Ruth McCourt’s Warning

Traveling in the east, returning to the west – both areas filled with rumors about possible laws against trimming of ears on dogs. Now, since it is always wise to keep an eye out on legislators harassed by this or that do-gooders group, or wake up some morning to find oneself faced with a situation difficult indeed to alter, I thought I might do my bit to alert the fancy to its peril. By the way, do you know that “fancier” means a “bettor” on a dog or prize fight? Rather appropriate to our dog show world, isn’t it?

Since I really do not want our beautiful, sleek, elegant Doberman turned into a coonhound in appearance- or else I would have bought a coonhound in the first place- a certain amount of research and personal contact work has been undertaken to marshal facts and alert Doberman owners to possibilities in the offing. After all, who know where sentimentality will stop.

Now, let us take the standards of all AKC breeds, which only began to be written in the last half of the nineteenth century. In other words, the dog existed doing his particular work or fulfilling his certain purpose centuries before written standards appeared. Therefore, the standards were written to explain the mental characteristics and body build of a dog which enabled him to be outstanding in his own special field of activity, as the performance had been observed by men who watched them hunt, trail, kill, retrieve, guard, race, drive, haul, herd, swim, or whatever. True, in this day and age, dogs are not called upon to do many things which used to be necessary, but there must be a basic pattern for mental and physical structure.

Has anyone noticed that all wild animals, all mammals, except the elephant, has erect ears? Nature must have felt that one of the basics of survival was good hearing. It follows that the hanging or drop ear must be man-made to suit a purpose, and that man found, as time went on, that in certain cases the prick, or upright ear, served him better, so he trimmed them, where necessary. The hanging ears of dogs, sheep, and pigs are man-made. He applied his practical experience and these changes became incorporated in an evolving standard. Man has the right and indeed the mandate to continue to search for perfection of performance and for beauty of form, providing he does not transgress the fundamental laws of mechanics and nature. The Poodle comes to mind as an example. The beautiful patterns in which he is now shown came about from the original practical trimming of his very long, thick coat, to expedite his work as a water retriever.

In the Sporting Group, of the 24 breeds listed, 13 have docked tails of varying lengths, depending on their size, the ground cover in which they work, and the customary distance from the handler. The Spaniels, low to the ground and long coated, have short tails? The Pointers, standing higher on leg, usually have two-fifths to one-third of the tail removed, thus preventing many injuries. All water retrievers retain their heavy tails as rudders, as do Setters, whose tails assist their balance when quartering at great speed. All of these dogs have a hanging ear for the practical purpose of protection from brush, grass and briars.

Of the 19 Hounds listed by AKC, none have either ears trimmed or tail docked. This, again, is a matter of where and how they work. All sight or running hounds need their tails for balance and have light ear leather, which in some cases, are thrown back and folded like the Greyhound. Most scent hounds carry their tails high for visibility in the brush, exceptions are the Basenji, general purpose hunter for the African native; the Dachshund, which goes to the ground after badger, and the Norwegian Elkhound. Elkhound and Basenji have prick ears.

Terriers, meaning “go to ground”, are a very interesting group. The largest is the Airedale, approximately 23 inches at the withers, making a good dog on all game as well as a police and army dog. The remainder of the 20 Terriers vary in size from 8 to 18 inches, and are specifically built t follow their quarry such as badger, fox, otter, rats, rabbits, and vermin into the burrows in which they seek safety. They are fighters and killers of prey, and it depends on the natural habits of the prey whether they are docked. Ten are docked and the following four may be trimmed or untrimmed: American Staffordshire, Standard Manchester, Miniature Schnauzer, and the Norwich, all of which work above ground.

Of the 17 dogs in the Toy Group, only the Affenpinscher and the Miniature Pinscher are both cropped and docked. The Brussels Griffon may be either cropped or uncropped. The Toy Poodle, the Silky and the Yorkie are docked—the rest of the Group remaining natural and governed only by their standards of beauty.

Of the 9 Non-Sporting dogs, only our indigenous Boston Terrier may be cropped, and only the Poodles and the Schipperke are docked. The story on the Schipperke, or “little captain” of Belgium is that in 1609 he had his tail cut off by an angry neighbor, and everyone liked the looks of the dog so much better without his tail, that he has remained that way ever since!

Working dogs fall roughly in the following categories: guardians of person or property; guardians of flocks; drovers; herders; draught and sledge animals. The size, coat, physical and mental requirements of each breed have been delineated by the type of work and the terrain on which it is done—mountains, plains, cold, or under man’s direction, or on their own.

Of the 29 breeds in the Working Group, none which fall into the category of sledge, draught or herders, are either docked or cropped, most having prick or semi-prick ears. The drovers and the guard dogs are somewhat interchangeable as to guarding man and his property against depredation by wild animals or man, though each has his specific forte. Three of this group are docked only—the Old English (that is, if the Old English is not already a natural born bobtail. In the case of the Old English, it is preferable that there is no tail at all, but it is not to exceed 1 ½ or 2 inches in grown dogs.), the Rottweiler and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Two, the Briard and the Great Dane, may be cropped but not docked; five breeds are both docked and cropped—the Bouvier, Giant Schnauzer, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher and Standard Schnauzer.

Let us speculate a bit about a few of the last mentioned dogs. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi was no doubt kept as compact as possible, both because of his method of nipping at the heels of cattle, and because he lived in the house with the family as a guard. The Rottweiler, the ancient Roman drover of cattle for the armies and their protector from wild animals, was a protector of the master’s purse from thieves-short coated, dock-tailed and strong. The Briard, known since the 12th century in France as a guardian of the stock and farms from wolves and robbers, was also a splendid police and war dog. The Great Dane was created to hunt the incredibly fast and vicious boars, as well as being a guard and watch dog.

Of the five breeds, both docked and cropped, the Bouvier and Giant Schnauzer were drovers and guards; the Boxer, used in bull baiting, and later as a personal guard; the Standard Schnauzer as a general utility guard and rat catcher; the Doberman Pinscher as guard of persons and property. All of these dogs had the strength, spirit, character and intelligence to prove to be excellent police and army dogs. The thread that seems to run through all of this, is that the dogs that were meant for fighting, whether against animal or human, were kept with as few appendages as possible against injury or handhold—unless their native climate or terrain required otherwise.

Now, to speak of the Doberman Pinscher- Louis Doberman and Otto Goeller, between them, created the Doberman by crossing many breeds for the purpose of securing a personal guard and watchdog to accompany them in the streets and dangerous countryside—a dog of keen eyesight and hearing, fast and of indominatable courage. With a sleek, short coat, close trimmed ears and practically no tail, he was a hard customer for animal or man to contend with. He has been somewhat gentled in disposition over the years, but still retains his original characteristics which make him the perfect personal guard and companion. As Gruenig says, he is the animal of perfect ascending line.

Now, some people may not consider this of any great weight, but an untrimmed ear is a definite flaw in that ascending line, and thus does detract from his beauty and is not in accord with his character or temperament, which is one of flowing sharp lines, as is his body.

Since I have been told that veterinarians are against ear trimming I talked to a number of them, and found not one who would say he was against it. Now, I don’t know if my survey would compare with the Harris or Gallup polls, but I will not print the names of these doctors, but I have their statements, the gist of which are as follows;

“We have more ear trouble in dogs with hanging ears.”

“I have mixed emotions, but I certainly think anyone should be able to do as he wishes with his own dog.”

“I think they should be trimmed.”

“There is no pain involved if done properly under anesthetic.”

“The upright ear is not as prone to disease because of air circulation.”

“No, the subject has never come up before our Association.”

“Personally, I think those who can do a good ear would approve and those who can’t wouldn’t.”

“Think of the distress of some breeds which must have hair removed from their ears regularly, as against one-time trim of a Doberman’s ears—especially since nature kindly erases the consciousness of physical pain as soon as it is gone.”

These are the statements of medical authorities on the subject of ear trimming.

So, we have a standard that considers trimming advisable for the work the dog was bred to do, and have a medical profession that does not consider it harmful. So what do we have left—the sentimentalist and bleeding heart—unless the Doberman people themselves have just chickened out and can’t stand the work involved, as it is by far a great deal harder on the person who has to take care of the ears, than it is on the dog itself.

In addition, government experiments have proven that puppies subjected to stress are more stable and better adjusted in later life. In my own experience, I have found that having to sit still and behave while ears are being taped is valuable training for puppies which then do not disgrace the breed by yelping at every little thing that happens to them.

So, I would urge those of you who love our beautiful Doberman as he is, to keep a watchful eye on the groups and individuals which may present to our lawmakers a picture which just might induce them to legislate on the subject best left alone.

Be alert!

Ruth McCourt