The Many Ears of Earl, My McNab Dog

Updated on July 16, 2019
MJennifer profile image

Marcy has experience caring for McNab dogs and raising a McNab puppy.

Multi-Purpose Ears
Multi-Purpose Ears | Source

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.

One Ear Up!
One Ear Up! | Source

Happy Ears

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.

Blissful Ears
Blissful Ears | Source

RCA Ears

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.

RCA Ears
RCA Ears | Source

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.

The "Throw the Darned Ball" Ears
The "Throw the Darned Ball" Ears | Source

Watchful Ears

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.

Watchful Ears
Watchful Ears | Source

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.

We Are Not Amused Ears
We Are Not Amused Ears | Source

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.

Waiting for Daddy Ears
Waiting for Daddy Ears | Source

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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.

Ready for My Afternoon Nap Ears
Ready for My Afternoon Nap Ears | Source


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.

Concerned Ears
Concerned Ears | Source

Worried Ears

... 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 demonstrates his "Worried Ears."
Earl demonstrates his "Worried Ears." | Source

Photobomber 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.

Photobomber Ears
Photobomber Ears | Source
Workin' Ears
Workin' Ears | Source

Earl in Action!

© 2013 Marcy J. Miller


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    • profile image

      Richard Weeks 

      10 months ago

      We just learned yesterday at the Washington State Fair that our dog Bullet is a McNab. We spent about 15 minutes with a wonderful family from Lynden who were showing their McNab, their Border and their Golden Retriever. So good to know that Bullet is the way he is for more reasons than that he didn't duck when he saw the bumper coming. (Bullet is a rescue dog, and yes, he was hit by a car.) Your stories about Earl read like a chapter from Bullet's book. Thank you so much for sharing and giving us insight's into Bullet!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      It's impvratiee that more people make this exact point.

    • MJennifer profile imageAUTHOR

      Marcy J. Miller 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      Thank you, Sharkye11! I love sharing Earl stories -- he is such a special boy. Dogs are the best people. Thank you for the read and the kind comment.

      Best -- MJ

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Earl is a beautiful dog! I love a clean looking black and white dog, and his expressive ears crack me up. Great photos by you too, this was a very enjoyable hub to read!

    • MJennifer profile imageAUTHOR

      Marcy J. Miller 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Hi, Asarabee! I don't think there's a day that goes by that we don't say aloud, "Earl is like the perfect dog." Perfect for us, anyway -- we wouldn't change a thing about his sensitive, smart, loyal self. I'm glad you have a perfect McNab too. Love the name Lilly! Thank you for saying hello --


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have a beautiful female Mcnab named Lilly and she shares all of the traits Earl has. I adore her and love that she loves to cuddle so much:)

    • MJennifer profile imageAUTHOR

      Marcy J. Miller 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Thank you, Peggy! I'm glad you enjoyed this. Oh yes, Earl is definitely into photography, as long as he's in front of the camera. He also likes it when my husband "calls" him on Facetime and Earl can see and hear him over the computer. How do dogs understand technology like they do?

      We are so lucky to have our dogs in our lives, aren't we?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Having read about the McNab dog first, your wonderful photos of Earl made reading this even more fun although any dog lover will love this. What a great subject! Funny how your Earl likes the camera. Some dogs do and others avoid it. We have had both kinds. Up, beautiful and interesting votes.


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