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Tails, You Lose

Docking and cropping are all but extinct in certain parts of Europe. Are U.S. breeders feeling the pinch?
American fanciers who do not venture abroad are in for a culture shock if they pop over for the likes of a Crufts or World Show. There they find cockers trailing antennae-like tails, Dobermans sporting hanging ears with the dimensions of a Dorito … familiar but, at the same time, slightly surreal.
In many Molosser breeds, docking and cropping play an important role in helping set type – or at the very least, in not letting it drift into the province of uncropped cousins. But in much of Europe – with the exception of most of Eastern Europe, where pretty much anything still goes – the drumbeat against docking and cropping has intensified. Legislation has banned the practices, except for some concessions made for registered hunting dogs. Standards have had to be rewritten, and some breed re-imagined – or parts of them, at least. 
For breeders in the United States, where cropping and docking are freely practiced – for now, at any rate – debate about the procedures is just that: Debate. Still, in those breeds whose fanciers interact regularly with a country of origin where docking and cropping have been outlawed, the changing culture is slowly seeping across the Atlantic.
Perhaps the most visible example is the Rottweiler. In the late 1990s, Germany banned the docking of tails, presenting fanciers there with an awkward conundrum: What tail is required of a tailless breed?
Forced to comply with the new law, the German Rottweiler community amended the standard to ask for a tail that is a level extension of the topline. And eventually, tailed dogs began to be entered in AKC shows – not in any great numbers, but enough to create a stir. While many of the dogs were excused, a handful made it through their AKC championships – much to the consternation of many fanciers.
“True, docking doesn’t change the disposition or character of the dog,” says breeder-judge Dorothy Wade of Ocean City, Md., who has owned the breed since 1963. “But in my opinion, not docking is caving in to the people who are determined to stop it. Why change something that has been around for 100 years?”
The sticking point, of course, is the AKC standard, which Dorothy points out is excruciatingly clear on the subject: “It says ‘Tail shall be docked.’ It doesn’t say may be docked, or could, or should. ‘Shall’ is pretty clear.”
Jane Hobson of Von Hobson Rottweilers in Stanton, N.J., docked her own tails for years, and her first reaction to the sight of a natural tail was that it was, well … unnatural. “I was against it,” she admits. “My first feeling was I have a right to dock and will continue to dock. This is my breed and my country.”
Her position changed after she started visiting the web sites of overseas kennels that had been leaving tails intact for some dozen years. Then she acquired two tailed puppies from Carrabba Haus Rottweilers in Staten Island, N.Y.
“These two puppies changed myself and my husband, tails and all!” she says. “To see their wagging tails, and be able to read every situation they go through, is enlightening. Also the perception of people on the street is much different. They readily go up and interact with the puppies – unlike my docked ones.”
So Hobson made the leap: She did not dock her most recent litter (a choice that she found “liberating,” as she had always been unsettled by the response of dam and puppies to docking and banding), and her future breeding plans now take tail carriage into consideration.
“This is and will continue to be another aspect of correct conformation that must be planned and researched, as with all breeding decisions,” she says. “Health, conformation and temperament, and now for me, tails, too!”
While the furor over tailed Rottweilers has calmed a bit since it surfaced several years ago, the issue is far from resolved. Concerned fanciers still place advertisements in the widely read Dog News exhorting AKC judges not to consider tailed dogs. The American Rottweiler Club has ended its membership in the International Federation of Rottweiler Friends, which in turn has now recognized the United States Rottweiler Club, whose German-style shows will eventually be open to only tailed dogs.
Many Rottweiler breeder-judges appreciate the complexity of the issue, but in the end are left only with the AKC standard, which has remained unchanged despite campaigns to open it in recent years.
“I have nothing against the tailed Rottweiler. If the standard was a little more ambiguous, I would look at them,” says breeder-judge Anthony DiCicco of Lynbrook, N.Y., who excused a tailed dog when he judged the ARC National Specialty in 2007. “I would consider breeding to a tailed Rottweiler, because that’s a different aspect of the sport.” 
The German docking ban was more a case of capitulating to political forces than any really mindful decision on the part of fanciers, he adds. “The Germans got blindsided. In 1993, I went to the International Federation of Rottweiler Friends conference in Switzerland. The Scandinavian countries had been forced into not docking, and they were warning the rest of Europe at that time that it was coming. But no one took them seriously, especially the Germans.”
Because they do not affect silhouettes as dramatically, natural ears in a traditionally cropped breed often do not usually ignite such a maelstrom of opposition among breeders. Still, the transition is not an easy one.
Italy’s recent ban on ear cropping has forced the parent clubs of its two native Molossers – the Neapolitan Mastiff and the Cane Corso – to rewrite their standards to accommodate the new law. Both standard revisions have been approved by ENCI, the Italian kennel club, and now await the final nod at FCI. (As for tails, breeders are permitted to dock only in those breeds whose FCI standard permits it. Fanciers await – perhaps the better word is dread – a new, stricter law that is current stalled in Parliament.)
“At this point, we are still at the beginning, and it is premature to draw any conclusions,” says Vincenzo Manna of Mastini dello Stradone Vesuviano in Naples about the effect of the recent cropping ban on the Neapolitan Mastiff. “One thing is certain: The Mastino Napoletano will lose much of its typicality. Regarding the various size of ears that Mastini have, there definitely will be a need to select for a correct ear.”
Courtesy Allevamento Del Gheno, www.delgheno.com.
Hygiene is another concern. “Long ears might give the Mastino more of a sweet expression, and along with it more cleanliness problems – dirty and waxy ears, eyes that suffer from the wrinkles that are pulled down by the ear,” reminds fellow Italian breeder Giuliano Gheno of Del Gheno Mastini Napoletani in Bessica di Loria.
He, too, notes that breeders now need to pay attention to points of conformation that were once simply snipped away. “Today one finds dogs with ears like hounds. This means there is not a very serious selection going on.”
But Dr. Sherilyn Allen, VMD, of Ironstone Kennels in Boyertown, Penn., argues that breeders have enough on their plate without adding yet another criterion to breed toward.
“No one ever bred for ears in Neos because the ears were cropped, as they were in statues and paintings of such mastiffs thousands of years ago,” she explains. “So now, if people want the breed to have uncropped ears, not only will they have to breed for better hips, better elbows, wrinkle, dewlap, normal thyroid, hearts that will never develop cardiomyopathy, better knees that will not rupture cruciates, the ability to breed naturally, the ability to birth naturally, the ability to care for puppies, no cherry eyes, no dermoids, no immune disorders, no demodex, increased fertility, overall soundness, intelligence, good temperament, reduction of natural aggressive tendencies, correct conformation, no toeing out, no tendency toward gastric torsion, no spondylosis, no hypotrophic pancreas, no mysterious spinal diseases that cause early paralysis, no Wobblers – last but not least now they have to breed for smaller ears that do not make the dog look like such a simpleton when not cropped.”
For her, the uncropped ear delivers a double-whammy to the Neapolitan Mastiff – it exacerbates health concerns, while hurting type.
“As breeders work to make specimens with more and more wrinkle and thick skin, and have as a result more and more skin problems, skin infections and yeast-infected ears, then keeping the ears long on the dogs will only add to their problems,” she says. “Also, the expression of a long-eared Neo is totally changed ... The Neo with cropped ears at least has a semblance of nobility about it.  At least, in spite of its wistful, sad, humble countenance, cropped ears can add some elegance. Long, heavy, flopping ears just make the Neo look more like a bumbling peasant.”
Cane Corso fanciers on this side of the pond are equally perturbed at the prospect of a natural ear on their dogs.
Shauna DeMoss of CastleGuard Cane Corsos in Cedaredge, Colo., who is a director of the Cane Corso Association of America and in charge of breed education, thinks the natural ear will have a “devastating” effect on “the historic and correct look of the breed” – starting first foremost with the squareness of the head, the defined stop and slightly convergent planes of the skull.
“When the ears are left uncropped, they cause the headpiece to appear rounded and the expression to be less uplifting and alert,” she explains. “The squareness and impressions of the right angles all over the headpiece are lost and less defined. The slight convergence and correct stop are drowned out by the optical illusion created by uncropped ears.” In many cases, she continues, natural ears force European breeders to breed more exaggerated heads in an attempt to maintain the impression of blockiness that is so important to type. “In Italy now they are literally lifting the ears up when they take show pictures or Photoshopping them out so people can see the shape of the head.”
Curt Gebers of Red Rock Canyon Cane Corsos in Las Vegas notes that the Italian cropping ban may encourage American breeders to import dogs at a younger age so they can crop between the normally accepted window of 8 to 12 weeks of age. “The downside to this is the longer you can wait before making a selection, the better idea you have of how the puppy is developing,” he notes. “My vet feels the optimum age to crop ears is between 9 and 10 weeks of age, and I will strive to maintain that timeline. However, I do know of breeders that have imported older dogs and still had the cropping done. If a breeder is importing a puppy solely to bring in a particular line into their breeding program and have no plans of showing the puppy then they may very well opt to leave the ears natural.”
Easy enough, but if – some feel the better adverb is “when” – tail docking is outlawed in Italy, that presents a stickier problem. Docking is universally performed in the first week of a puppy’s life, which is what the American Rottweiler Club code of ethics prescribes – never later. Nonetheless, Shauna says, some breeders are docking naturally tailed Cane Corso imports even in young adulthood.
Amid all the  hand-wringing, some fanciers who embrace the new changes simply see them as different strokes for different folks.
“Change is hard for everyone,” says Jane Hobson about the relatively hostile reception that tailed Rotties have received in the U.S. “Here in America, we have the freedom of choice. I can only hope that the Rottweiler community can come to accept that what is one breeder’s breed that is docked is also another breeder’s breed with a natural tail. And start to embrace the whole breed rather then segregate and prejudice against.”
But others reply that even opening the door a crack will not lead to freedom of choice, but rather a slippery slope culminating in the loss of their freedom to dock altogether.
In the end, what most everyone agrees on is that it is not a question of if, but rather when the anti-cropping and anti-docking fervor comes to roost in the United States. It may take decades, but the forgone conclusion is it will arrive.
“I do think it’s inevitable,” sighs Dorothy Wade about the specter of a ring of tailed Rottweilers. “And when that happens, I’m not sure what I will do.”






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