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Debarking, Declawing, and Dewclaws

Most people who have been in Shelties for a long time (at least in North America) know the name Charlotte Clem McGowan. Charlotte’s current role is ASSA’s legislative liaison, and her focus is on the efforts of the animal rights organizations to eliminate our rights as pet owners, breeders, competitors, etc. Today, she sent out a message indicating that an Wikipedia article about debarking needed some attention from "our side".

Well, I’d never edited a Wikipedia article, so I thought this might be a fine time for me to try it out. So I did. (Full marks to any of you who can identify the text that I wrote!) Charlotte told me (after I replied, saying that I’d edited the article) that she’d previously edited it to add a link to a NAIA page on the subject, only to have some ARista remove her link!

So, here’s why I’m telling you all this: I’d like your thoughts on a few procedures that fall into roughly the same category as debarking. I’ll add the first reply to this post, giving my thoughts.

  • Debarking (dogs and, believe it or not, cats)
  • Tail docking (mostly dogs)
  • Ear docking (dogs)
  • Removal of dew claws (dogs)
  • Declawing (cats)

Feel free to comment on other procedures that you think fall into roughly the same category, too.

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10 comments to Debarking, Declawing, and Dewclaws

  • OK, here’s my opinions:

    * Debarking (dogs and, believe it or not, cats)

    A lot of vets have no idea what they’re doing when they debark a dog, and consequently cause serious harm. Heck, I’ve heard that some vets deliberately do it crudely (and cruelly) by just jamming something like a screwdriver down the dog’s throat. But vets who care and know what they’re doing can soften a dogs bark significantly without causing any harm at all. And I think it’s much better for a dog to have a reduced bark than to be taken away by animal control because the neighbors are complaining about all the barking! No, I’ve never had a dog debarked, but we’ve rescued dogs who were debarked, and they didn’t care in the least!

    * Tail docking (mostly dogs)

    For the most part, I disapprove of tail docking. Once upon a time, I would have categorically disapproved. But I’ve learned that some breeds (Dobermans, for example) can actually injure themselves by wagging their undocked tails over-enthusiastically. So I’ve come around to the position that, if it’s done very early in the dog’s life (days, not months) and done humanely by a vet (surgical amputation, not a knife or hatchet), then it might be the right thing to do.

    * Ear docking (dogs)

    My feeling about ear docking is roughly the same as about tail docking, but slightly more unenthusiastic. I have not learned (yet) about any health or safety issues related to “natural ears” versus docked ears, so that inclines me more toward opposing it. But, again, as long as it’s done properly (see above), I think that an owner of a breed whose ears are supposed to be docked shouldn’t be prohibited (by law) from doing so. I also believe that such an owner should not be required (by anybody) to do so!

    * Removal of dew claws (dogs)

    I feel very strongly about removal of dew claws, especially rear dew claws. Front dew claws on most dogs are well attached to the feet and it’s uncommon for them to be seriously injured. But they also serve no purpose and the potential for injury is there, so removal of front dew claws seems to me to be desirable, but not necessary.

    Rear dew claws are another story. They are almost always just hanging there, held on by a bit of skin, not by cartilage or muscle. They are easily ripped off when a dog (for example) gets his leg caught in a fence. And it’s incredibly painful to the dog when that happens. Plus, you wouldn’t believe the amount of blood that will come out! I feel very strongly that rear dew claws should be removed, but I also believe that it should be done properly (see above); too many breeders just pinch them off with their fingernails when the puppy is a day or two old, and that seems to be related to dogs starting off life afraid of having their nails trimmed.

    * Declawing (cats)

    I’ve had only a few cats in my life, and every one of them has been declawed in the front, and a couple have been declawed in the rear as well. The argument against declawing cats is that they won’t have any way to protect themselves without their claws. Well, I’m here to tell you that it ain’t so! Cassie, a cat I had from 1987 through early 2007, was declawed in the front. She could climb a tree or a fence as fast as any other cat, and she was an incredible hunter, bringing home mice, birds, squirrels, and sometimes larger prey! And her teeth remained quite sharp, so self-defence wasn’t an issue, either.

    So, again, as long as it’s done properly, I don’t disapprove of declawing cats. In fact, doing so just might save the cat’s life…because even I feel rather unkindly disposed to a cat who’s just clawed holes in my furniture and/or my legs! :)

  • I didn’t even know about de-barking.
    Surely it would have to be a last resort? I would imagine you would try all aspects of training first.

    Coincidentally I wrote a post about
    Dog Dewclaws the other day.

    The more I think about it the more worried I am about Faye’s rear Dewclaws. I wish we had had them reoved when she was Spayed. I am loath to take her in for the operation now though.

  • Three Dog, I share your distaste for taking Faye in for that operation now. When performed on adult dogs, the operation tends to leave the dog feeling a lot of pain for a long time afterward, plus the tissue still has all of the blood vessels in it and can bleed unexpectedly for some time. I have never chosen to remove an adult dog’s rear (or front) dew claws. On the other hand, I’ve never had to deal with the situation where they were ripped out accidentally, either.

    My recommendation, when asked about this, is to ask in return whether there is substantial risk of the rear dew claws being ripped out accidentally. For example, search and rescue dogs, as well as some sorts of hunting dogs, are at very high risk because of the environments in which they do their daily jobs.

    In such cases, I recommend that whenever the dog next would undergo anesthesia for some other purpose, that they consider (as your vet!!!) the possibility of removing the rear (only!) dew claws at the same time. Only if the danger is really extreme would I encourage them to consider putting their dog under anesthesia solely for this reason. (Anesthesia is far too risky to be done without very good reason — that goes for humans and other animals.)

  • Animal Owner

    It seems incredible to me that people would get procedures done to animals purely for cosmetic reasons or to protect furniture. I guess the US lags behind the rest of the civilised world in pet care and protection by legislation. In most western countries these procedures are outlawed. How could any animal lover allow their pet to be maimed? Tail docking is purely for cosmetic reasons and because Americans think a dog “looks right” when it has had it’s tail removed. Would they feel the same way if the front left leg was removed on all dogs of a certain breed. Probably, over time they would. As for declawing cats, if you have furniture too precious to be marked, you could be better off not getting a cat. I have had cats all my life and they can be encouraged away from damaging furniture by providing scratch pads & poles and plenty of other activity. I know puppyfarms debark their dogs to stop them barking. This is cruel and painful. Do pet owners get this done as well? Surely no vet would be prepared to do this.

    The point is, if you don’t want an animal to be natural, then why get it? Pets are not fashion accessories.

    In the UK and most western countries it has illegal for some time to have any of the following procedures done on animals, including dogs and cats:

    Tail docking
    Ear docking

    I have never heard of anyone having dewclaws removed from a dog or a cat unless there has been damage. I have seen dogs wearing protective boots and protective dewclaw covers when working in extreme conditions, e.g. rescue dogs.

  • Jack

    I have bean working at a vet clinic for a few years now as a veterinary technician and my opinion on declaws is negative it is very painful for the animal and the method is not pleasant to watch at all. If you do not choose the laser surgery they take dog toenail clippers and just clip the nails off completely very brutal.
    When it comes to docking I have seen dogs that do need to have there tails removed from over wagging and hitting walls etc… when a wound can not heal it tends to get infected and we have had some bad infections in our clinic as a result of this.
    Last but not least debarking I have assisted in this surgery and it is less invasive then spaying your dog there is more pain associated with spaying then a debark and as far as if you want your dog then keep it natural then don’t spay/neuter for example some surgeries are not as bad as you would think and I would rather see a dog go through a five minute surgery and have a forever loving home then given away to be euthanised at the kennels or fed to pitbulls for bait.

  • carl

    While I agree that declawing should be a last resort, the logic of some people escapes me. Why is ‘declawing’ barbaric but chopping off or scooping out a cats reproductive organs ‘encouraged and humane’?? Im sure Fluffy gets little comfort from knowing his nads were cut off to help control the pet population. I would personally rather have the tips of my toes cut off and keep my manhood. If you dont believe in declawing, that’s fine. But if you also had your cat spade or neutered dont cry ‘barbarism’ to others for their decision to declaw. In my opinion your no better.

  • Kaymyth

    Regarding tail docking:

    While I agree heartily with Animal Lover in cases of docking for purely cosmetic reasons, it should be noted that there are practical concerns that led to this in certain breeds of working dogs.

    They are docked in some breeds of herding dogs to avoid damage done by stray hooves, though it should also be noted that there are other breeds in this group that NEED their tails for proper balance. Herd-dog owners and breeders know which breeds require docking.

    Also, some breeds of hunting dog that follow prey into underground burrows have been specifically bred with short, stout tails that could serve as handles should the dog get stuck or into trouble and need rescue.

    Of course, all of this is moot if the dog is going to be a pet. In these cases, there is absolutely NO need for such procedures. But for dogs still used at the purposes for which they were bred, it is important to understand the reasons their tails might have been docked.

  • maybe he wants to have a bark worse than his bite…lol…really, the puppy is teething and our dog used to chew the bark off trees and it never seemed harmful to him. he was a shelty and lived til he was 18… good luck:)

  • Ramona

    I also do not believe in docking for cosmeti purposes, the habit began back in England where a tax was placed on the lenght of the tail on the dog, so people to avoid the tax began docking tails.  I do believe in removing dew claws on bothfront and rear on puppies.  I have seen dewclaws grow through the paw or arund and into the paw so I always remove dewclaws on my puppies.  I also agree that some dogs do need to be debarked, especially if you have tried every option to train the dog not to bark and it is still a yapper, nuisance barker.

  • Ky G

    Never ever would i consider debarking humane. there are SEVERAL training methods to train a dog not to bark. If your dog is left inside all day and barks_maybe it isnt the right dog for you_or you the correct companion for the dog. I would consider an e collar or spray collar but NEVER debark a dog. I havent had to use either on my collie types/shelties/herders/etc. A well loved and well worked dog is a happy dog, willing to please, easy to train. Atleast in my world of 8 dogs total (personal) excluding the ones I have handled/trained.
    On tail docking_agreed that for some breeds, worrking and those with heavy tails that do damage to themselves when slamming it against a wall of kennel_then for safetys sake to the animal_please do_know your breed.  balance, working dogs and dogs that can injure themselves due to their heavy tail.
    Labs use them as rudders so_remember when sending that lab into the cold water_they can get spine damage due to the cold_but i do not ever dock them. Keep an eye on those water temps.
    Dew claws_never had a problem with any of my personal or working dogs with dc injuries. I have seen in winter weather without boots worn that a twig becomes as brittle and as sharp as a spear and will (and has) lodge into a dogs paw or front of its nail. (how did that back leg get sprayed with blood and the dog didnt notice?) It is  a shame that most boots for working dogs can not accomodate dew claws without causing much friction and blistering. Have yet to remedy that despite socks, tape, etc.
    ears_personal pref. i like my dobe ears cropped
    now_have any of you watched a circumsision? horrible and brutal.
    As to the fellow who doesnt believe in fixing his male cat_well_perhaps he needs a new red sports car. Spaying and nuetering your animal is to keep the stray population down. please keep it inside so you arent adding to the already overpopulated areas. If you wish your male cat to spray all over your house_feel free to enjoy the stench_it wont come out_and if your friends and houseguest are understanding they will return. Perhaps you need to keep your animals intact if you are breeding kittens as a means to  feeding your reptiles.
    Be well and treat them as they were your soul mates-as they are_more devout and commited than the majority of human kind can be.

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