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How Do You Know If Your Dog's Ears Will Stand Up?

There are few things more adorable than a puppy's oversized, floppy ears. But as cute as they are, owners of German Shepherds or Doberman Pinschers might be wondering when they should expect their puppies' ears to stand up. After all, these breeds are known for their majestic erect ears. 

Even owners of smaller breeds like Chihuahuas might be anxious about when their puppy's ears will stand up. When a breed is known for its perky little upright ears, having ears that fold can be disappointing. Or at least, not what you envisioned when you brought the pup home.

So, when do puppy ears stand up?

There's no single answer to this question, and many variables have to be looked at.

Firstly, all puppies are born with closed, floppy ears. Their ears begin to open around two to two-and-a-half weeks. The point at which the large floppy bits, called the pinnae, begin to stand differs wildly between breeds and individuals. 

To get an idea of when the pinnae will become erect, you will have to check the following:

Check his breed

The breed is the strongest indicator of whether a dog's ears will stand up or not.

In breeds with a typical wolfish look, like the German Shepherd, puppies usually have their ears up by the time they have finished teething, at about five months. 

With the right nutrition, this is about the amount of time it takes for the cartilage to grow strong enough to hold the pinna's weight. 

However, some German Shepherds can take up to seven months, and some have been known to have their ears only pop up after a year. But, typically, seven months is the cut-off point.

Here are the typical ages that some other common breeds' ears become erect:

  • Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky breeders report puppies sometimes having erect ears when they are three weeks old. More commonly, the ears are only completely up when they are about six months. Their ears are known to stall while half-way up or go up and down at random as they grow.

  • English Bull Terriers typically have their ears start to rise between three and four months, with some owners choosing to tape the ears if they haven't straightened by four months.
  • Chihuahua puppies usually have their ears come up between five and fifteen weeks, but they have been known to take up to eight months.
  • Yorkshire terrier ears come up between three and six months of age, although some are reported to take as long as nine months.

  • Australian Cattle Dogs, or Blue Heelers, can have their ears standing by five weeks but have been known to take as long as 24 weeks.
  • Contrary to the Dobermann Pinscher, the Great Dane, or the Schnauzer's famous image, these breeds typically do not have ears that stand up naturally. They usually have their ears cropped, bandaged, and posted or taped for several months.

Will my cross or mix breed's ears stand up?

In the case of mixed-breed dogs, knowing who the parents are will give you the best idea of whether the ears will stand up. 

If you have a dog of mixed origins like the Tamaskan, or the Alaskan Shepherd, where both parents have high-set, erect ears, your puppy will likely have erect ears too.

dog-puppy-ears-stand-up

On the other hand, if one parent has drop ears and one parent has erect ears like the Shepherd Pei, the puppy can inherit genes from either parent. Many will have the folded ears of the Shar-Pei, but some will have the German Shepherd's erect ears. 

Sometimes offspring of parents like these might end up with ears that meet somewhere in the middle by being semi-erect and only folding near the tip like some Border Collies.

Check his ears

Other than breed, there are several signs that your puppy may develop ears that stand up.

An excellent way to check is to call your puppy or make a sound that gets their attention. If their ears perk up in a way that suggests they are trying to stand, there is a good chance they will go up over time.

Another good indication is where the ears are placed on the head. Ears set higher up and close together are more wolf-like and more likely to stand. 

Note the size as well. Dogs with enormous ears and heads like the Basset will never stand. Likewise, big ears on a German Shepherd might take a little longer than usual for the muscles and the cartilage to strengthen enough.

Dog ear development is not an exact science. The ear flap, or pinna, is made up of cartilage that you may feel hardening from as young as five to eight weeks. Soft and thin pinnae are a warning that your puppy's ears may have trouble standing. 

Usually, if the ears haven't come up by seven months, they never will.

Also, eighteen muscles hold up and turn a dog's ears. These need to be adequately developed, which is why the "chew" method for getting a dog's ears to stand up is recommended below.

Check his diet

Diet is somewhat linked to puppy ear development. Because teething can often cause erect ears to droop, many breeders recommend adding calcium to the puppy's diet to give enough calcium for the ears.

While a teaspoon of cottage cheese or yogurt is unlikely to do any harm, calcium supplements should be avoided unless a veterinarian says otherwise. 

Too much calcium can lead to significant deformities in your dog's skeletal system, interfere with the absorption of other nutrients, and more. 

Exact dietary needs differ from puppy to puppy. Still, for the German Shepherd, vets recommend a diet that has at least 22% quality protein and 5 – 8 % fats. 

Supplements that can help the ear flap strengthen include those that are generally good for cartilage. This includes gelatine, glucosamine, and Vitamin C.

Check his interactions

The cartilage in the ears of a growing pup is fragile and pliable. Avoid excessively patting or handling your pup's ears, as it can damage the cartilage and keep it from growing straight.

Similarly, pups who play too rough or chew on each other's ears can also damage the cartilage. Keep an eye on your puppy's playdates and intervene if you see too much rough-and-tumble with his ears.

Check for worms

All puppies should be dewormed every four to six months. Worms steal nutrients from your puppy's growing body, and a bad worm infestation can affect whether or not his ears stand up. 

Why Has My Puppy's Ears Suddenly Started Drooping?

Puppy ears change as they grow. In many cases, ears standing up perfectly before three months will start to droop again when the puppy is teething. This is because nutrients being sent to the ears are now being diverted to the growing teeth. 

Usually, after the teething process is done, the ears will stand right up again at around six months. 

On the way to fully erect ears, the puppy may go through many very natural stages. What starts with tiny floppy ears in a German Shepherd might evolve into ears that flop to the side. 

This may turn into "flying nun" ears, where one ear is down and one looks like it wants to fly away. Flying nun ears are usually followed by the comb-over stage, where they may be flopping over the top of the head. All of this is a normal part of the process of getting perfectly erect ears.

If you are concerned about a puppy having one ear up and one ear down, have your vet check for any trauma or inflammation in that ear, which may cause it to droop. If there is nothing physically wrong with it, check your puppy's sleeping patterns. 

They may always be lying on one side and squashing one ear. You can encourage them to lie on the other side to balance things out. 

Why do puppies’ ears stand up?

Genetics are mostly responsible for whether a dog's ear will stand up. Dogs that come from the more wolf-like breeds have inherited the wolf's erect, alert ears. 

Similarly, smaller dogs like Corgis or Chihuahuas have been bred to have straight ears, with droopy-eared individuals usually taken out of the breeding program.

How do you encourage your dog's ears to stand up?

There are several methods that owners can use to make unruly ears stand up. Of course, this is only for breeds whose ears are expected to be erect.

The Chew Method

Some breeders, particularly of large breeds like the German Shepherd, encourage chew toys to get a puppy's ears to stand up.

The idea is that consistent chewing on appropriate toys will strengthen the muscles at the base of the dog's ears and around their jaws. This should promote the proper development of the ears. 

Safe and nutritious chew toys also help your pup through painful teething and divert them from destructive chewing.

Cropping

Cropping is the most widely known and controversial method. In modern times, it is done mostly for cosmetic reasons. However, there is a belief that cropping a dog's ears will result in fewer ear infections.

However, there is no real evidence to back this up. Ear infections seem to be more prevalent in certain breeds such as Cocker Spaniels and German Shepherds, and in specific colors such as merles. 

This suggests that breeders may be breeding for specific traits linked to the causes of ear infections, and it has little to do with whether their ears stand up. 

There are three main kinds of cropping; short, medium, and long crops.

Arguments against cropping cite the dangers of unnecessary surgery, including anesthesia or possible infection.  

If you decide to crop your dog's ears, please speak to your breeder and your veterinarian first. 

Different breeds might recommend cropping at different times. But most, like the Great Dane, recommend doing it between eight and sixteen weeks. 

Taping

Medium and long crops are usually done in conjunction with taping. This is often the case with Doberman Pinschers, Miniature Pinschers, and Great Danes. 

But in breeds such as the Belgian Malinois or the German Shepherd, taping is done on its own. 

Always speak to your breeder or vet for the best practices involving taping your dog's ears

The idea with taping is that the ears are propped up long enough to allow the cartilage time to strengthen enough to hold the ears up independently.

Your breeder can also advise you about the best time to do it for your dog. Usually, it is done at about four to five months. Smaller dogs like the Chinese Crested or Yorkshire Terrier might have it done it earlier, from about three months old.

If done correctly, with sterile equipment and cleaned, shaved ears, taping is usually safe and non-invasive. 

On the other hand, although taping is painless, it can irritate your dog's ears. Since it often has to be done for three weeks or more, it can mean quite a bit of discomfort for a young pup. 

Furthermore, it doesn't always work, so owners should carefully consider whether the effort involved in taping is worth it. 

Use Moleskin

O'mal Alaskan Malamutes argue that Malamutes rarely leave taped ears alone long enough for the pinnae to "set." They suggest using moleskin—a flannel covered foam pad—that can be bought in a drug store's foot section. 

Strips of moleskin are glued to the inside of the ears with fabric glue, and this is reported to help Malamute ears on the rare occasions they don't come up by six months.

Use Breathe Right Strips

McCann dog training trainers advocate a more comfortable and even less invasive method of bracing the dog's ear.

They suggest cleaning the inside of the pinna and carefully sticking a Breathe Right strip lengthways across the ear's fold. They report having success with this simpler method. However, it is unlikely to work with dogs that have heavy or very floppy ears.

Trim the hair from the ear

In the case of some smaller dogs, such as Yorkies, Pomeranians, or Papillons, excess hair on the puppies' ears might weigh the ears down. In this case, trimming the hair from the ears will help them stand up.

Love your dog anyway

Floppy-eared or not, your dog is still the same loveable furball you took home as a puppy. Ear carriage has no bearing on his health, temperament, or how much he loves you. Remember, your dog doesn't care how your ears look, so consider returning the favor.

Puppies go through many phases on the way to perfectly upright ears, and all of them are perfectly normal. Through the occasional fluke or genetics, cartilage damage, or nutrition, your puppy may have ears that simply won't stay up. While there are many ways to try to "fix" the problem, for most owners who aren't showing or breeding their dogs, there really is no problem at all. Floppy ears can make your dog unique and even more loveable!

References

“Ear Cropping and Canine Otitis Externa FAQ.” American Veterinary Medical Association, www.avma.org/about/ear-cropping-and-canine-otitis-externa.aspx/ear-cropping-and-canine-otitis-externa-faq. Accessed 2 Jan. 2021.

Farricelli, Adrienne. “Dog Ear Shapes and Types (With Pictures).” Dog Discoveries, 27 Mar. 2019, dogdiscoveries.com/dog-ear-shapes-and-types.

Gabriella. “7 Ways to Fix Floppy German Shepherd Puppies Ears.” German Shepherd Corner, 26 Nov. 2020, germanshepherdcorner.com/7-ways-to-fix-floppy-german-shepherd-puppies-ears/#supportingearstages.

Gollackner, Rania. “Calcium Supplements.” Vca_corporate, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/calcium-supplements. Accessed 3 Jan. 2021.

James, Andrew. “Vet Recommended Feeding Guidelines For Your German Shepherd Dog.” Shepped.Com, 1 Sept. 2016, www.shepped.com/feeding-guidelines.

“Questions about Your Puppy’s Ears.” German Shepherds of Hidden Creek, www.hiddencreekgermans.com/questions-about-your-puppys-ears.html. Accessed 3 Jan. 2021.