Dogs Need Tails and Voices: 'Cosmetic' Surgeries Need to Go
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Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
May 2018

Procedures that are for the humans rather than the animals aren't necessary. There’s lots of money in the pet cosmetic surgery industry, and we shouldn’t let money rule because of human vanity.

Dogs don’t give a hoot or a bark about how their eyes look or if they have a big nose, even if they could look in a mirror and recognize themselves.

Dogs and other animals need protection from elective “cosmetic” surgeries. These include tail docking, ear cropping, devocalization, cat declawing, and piercing and tattooing. Some dogs also are being treated with Botox for eye lifts, testicular implants to regain masculinity, and plastic surgery for nose jobs and tummy tucks (Naia Carlos 2017). I see absolutely no reason for any cosmetic or breed-specific surgeries, or those that are done to make it easier to live with a dog. I think that dogs who are born with tails look much better with them rather than having their tails cut off because some humans like them tailless. Let’s work hard to let dogs keep their tails.

One reason given for the use of elective cosmetic procedures is that they make dogs more attractive, sometimes so that their humans won’t dump them and sometimes to make them more adoptable. Says one veterinarian, “Hangy boobs and lumps and bumps make people uncomfortable.” I can see where fixing these “imperfections” might serve a dog well on certain occasions, but cosmetic surgeries to please people or to prevent human guardians from giving up their companion don’t say much at all about these people. Dogs don’t give a hoot or a bark about how their eyes look or if they have a big nose, even if they could look in a mirror and recognize themselves.

Spaying and neutering are also elective surgeries. These are typically done to prevent unwanted breeding (and unwanted puppies) and to reduce aggression or problem behaviors. However, only the first outcome is assured, and the topic of spaying and neutering is complex. Opinions and evidence are mixed about whether these surgeries actually result in the positive behavioral changes some claim. I regularly hear from people whose dogs continue to hump wildly despite being “fixed.” Ultimately, spaying and neutering are not panaceas for behavioral issues.

In an essay called “Are There Behavior Changes When Dogs Are Spayed or Neutered,” Psychology Today writer and dog psychologist, Stanley Coren, notes that there can many unexpected and unwanted behavior changes. He summarizes the results of two studies of a large number of dogs that show that, in contrast to what people expect, neutered dogs, both males and females, often show more aggression and increased fearfulness. In contrast, urine marking decreased as a result of neutering. Coren also writes: “Considering the fact that one of the reasons recommended for spaying and neutering dogs is to correct a range of canine behavior problems, Duffy and Serpell’s conclusions expose this to be a myth when they say ‘For most behaviors, spaying/neutering was associated with worse behavior, contrary to conventional wisdom.’”

A variety of state laws govern elective surgical procedures on pets, and the American Veterinary Medical Association offers a useful summary, which was last updated in December 2014 (“State Laws Governing Elective Surgical Procedures”). These laws typically restrict such surgeries unless there is a medical reason to perform them. Of course, there is always more to do to protect dogs. On the positive side of the ledger, in November 2016, Canadian veterinarians in British Columbia banned tail docking and ear cropping for dogs and horses.

Dogs and other animals need their tails to "talk" with one another and with humans, so let's let them keep them as they are.

Dogs need to keep their voices

Concerning the debarking of dogs—that is, performing a procedure in which dogs’ vocal cords are cut to quiet them—the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), which also favors the use of animals for research, dismisses debarking as “bark softening” and thinks it’s just fine to do (McGowan 2012). Yet we don’t really know how this changes the behavior of individual dogs. Of course, many others and I take issue with their position. Dog trainer and writer Anna Jane Grossman (2012) nicely covers the pitfalls of this surgical procedure. She suggests that dog noise really is a human problem, and these surgeries have side effects that include the buildup of scar tissue (which makes breathing or swallowing difficult), chronic coughing (which can cause infection), and swelling of the throat (which can cause heatstroke). She writes: “The governments of the U.K. and 18 other countries have signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals into law. This convention also prohibits ear cropping, tail docking, and declawing (in cats). In 2010, Massachusetts outlawed the procedure, following a bill filed by a teenager. New Yorkers are hoping a similar bill will be passed next year.”

Money shouldn't rule because of human vanity

As I point out in Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do, it's important to keep in mind that we can do whatever we want to dogs and other animals, whether they like it or not. While dogs may still love us regardless of what we decide to do to make them more attractive or less vocal or easy to live with, it’s essential to honor that this imbalance in power is not a license to do whatever we choose. There’s lots of money in the pet cosmetic surgery industry, and we shouldn’t let money rule because of human vanity.

All in all, laws on dog abuse are slowly changing for the better. There are also many organizations that work to protect dogs, too many to mention here, including the wonderful Sound of Silence Campaign to protect dogs from being used in testing. We still have a long way to go, but any progress is good. We just need to keep working for more protection for dogs and other animals in a world in which human interests typically outweigh those of nonhuman animals.

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