The Many Ears of Earl, My McNab Dog
An Ear for All Occasions
Dogs have extremely expressive ears. Unlike people, who have only three muscles per ear, dogs have upwards of 18 muscles per ear. Ear movement and tension allows them to demonstrate a great deal of emotion, or levels of mental alertness, with just a twitch or a flick.
Granted, I'm biased, but I do believe McNabs have some of the most expressive ears known to dog-kind. Their ears seem to have a vast repertoire of "ear micro-expressions" that convey the subtlest canine emotion. We often laugh or muse over Earl's ear-expressions ("earpressions?") as he indicates happiness, anxiety, jealousy, and a wide spectrum of other feelings through very distinct ear positions. "Uh-oh, he has his worried ears on," or "Check out Earl's guarding ears!" are commonly heard phrases in our household.
One Ear Up!
When Earl first came to us, I was tickled that most of the time, only one ear stood up. It's so Earl. Yet, many visitors expressed some sort of concern that Earl's "other" ear might never stand up completely -- as if it was a defect of some sort. I was worried that it would. It's not an uncommon trait among McNabs, the wonderful one-ear-up look -- and although Earl can bring both ears up on occasion, I prefer him with his quizzical one-ear expression.
Earl's a happy dog. Nothing makes us smile quite like seeing him at his happiest, when he has a completely blissful grin on his face. His ears relax completely and almost disappear behind his head.
Like the famous advertising dog of yore, the RCA dog Nipper, Earl tilts his head with interest and curiosity when we speak to him or amuse him with interesting sounds. Here, it isn't his ear movement as much as the tilt of his head that conveys his mood.
The "Do It Now" Ears
Earl is, for the most part, a very patient dog. That doesn't keep him from expressing just ever-so-much impatience when he's waiting for his favorite event: playing ball. As soon as the chief ball-thrower asks him, "What do you think, Earl?" Earl tightens up all over, and his most alert ears come on. Within seconds, they become those somewhat impatient ears. Between throws, the impatient ears return in spades. Just throw the ball. Do it now.
McNabs are alert. It's one of the traits that makes them brilliant at what they're bred for: working cattle in rugged terrain. Earl's ears constantly operate as furry radars, attuned to the slightest sound on the ranch, whether it's a corral gate rattling or a truck key jangling.
We Are Not Amused Ears
Earl wears his "not amused" ears when he's disappointed. Normally, this is in the morning when his Dad (my husband) goes off to work. The minute Russ starts to put his work clothes on, Earl knows it is going to be one of those saddest of days: the weekday. He lies at the foot of the bed, head down, ears at half-mast in mourning. Every ounce of sadness in his soul shows through those very unhappy ears.
Waiting for Daddy Ears
Things change in the afternoon. For about a two-hour window of watchfulness, Earl's ears are up, half-pricked, as he stares out at the driveway waiting for his Daddy to come home. At the slightest sound of a car a half mile up the road, Earl runs to the guest bedroom, looking out that window, then to the front door, then back to the bedroom ... and then he waits some more.
One Ear Up to McNab Owners!
Are you a McNab Owner?
Ready for Naptime Ears
I often tell people, "You can't tire a McNab," but yes, on occasion, they do sleep. In the afternoons, when the temperature creeps up above a mellow 100 degrees and the only sensible thing to do after playing and chasing lizards all day is to have a nap, Earl's ears say so.
When Earl isn't yet worried, but starting to get a bit apprehensive, his ears tilt back and down. This is our clue that something is bothering him, but not yet to the point of worry -- he's still undecided as to how much concern to allot to the situation.
... but when Earl has weighed all the facts and decided that yes, there's cause for worry (such as a windstorm, or thunder, or if I swear out loud or spray a fly), his ears tilt completely back and often times even touch behind his head. Those are his worried ears.
Earl isn't as serious as he appears in most of his photos here. Earl's actually something of the clown-dog of the family. He is also a very jealous clown-dog who likes to hog the camera time. Here, I was trying to get a photo of Argos, the black Lab, who happened to wake up and make it all the way to the kitchen in the morning wearing my husband's pajama pants on his back.
Earl photobombed the picture as he often does. I never did get the adorable shot of Argos I was hoping for. I did, however, get a lot of laughs out of Earl's vampire-dog expression.
Haven't Heard of the McNab? Let's Fix That!
- A Personal Introduction to a McNab Dog
Most people have never heard of a McNab stock dog (also known as a McNab border collie). Here's your chance to meet a very special member of this very special breed. Meet Earl the McNab.
Earl in Action!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2013 Marcy J. Miller