Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Ethics and Illogic of Ear-Bracing




I was on a Border Collie forum this morning, and a question was raised about the ethics of the practice of ear-bracing in dogs to achieve a certain look.  The question was put:

Ear setting, apart from all the obvious objections, means conformation breeders are cheating their own rules.

I mean aren´t they supposed to breed for certain looks/colors...?


Yes they are.  Especially if the changes are made surgically.  You would be amazed at how many show-winners there are with implants in their ears forcing them to the correct carriage, and how many have had an offendingly-pale nose-area tattooed to hide their "defect."

But think about this.  Ear-set in the Collie, the Border Collie and other breeds is affected by a great many factors - size and shape of the ear, thickness and placement on the skull, etc.  I would rather see ears braced than used as a breeding consideration.  Of course this is not an issue for working dogs, which have more important things to be concerned about.  There are so many things that are more important.  (Like everything!)

This is purported to be a working AKC Collie. 

But for show dogs or pets, owner preference for appearance is more likely to be an issue.  Of course, I would just as soon there were no show dogs - as in conformation shows.

Breeding for an erect ear is easier, and most breeds that have them have a fairly high rate of "correct" ear carriage.  It's mostly when you start talking about dogs that have that long, narrow, cropped ear like the Great Dane or the Doberman Pinscher that it becomes "necessary" to brace with those space-alien-looking contraptions.  This is a whole different thing than bracing a Collie's ears.  It is painful, has a surprisingly high failure-rate, and it's very expensive.

I'm not a fan of ear-cropping or tail-docking in general.  However, I think that tail-docking is not so clear-cut (pardon the pun.)

There are breeds that are prone to tail injuries.  I've seen a number that required amputation of all or part of the tail in Great Danes and Doberman Pinschers.  It is a big deal to amputate a dog's tail as an adult, not so much as a 3-day-old puppy.

If you want these ears on your Collie you could probably make it happen.  But one should think about why one wants them.

For me, a well managed ear bracing for a tulip ear is not that big a deal in a pet dog.  A non-working dog.  And I think that the argument about docking and cropping that "you should leave a dog with the equipment it comes with" is a tough one to support when people routinely take a dogs testicles/ovaries.  Careful management of an intact dog or bitch will prevent unwanted litters.  But of course, people are lazy and/or irresponsible.  So in the big picture the neutering of dogs and cats seems the best and safest route to preventing pet overpopulation.  (However, there are several countries that do not spay and neuter routinely, and they often have far less problem with pet overpopulation than we do here.)

A lamb having it's tail docked.

There is also the fact that livestock is routinely castrated, docked and punch-tagged.  Chicken's beaks are burned short.  There are reasons these things are done.  Some of them are "good" reasons, from the point of view of a stock-keeper.  But I think people are a bit too apt to shrug this off, when they would be deeply offended by the same treatment if it were a dog or a cat or even a horse involved.  It's about convenience and profit for the human keepers.  A sheep with a long tail is subject to health/hygiene issues.  A chicken with a natural beak may mutilate itself or it's cage-mates.  Steers, wethers and gilts are easier to control than bulls, rams and boars.  They also tend to get big and fat on less feed.

A de-beaked hen

Yes, I think that overall, we should accept animals the way they are.  In dogs, ears, tails and dewclaws should largely be left like they come.  Their generative organs should probably be left alone, too.  But Americans are a culture of appearance-obsessed people, as are dog-show enthusiasts and participants the world over.  A few weeks for a Collie puppy with its ears in moleskin and string seems pretty innocuous to me.  But it does speak to larger issues, many of which should be considered.

This fellow is all there - ears, tail & balls

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