Thursday, October 29, 2009

Docking dogs

As I’ve mentioned before, livestock guardian dogs in this region have been taking a beating when it comes to wolves – actually more than a beating, since plenty of them have been getting killed as they actively engage in fights to protect their herds. Jim and I are re-assessing the breeds of LGDs that are being used in this area, and looking into acquiring bigger dog breeds that have a history of protecting livestock in countries with wolf populations. These wolf-fighting dogs include the Central Asian Ovcharka (Aziat or Tobet) and real Turkish Kangals, along with a few others. We need a big dog that is very canine-aggressive, but not human aggressive. We’re developing a plan to try more of these dogs, but with the dogs come somewhat of a dilemma: ear and tail docking.

In their countries of origin, the ears on these dogs are docked, and the tails are docked at the mid-way point. The reason is not cosmetic, but because these are areas where wolves will bite the dogs, scalping them by tearing their ears back. We’ve seen videos of LGD/wolf fights where there was tail-grabbing as well, and we’ve seen our dogs use this tactic in fights.

Share your views on this docking practice, but please, no rants about the practice of docking for cosmetic purposes, because that has nothing to do with the issue we’re considering. We're trying to decide if the benefits outweigh the general dislike of the idea of whittling on animals.


Joanna said...

Docking and cropping to prevent wolf damage is whistling in the dark. The bigger LGDs virtually all have loose skin on the face; a wolf will just grab the cheek (which is a much more instinctive canine fight hold anyway) and it doesn't matter how short the ears are, the dog is damaged. I'd rather have an ear to shred than have them "miss" the ear and go for the cheek.

Ditto with the tail - go ahead, grab my tail. Gives me room to turn around and get you.

There's credible evidence that tail docking causes a type of permanent pain that is similar to phantom limb pain. The same types of dysfunctional nerve tangles that are found in the ends of amputated limbs are found in canine tail docks, including years after docking.

For me, it has just never made sense to theoretically "prevent" a possible minor injury by very definitely causing a major one.

smartdogs said...

With ear cropping I wonder how much the potential benefit of cropping would be offset by increased threats to the inside of the ear from cold and insects. If you crop them so short they can't be grabbed at all, is there enough left to protect the ear?

Regarding tails - I have no dog in that fight. I'm against unneccessary cutting but I've also seen and owned enough happy, healthy, athletic, hunting and herding dogs with cropped tails that it doesn't give me heartburn. If it's done in the first few days of life they don't seem to know the difference.

Anonymous said...

Generally the reason given for removing the ears is to prevent a hold but also due to the fact that the ears have many rather large veins running through them. Blood loss from a bite to the ears could be considerable. Those are the stated reasons anyway.

As for tail docking, I have never seen a problem with it. I have had two Jack Russells, both with docked tails. Neither of them were sensitive about their tails. They actually make quite nice handles to pull them out of tight places.


Rosehillwindhounds said...

I can't offer an opinion on ear cropping, but docking is a different story. I have seen my borzoi do some serious damage by grabbing a coyote by the drags it backwards while the others come in for slashing attacks. The coyote is off balance and can in no way defend itself'. Using that as an example, I can certainly see why one would dock the tail of an LGD, particularly if dealing with wolves. If I were dealing with wolves in my area, I would certainly dog my LGD's.

The reasons given for ear cropping makes sense, but I have no idea if it would translate in the real world.

retrieverman said...

Has anyone tried using spiked collars?

That's what I thought LGD's wore in most of those countries where they are used? I've heard of bear hunters using spiked collars to protect their hounds from the bears, and they also protect the hounds from wolves if they are running in wolf country.

Have you tried the other breed of Ovtcharka from the Caucasus? I've read that they are bigger and are known for killing wolves in their homeland.

However, the wolves that these animals protect stock against in their native countries are not the same subspecies of wolf we have over here. The Northern Rockies subspecies is bigger, experienced with killing things like elk and moose, and is well-known for territorial "wars" against neighboring packs. Even the toughest and biggest Ovtcharka or other LGD is going to be no match for one of these wolves.

The mortality rate among wolves in Yellowstone is very high and the number one cause of death is other wolves killing them over boundary disputes (and sometimes cannibalism).

Wolves aren't that much of a threat to people, but gosh, they are threat to dogs. In Wisconsin, every year there are several bear hounds that are killed by wolves.

I honestly don't know what to tell you, because even the toughest and biggest dog is no match for something that can drive a grizzly off its kill and can bring down an elk or a moose.

Now, I've read that wolves have thinner skin than dogs do. The Inuit and Yupik peoples ("Eskimos") are said to have preferred dog skin to wolf skin, because dog skin was easier to work with because of its thickness. That's really the only advantage that a dog would have in a fight.

Because dogs are far more socially tolerant than wolves are, they can actually form larger aggregations than wolves do. In Italy, where both stray and feral dogs and wolves live on garbage. The dogs are able to drive the wolves off the garbage, even though the dogs are almost always smaller.

I don't know whether tail docking or ear cropping really works. If a wolf wants to kill a dog, it will do it, ears or no ears, tail or no tail.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm not so sure ear or tail cropping does much good--one way to find out would be to crop ears and tail on one pup, and not another and see if it makes a difference in your circumstances! Although I would not do it to older dogs or puppies. I don't think it makes much difference to a 2-day-old pup, but it is certainly traumatic to a 3 month old puppy, which is when most ear cropping is done in this country for cosmetic purposes. Some sighthounds have their ears cropped in the Mid-East as well, those that are used to course jackals, also supposedly to prevent them from being ripped by the jackals, but not the tails, which are valuable rudders for running and changing direction at high speed. Although many a coonhound gets it's ears ripped by fighting raccoons(and they DO bleed profusely!), in the heat of the battle, it does not affect the hounds' abilities to finish off a raccoon--it actually seems to make the hounds angrier when it happens! And no self-respecting houndsman would EVER crop those lovely long, velvety ears; the very symbol of a trailhound! And I think that's what a lot of it boils down to--appearances. Dogs with cropped ears and tails have that distinctive appearance, stating here is a fighting/hunting/protection dog, and it likely helps in visually deterring humans, but probably not so much in a fight with wolves. My opinion is that it would be minimum help at best. Against more than one mature, confidant wolf, no dog has much of a chance--at most they delay things until they get some human assistance. The best deterrence against a pack of wolves, is a large pack of dogs--one or two dogs alone can't hope to stand up to really serious wolves, regardless of missing body parts or not!.....L.B.

Heather Houlahan said...

I would leave the ears strictly alone if you live in a place with foxtails.

I was introduced to these Seeds of Satan during a trip to California during which we worked our SAR dogs and went coursing with Dr. Burchard and friends -- and they made me appreciate our multiflora rose.

Foxtails are bad enough on SAR dogs and hunting dogs that get a good going-over after every outing and tend to spend their days with their owners. For an LGD out with the stock, you could have a dead dog before you know there's one in there.

And while ear flaps are imperfect protection, they are a hell of a lot better than an open hole.

It's true that ears seem to bleed a lot when ripped in a fight -- but the dog will not bleed out from the ear. It just looks awful.

Conversely, if inimical vegetation is a problem in your area, a half-dock on a furnished tail may actually make sense in terms of limiting the amount of crap the dog picks up and carries around with him.

A short dock carries far more potential for causing problems in the sacral spine and also issues with fecal incontinence.

In general I am against docking, cropping, and the removal of front dewclaws. Almost every justification for these practices put forward by working or hunting dog people who do it as a tradition falls apart in the face of empirical scrutiny. I am therefore skeptical that the "wolves grab them there" argument is any sounder.

Question: Are these bigger, fiercer LGDs effective against bears? Grizzlies? What about lions?

Anonymous said...

I really do think weed seeds of many kinds frequently cause ear problems in docked eared dogs. But you should ask a veternarian if he/she sees that often in your area

Anonymous said...

Regarding cropped ears - the natural ear of the canine is a "prick ear" or an upright ear. Droppy ears such as we see in hounds, etc. are thought to be the result of genetic manipulation via breeding for specific traits or characteristics. I am told that droop ears are more conducive to ear infections because they are not accessible to air or cleaning out by head shaking. I don't know, I've had breeds with cropped ears, semi-pricked ears, and droopy hound ears, and infections have been more common in the hound ears.

I have no problem with tail-docking provided it is done at a young age - my Boxer puppies never seemed to notice the loss even at the time of the docking - ears, if they are not the exaggerated show crop patterns which require elaborate taping and gentle handling, seem to heal quickly, and with little or no care as well. I've have more injuries and more serious injuries from play, hunting and just living to the long hound type ear.

In the final analysis, the best thing you can do is to raise some litters and see which works the best for you ... a seriously torn ear would seem to be more liable to infection and more serious complications such as infection than an ear which is croppped.

Eugene said...

I know dozens of Aziat (CAO) and Caucasian LGDs both with cropped and uncropped ears, and in general those with cropped ears (if done properly!) are healthier. Flopppy ears are not natural, they needs constant attention from the owner, which in the countries of origin just does not happen. The same with fights - prick ear will be torn exactly the same way as floppy one, but floppy is much easier get infected after that and infection has much more chances to develop in a serious (potentialy deadly) problem.
So cropping is just nesessary precaution in the situations, where dogs are engaged in real fights (and cannot be taken to veterinaian the same day :) You may see this in all Central Asia, Caucasus, Balcan countries.

As to docking - I think it is good for fight, but also many LGDs (like Kangals, Karakachans, many Caucasians, etc.) are left undocked, even when the ears are cropped.

I am definitely for cropping-docking in all LGDs used for real predator control, as it give them more chances to survive in the fight and after it.

You may find some pictures of ears and tails on my Aziats here -
(lines shows the proper position of the ear for Aziat, tails have a "sickle" on the ends, those without them should be considererd naturally bobbed)

Jeannine De Palma said...

I am a "ethical" breeder of Central Asian shepherds. It is illegal to do the ears and tails in most states in PA NY and NJ.
Which is why the gov is trying to stop all of us from doing legal crops and docks based on the home jobs done by puppymills.
Our vet does them, however i have left he tails on a few and it gives them more speed and agility as a working dog. My dogs protect karakull sheep. 2 Coyotes kills average size 70lbs last nite. Now the ears I had a CAS male with a botch ear job too much left and it tore every time he went to battle. I would leave the tails on in open country. I say that cause the ones I have with a tail can clear 5 ft fences in on try where the docked ones cant.
The tail if done wrong can kill or hurt the pup. The ears at 3 days is a skin flap no bone no veins.
I bring wonder dust to my vet and it stops the bleeding asap.
I am sending a CAS to Isreal as a LGD to protect from human theft
I may try to leave a tail in the next litter for more speed .

CAS CAO are in standard supposed to have a strong distrust of strangers They are not typical LGDS like You will have to cross the Prys and Akbash into the CAO or CO or Kangals lines to down grade the human territory protection the breed has had for thousands of years.

It is great to see any CAS CAO working in a great land like you have here. But people please support breeders who do not have rescues in shelters, work their dogs, health certify hips if NOT working and do not have criminal charges for neglect it sends the wrong message.
We have many CAO and CO in rescue that would make excellent working dogs. Many are too tough for city life and u and all can save a life.

Anonymous said...

a question, Do you need a high level of canine aggression, or a high level of proctive instinct? I am just thinking back to an earlier comment where you were asked about adding more dogs to the flock and you said if there were to many dogs they had a tendincy to go looking for fights and getting into trouble. If the dogs were not aggressive, but rather very protective, pack oriented could you add more dogs that might not individualy do as well against a wolf, but by virtue of their greater numbers have a better chance? I am sure there is a reason people do it your way, I am just curious.

Jacob L'Etoile

EmilyS said...

While it's a common practice now for dogfighters to crop ears now, back in the day, the ears of pitfighting dogs (like the APBT) were not always cropped. And tails.. never were.

Now dogfighting is primarily about wrestling along with finding a hold and keeping it, so this may have nothing to do with how a wolf would engage a LGD... but it seems there's not much real physical evidence to support cropping/docking for the reasons you speculate about.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I'll continue this discussion with our veterinarians and with LGD owners around the world who live with wolves.
I do appreciate all the points to consider, but I'm surprised at how some are quick to discount the wisdom of other cultures who have used these dogs for far longer than we have in the United States. When I say that a wolf will use an ear to scalp a dog, I'm not talking about a nasty bleeding ear, but a fatal wound to the head. We're looking into use of the spiked collars as well, realizing that barbed wire fences pose a significant challenge to their safe use.
And yes, we need a canine-aggressive dog. While my small herd can usually only handle about two adult dogs, my fellow migratory range producers need close to five dogs with each herd to be effective. They have to be aggressive to canines, but not to humans.
Again, thanks everyone.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for answering my question about weather or not you need a canine agressive dog, or just a very protective dog. I was in no way trying to diminish or invalidate the way things are done. I was just curious about the behaviours and instincts involved in guarding sheep. In no way was I trying to be judgemental.

Mike Spies said...


I have no experience with herding dogs, as I am a bird dog guy, but my first thought was that the people who developed these breeds would have the answer to your question about cropping ear and docking tails. This is a functional issue, not a moral or philosophical one, IMO. And I doubt that there are more than a handful of people in the US who are actually employing these breeds for protecting flocks against wolves. Back to the past, I think.

I also note that those who are first to excoriate people for cropping ears and docking tails are likely to be the same ones who advocate spaying and neutering dogs, which is a matter of convenience for the owner, and certainly not the first choice of their animals.

It can be difficult to sort the rat shit from the pepper sometimes.

Jeannine De Palma said...

The breeds in ? are not developed by modern man , they are a natural landrace thousands of years old.
Note artifacts showing the procedure.
In addition native sheep to the same area of the breed also are docked fat tail.
100's of working dogs such as CO,Kangals, ASD, Sar, CAS CAO Gamper, Koochee, not all have sheep many are ranch territory dogs.
Most keep tail just ear flap removed.
Many are trail or hunt guardians kin to the origins of this hunter ( falcon).
When you take into consideration.
NO Vets, Nomadic tribes, insane extreme weather conditions , presence of top predators daily. You can see why they did it. If they survived the battle they could die later of secondary infections. Wounds on ear flaps are very common.
Seen weekly in any vets office for PETS. Kara Kum desert temp 110 + bugs, dirt , bacteria.
The dog that survived the attack dies later.
Ear flap removal is hard to get in the US.Since it is NOT a crop, is done at 3 days not 8 wks, finding a vet to do it is almost impossible, doing it at home is illegal, + when u find a vet to do it they do it wrong leaving a bell.
Note when they engage the BELL does get punctured just not a rip.
The tail is not subject to injury as much + is very strong.
Here is a pic of pup with a tail, and young male with dock + a BRT docked.
Here is ears.
Since this is a landrace vs a purebred we have seen 3 lines come forth. 1.Livestock lines not overeactive to humans will still protect if human is threat- will pack up with many dogs 20-30. As long as the other dogs are pack dogs.
2. Security lines developed by former USSR Highest reaction to strangers, get along great with pack dogs.
Less dominance.
3. Fight lines and or show lines.
Sometimes one in the same.
Since the new lines are much easy to handle in public , no longer required to pass a protection test for breeding.( not correct for the breed)
But very dog pack aggressive.
Do not do well in multi level working dog pack.( many of these dogs are in rescue for this) This is also not correct. LGD dogs existed intact males of females numbering 20 + dogs.
Now some of these lines cant work with large pack anymore.
Now sadly some took native LGDS natural desire to fight predators .
Capitalized on it for a blood sport marketed by criminals as a "test".
IN effect removing the pack ability they made them a top LGD.
This is also happening to the Kangals.
The Akbash is still kept as a primary traditional LGD the blood sport crowd has given them little attention.
My advice is leave the tail and learn how to do the ears yourself.
Your area seems more liberal about these things then us.
Their is a Russian breeder of the ALabaiusa type in CA. He can teach you if you ever go out that way one day.

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

Saw these nice, registerable, Caucasian Ovcharka puppies on rhe COTH forum, looking to be rescued

Anonymous said...

Enjoying the comments....

I have goats, and run several LGD's. As per their ability to fend of wolves - we don't have any wolf problems (yet) in N. Nevada but that day is coming, as there are reported sightings in N. Elko County.

The huge Canadian Gray wolves that are coming down in droves into the Northern US - for a real eye-opener about these wolves, go to to see photos of these monsters - would be no match for any single breed of LGD, I am afraid, let alone any domesticated breed - look at some of the photos of the ones killed. Those men are six feet and taller and the wolves are longer than they are.

I am a firm believer in running several LGDs to protect one's stock - I think many breeds have strengths. Its' been hard for me to pick a 'favorite' - I run a mix of breeds and use purebreds and crossbreds - I have 4 purebred Pyrenees, two Anatolian/ Maremma cross brothers, 2 purebred Turkish Kangals, and a Pyrenees mixed with Spanish Mastiff, Maremma and Polish Tatra. I will also be adding a purebred Spanish Mastiff to my pack.

Point being: strength in numbers.... They back each other up. No goat losses here. No predator in it's right mind will come into my place and try these dogs. As for wolves in range situations, where your sheep or goats are ranging outside in BLM or unfenced areas: I think your only hope is to run as many dogs as you can, bigger the better...but strength in numbers.

I don't like the cropping - don't do it on my own - agree with comments that state it might be doing more harm than good.

Keep us posted as you go along as to what breeds of LGD's work for you. Some people are purists and frown upon crossbreeding but there are many success stories out there with crosses. You just have to find the right one.