30 Fascinating Facts About Dog Ears

Updated on October 30, 2019
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Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dog ears: They can be floppy, giving dogs an adorable, almost puppy-like look, or they may be erect, giving dogs an alert, wolf-like experience. Dog ears also come in a variety of other shapes and sizes. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes!

A dog's sense of hearing is something that we humans have cherished throughout domestication, allowing dogs to become our "ears," alerting us of anything that was amiss. Let's face it: Without dogs and their help throughout the centuries, we would not be who we are today. Indeed, your dog's hearing is one of the most important senses that is used throughout the day. Watch your dog carefully how he or she captures sounds, twitching his or her ears in a variety of directions.

Have you ever thought about your dog's ears in general? Have you ever wondered how your dog's ears help him perceive the world around you? When you take a moment and start to consider them, your dog's ears turn out being quite an amazing part of their bodies. Here are 30 fascinating facts about dog ears.

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30 Facts About Dog Ears (Your Dog Wants You to Know)

1. Dog ears are very sensitive.

According to the American Kennel Club Gazette, "the ears of a dog contain one of the highest concentrations of nerve endings in its entire body." ''The only other places that are nearly as sensitive are their bellies, and the nooks between their toes," points out veterinarian Dr. Christine Makowski in the book The Secret Lives of Dogs.

2. Ear massages help dogs relax.

Why do many dogs love having their ears rubbed? Most likely it's because neurologically speaking, the vagus nerve serves a large part of the mid-portion of the ear, and stimulating this nerve is calming because it controls vegetative, restorative functions.

According to Marty Becker, D.V.M. and Gina Spadafori, this calming effect also counteracts the dog's fight and flight response associated with the sympathetic nervous system. So next time you want to calm down your canine companion, give him a nice ear massage.

3. Dogs like to listen to different kinds of music.

Just like us, it appears that dogs have their own individual music preferences and some types may have more of a relaxing effect on them than others. According to a study, reggae music and soft rock showed the highest positive changes with dogs appearing to be more relaxed.

4. Dogs tilt their heads in response to particular words.

Through a process known as "discrimination" dogs can distinguish certain words from others. So if you are saying a sentence such as "It's nice and sunny outside, so I don't think I will need to bring an umbrella during our walk," your dog is likely to hear "blah, blah blah, blah, blah, blah" followed by the word "walk."

If your dog has associated the word walk with having the leash snapped on and going outside, most likely, the word "walk" may trigger an adorable head tilt!

5. An artist was inspired by a dog's head tilt.

Did you know? The famous logo "His Master's' Voice" was created by artist Francis Barraud. The painting depicts a terrier named Nipper, who originally belonged to Barraud's brother Mark. After Mark Barraud died, Nipper, was left to Francis, along with a cylinder phonograph and a series of recordings of Mark's voice.

Francis noted how Nipper was often inquisitively cocking his head upon hearing the recorded voice of his late master emanating from the horn. Intrigued, he decided to make a painting of the scene. His painting became popular and today it remains one of the world's most loved and recognized trademarks.

Puppies are born with shut ears
Puppies are born with shut ears

6. Puppies are born with their ears shut.

Puppies are born with their eyes shut and ears sealed because when they're born, they are in an undeveloped state and significant harm would result to their eyes and ears from exposure to light and sound at this stage.

Any light or sound in an unprotected ear at this stage would, therefore, cause permanent damage. A puppy's eyes and ears are therefore expected to open at around two weeks of age when the puppy is more developed and it's safe for the ears to capture sounds.

7. Floppy ears are proof of domestication.

Floppy ears are associated with domestication. Indeed, many wild animals display erect, pointed ears. For all those dog nerds out there, it may be interesting learning more about the farm fox experiment which has uncovered some fascinating findings on how domestication changes an animal's morphology.

But why does domestication cause ears to become floppy? Charles Darwin has a possible explanation in his Origin of Species, and his theory is based on disuse. He claims:

"Not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears; and the view suggested by some authors, that the drooping is due to the disuse of the muscles of the ear, from the animals not being much alarmed by danger, seems probable."

8. Ears can be kept out of harm's way.

According to the book Exploring Life Science, Volume 6, dogs and cats who feel threatened will pull back their ears so that they are flattened against their head: "This action helps to protect their ears from injury if they have to fight another animal."

9. Dog ears are equipped with a Henry's pocket.

Formally known as cutaneous marginal pouch, the Henry's pocket is a fold of skin seen on the posterior part of the dog's ear. Its exact function remains unknown, but there are several theories. Perhaps the fold helps dogs hear high-pitched sounds or perhaps the flap helps dogs to effectively fold their ears back.

10. Dog ears emit pheromones.

When dogs meet, they often sniff their mouth and ear areas. Ever wondered why dogs are so attracted to each others' ears? Those doggy ears have special ceruminous and sebaceous glands which contain pheromones, special chemicals that trigger a social response in members of the same species.

These pheromones are similar to the dog appeasing pheromones released from mother dog, only that they're applied to a wider basis for social purposes this time, suggests veterinary behaviorist Dr. Cam Day.

Bloodhounds have long ears to better help them detect scent.
Bloodhounds have long ears to better help them detect scent.

11. Dog ears are prone to infections.

A dog's ear canal is shaped like an "L". While this shape protects the actual organ of hearing from injury, the length of the ear canal, along with simple gravity, encourage excessive accumulation of wax, debris, water and foreign material that cannot be shaken out of the ears. This predisposes dog ears to annoying infections.

12. Some dogs undergo ear plucking.

Some dog breeds grow an abundance of hair on the inside of their ear canals and the procedure of removing the hair is known as “ear plucking.” The purpose is to remove excessive hair as to allow more airflow and reduce the chances of infections.

Ear plucking used to be standard practice in the past, but nowadays, it’s becoming less common. It is still seen in certain dog breeds such as Poodles and poodle mixes, Maltese, Bichons, Shih Tzus, and Lhasa Apsos.

13. Pigmentation genes impact hearing in dogs.

Two pigmentation genes, in particular, have been associated with congenital (inherited) deafness in dogs: the merle gene and the piebald gene.

This type of deafness usually develops in the first few weeks after birth when the pup's ear canal is still closed. This deafness is often due to the degeneration of part of the blood supply to the cochlea.

14. Dalmatians with patches are less likely to be deaf.

In the Dalmatian, the incidence of congenital deafness is quite high. In this breed, "deafness is associated with the extreme piebald gene (Strain 1996), which causes the whiteness of most of their coat." Interestingly, Dalmatians that have a patch (an area of dark fur larger than the usual spots) are less likely to be deaf (Strain et al 1992). Too bad that such patches are frowned upon by the breed standard!

15. Ear drums provide protection.

Did you know? Your dog's eardrum is also known as the "tympanic membrane." This thin membrane that's stretched tight, just like a drum, helps keep bacteria and fungi from entering the middle ear, which may potentially cause a middle ear infection.

16. Some medications can have ototoxic effects.

Ototoxic effects (toxic to ears) may take place when certain ear drops are used in ears with compromised eardrums. This is why it is fundamental to have your vet examine your dog before using ear drops in case those eardrums aren't intact.

In some cases, even intact ear drums may be affected when using certain ear drops known for having potential ototoxic effects as side effects. These medications include gentamycin, streptomycin, tobramycin, neomycin, etc.

17. Dogs can get ear swelling that resembles a small balloon.

Ear flap hematomas in dogs, also known as aural hematomas, cause a dog's ear flap to visibly swell. This often occurs as a consequence of vigorous head shaking, excessive ear scratching and ear traumas that cause blood vessels to leak blood triggering the formation of a hematoma (pocket filled with blood).

Dobermans are subjected to ear cropping surgeries when young. Picture of Doberman with uncropped, natural ears.
Dobermans are subjected to ear cropping surgeries when young. Picture of Doberman with uncropped, natural ears.

18. Ears can help tell Norwich and Norfolk Terriers apart.

What's the main feature that distinguishes a Norwich from a Norfolk Terrier? The ears! The Norwich Terrier has pointy ears, while the Norfolk Terrier has folded ears. A great rule of thumb to differentiate the two is by thinking of the "Nor-witch" as the dog breed with pointed ears like a witch's hat, and the ''Nor-fold'' as the dog breed with folded ears!

19. Ears distinguish Papillons and Phalènes as well!

Many people are familiar with the Papillon dog breed, that cute, small dog boasting large ears that resemble the wings of a butterfly. Indeed, the word "Papillon" is the French word for butterfly.

Less known is a variant of this breed, the Phalène, characterized by drop ears. "Phalène" is the French word for night moth.

20. One dog breed can shut its ears.

Did you know? The Norwegian Lundehund is a very fascinating dog breed! This dog breed was selectively bred to hunt puffins and their eggs on narrow passages located on rocky cliffs. This breed has the body of a contortionist and is capable of shutting its ears closed by folding them forward or backwards!

21. Hounds have long ears to sniff better.

Why do hounds have such so long ears? To better sniff, my friend! Indeed, those large ears work well providing assistance to the dogs' almighty noses. How? When hounds carry their nose to the ground, their ears work as a funnel sweeping, stirring and trapping air along with its scent around their nose.

22. Some dogs have their ears cropped.

Ear cropping, also known as cosmetic otoplasty, is a cosmetic procedure which entails removing parts of the dog's pinnae (the floppy portion of the ear). This practice dates back as far as ancient Rome, back in time when dogs were utilized for specialized tasks that may have predisposed them to ear injuries.

For instance, livestock guardians dogs such as the Caucasian shepherd dog and Maremma sheepdog, traditionally had their ears cropped to protect them from wolves and other aggressors. Cropping was also used in dogs used in pit fighting sports to prevent animals from fighting back and grabbing onto their ears.

Dog breeds commonly subjected to ear cropping include Doberman Pinschers, Miniature Pinschers, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Brussels Griffon, Great Danes, Schnauzers, Beaucerons, American Pitbull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Cane Corsos, and the Caucasian Shepherd Dog and some more.

A Look Back in History

23. Cropped ears don't prevent ear infections.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association: "There is no evidence that cropping prevents or successfully treats ear infections. It has also been suggested that cropping avoids later ear injury or improves hearing, but no evidence is available to substantiate these claims either. "

Interestingly, the poster child of ear infections in dogs with erect ears is the German shepherd dog, which is quite confusing considering that there is a belief that dogs with erect ears are less prone to ear infections (otitis) due to increased airflow. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

"Otitis externa incidence, is most closely associated with particular breeds within each group (whether ears are hanging or erect), and is especially prevalent in Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, and German Shepherd Dogs."

24. Cropped ears are subject to negative stereotyping.

According to a recent study, dogs with cropped ears and docked tails appear to be negatively perceived by the public. Not only that, this same negative perception apparently carries over to the dog's owners

Did you know?

Victorian-era painter Sir Edwin Henry Landseer categorically refused to paint any animal with cropped ears. He considered them as "injured in point of health and beauty." (Source: Leonardo’s Choice: Genetic Technologies and Animals)

Dogs are equipped with a variety of ear shapes. This papillon is known for having "butterfly ears."
Dogs are equipped with a variety of ear shapes. This papillon is known for having "butterfly ears."

25. Dogs have a variety of ear shapes.

Drop ears, bat ears, rose ears, semi-pricked ears, button ears, butterfly ears, candle-flame ears, filbert ears, folded ears, are just a few of the many different types of ear shapes seen in dogs.

26. Dog ears have lots of muscles.

Dog ears are equipped with more than 18 muscles. These muscles allow dogs to swivel their ears in various directions, almost as satellite-dish antennae, so they can effectively orient and locate the origin of sounds.

Humans, on the other hand, have only a mere six muscles with limited mobility, other than those folks who are capable of wiggling their ears!

27. Dogs can hear in the ultrasonic range.

The capacity of detecting sounds at higher frequencies stems from a dog's hunting needs. Before being domesticated, a dog's small canid ancestors relied on hunting down a variety of critters for dinner such as mice, voles and rats. These prey animals are known for emitting high pitched squeaks along with the production of high-frequency crackling sounds as they move around dry leaves and grass, points out Stanley Coren, in the book Do Dogs Dream? Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know.

28. Dogs can hear much better than humans.

What a human can hear at 20 feet a dog can hear at roughly 80 feet, points out Marc Bekoff in the book Canine Confidential, Why Dogs Do What they Do. Indeed, dogs have been cherished for their hearing abilities since ancient times when dogs were alerting humans to potential dangers that humans couldn't detect.

29. But they have a hard time distinguishing sounds.

There's a trade-off for having the ability to easily detect sounds: when it comes down to fine details, such as distinguishing similar sounding words, dogs tend to encounter difficulties.

Humans, on the other hand, as verbal beings, are better equipped to distinguishing very similar sounds, a skill we've likely evolved to in order to decode speech, explains John Bradshaw, in the book: Dog Sense, How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.

30. But they do fairly well in noisy environments.

According to a recent study, dogs appear to have decent abilities in recognizing their names in noisy environments even in presence of background noise made by several people talking at the same time (cocktail party effect).

Did you know?

The invention of the silent whistle dates back to 1876 when sir Francis Galton created it upon studying how humans and animals hear. For this reason, dog silent whistles are also known as "Galton Whistles." Silent whistles are known for producing sounds in the ultrasonic range.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Adrienne Farricelli

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    • Luis G Asuncion profile image

      Luis G Asuncion 

      5 days ago from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines

      Wow. This is great. We have a dog but I am not familiar with these things about their ears. Thanks for sharing.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 days ago from Chicago Area

      Their ears are so fabulous! Did not know that floppy ears were due to domestication. Makes sense.

      Great info, as always!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      3 weeks ago

      Hi Peggy,

      Lots of fascinating stuff about dogs ears! Glad you found these 30 ear facts in dogs interesting.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      This is an interesting post regarding the different ear shapes of dogs and the differing characteristics related to each breed such as perception of sound, infections, the ear muscles, etc.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      3 weeks ago

      Thanks for pointing that out Dr. Mark, meant to say the "poster child of dogs with erect ears" according to statistics pointed out by the AVMA. Editing it now. We had many cocker spaniels see our vet's office for ear infections and the AVMA says it's because of a greater density of ceruminous glands and a predisposition to ceruminous gland hyperplasia, but interestingly the belief that dogs with erect ears are free from ear problems is unfounded. It seems like there may be individual factors at play rather than just mere ear shape.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      4 weeks ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Actually the poster child for ear infections is the Cocker Spaniel, which, interestingly, has floppy ears that are narrow and allow no air flow.

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