not permitted the tail may remain natural“.

Here the standard also follows the spirit of the above-mentioned circular. However it does not disclose to us any specific details such as: what is natural, what is the desired length of the tail, what is the tail´s shape etc.

So far so good – the fact that cropped ears and docked tails are not included under the disqualifying fault paragraph gives us some hope for the future.

To conclude, let us all hope that docked tails and cropped ears will not be defined by the standard-patron, the German Dobermann Club, as disqualifying faults; this might be a “coup de grace” for the Dobermann breed.


If worst comes to worst, we shall have to put extreme efforts in breeding Dobermanns with small ears or we shall be forced to search for the natural standing ears.

Regarding tails, we don´t know yet what will be the shape, the length of the tails — shall we breed for the German Shepherd type tail? Than we shall have to look for a long slanted croup … or shall we breed for the curled tail that occurs in two basic varieties: single and double curl over the back with many variations? It is well known in the breeding field that ounce you try to improve something in the dog you may lose something else … this what happens in the sport of the purebred dogs.

As you are already aware of the many problems that lie ahead of us and I have not scratched yet the bottom of the “barrel”, let us be optimistic and face the future with a positive hope.


The fact that in many countries Dobermanns nowadays are being shown uncropped and undocked in the dog shows can affect the judging and the handling methods.

Natural ear changes the silhouette of the head; the head appears broader at the base of the skull, and less cone-shaped due to the natural hanging ears. When judging an uncropped Dobermann it is easier to see clearly the parallel lines in the head. While judging a cropped Dobermann, part of the skull between the ears remains invisible in profile because of the cropped ears.

The smart professional handler always lifts the natural ears up in order to emphasize the correct shape of skull and the parallel lines; by doing this it improves the expression as well.

Being a specialist Dobermann judge and F.C.I. International All Breeds Dog Judge, let me share with you my judging experiences.

My first overseas judging assignment was in South Africa, here most of the handlers lifted the ears in order to enable me to see the real shape of the head.  Those who did not do so were requested kindly by me to lift up the ears.

So far I have judged many uncropped and undocked Dobermann in the Scandinavian countries. I know exactly what to look for but maybe the fact of being an All Breed Dog Judge who uses to various forms of silhouettes, ears shapes, etc, helps me to absorb the “new version” of the Dobermann silhouette.

To absorb the “new version” is necessary but this will never change my intimate mental image of the cropped and docked Dobermann with piercing expression that radiates alertness. In one of my Scandinavian shows I met an exhibitor who shoved the long tail into his jacket sleeve, but of course he could not run with it remaining there.

Training new judges to the breed can be a little complicated for these new judges may get, as a matter of course, the new image of the Dobermann and thus they may have the wrong idea of the correct Dobermann head.

Whenever I see my ” ideal Dobermann” in the ring or outside of the ring it is like having a “Mental orgasm”.


The Dobermann has a rich and interesting past but the question is, does he have a future? Will the metamorphosis that the Dobermann is now undergoing affect the popularity of the breed? This is a “one million dollars question”.

What is a Dobermann? My answer is very simple; the Dobermann is everything that the individual expects him to be, whether he is cropped or uncropped, whether he is docked or undocked…