A dog's ears are often a defining physical characteristic. Ear carriage, shape and position are noted in nearly every purebred standard in the American Kennel Club registry. Ears are often used to identify potential ancestry in mixed breed dogs. Knowing about the types of dog ears can help you determine whether extra care is required to maintain ear health in your dog.
Pricked ears stand erect at the top of the head. They are held upright and give the dog an alert appearance. The pricked ear may have a rounded point, as seen in French bulldogs, or it may have a more defined point, as in the German shepherd. Pricked ears also may have a more wolfish appearance, as with the husky and Alaskan malamute.
Variations on the pricked ear are the bat ear, as seen in the Welsh corgi, getting their nick name due to their oversize proportion. The candle flame ear is a variation on the pricked ear unique to the English toy terrier, named for the shape given as the tip of the ear curves inward.
Pendant ears hang loose from the top of the dog's head. This ear type gives scent hounds, such as the bloodhound or beagle, their unique look as most scent hounds have very large pendant ears. Smaller variations on the pendant ear can be found in mastiff type dogs.
Variations on pendant ears included the folded ear, in which excess skin causes the dog's ear to hang like folds of fabric. Many spaniels, including the cocker spaniel, have folded ears. V-shaped ears, as seen in pointers like the vizsla, are a pendant ear that has a more defined point at the bottom of the ear.
Pendant ears are particularly prone to ear infections because moisture can accumulate under the folds of skin. Learn to identify the symptoms of an ear infection.
Button ears, or tipped ears, stand erect at the base with the remaining three-quarters of the ear folded forward. These ears are common in terriers, such as the rat terrier or Parson Russell terrier. Pug dogs are also known for their button ears, coated with a velvety fur. Button ears also are found in many herding breeds, such as the border collie and the Australian shepherd.
The semi-pricked ear is the most common variation on button ears. With semi-pricked ears, more of the base remains erect before the ear tips. This ear type can be seen on the Shetland sheepdog and the rough collie, giving the breeds that classic Lassie look.
Rose ears are held tight to the head, with the bulk of the skin curling towards the back of the head and around the base of the ear. It is this tight curling that gives the ear a rosebud shape, hence the name. This ear type is most commonly seen in sight hounds, such as the greyhound or the borzoi.
There are no formal variations on the rose ear, although size and degree of curl may vary slightly by breed.
Cropped ears are surgically altered to remove a portion of the pinna, or outer skin, for safety or encourage the dog's ears to stand erect. Breeds whose ears traditionally have been cropped naturally have pendant or button ears. While today, most cropping is done to conform to breed standards or appearance, historically cropping was done to working breeds or hunting dogs to reduce the risk of injury.
At this time, the American Kennel Club still allows ear cropping as a standard practice for some breeds. They cite it as integral to preserving some breed histories and urge proper veterinarian intervention for the health and safety of the dog. Whether or not the dog is used for working, breed or companionship should be considered. The final decision whether to crop should be made between guardian and veterinarian.
Breeds with traditionally cropped ears include the boxer, Doberman pinscher, American Staffordshire terrier, Brussels griffon and all three sizes of schnauzer.