Can Australian Shepherd ears stand up? Well, yes they can, but whether or not they will depend on a number of factors. The ear types of the beautiful dog breed known as the Australian Shepherd are notorious for their unpredictability.
Even if you breed parents with ears that do have that much-desired “button” shape, which breaks forward toward the face, there is no guarantee that their offspring will inherit this same trait.
Some Australian Shepherds’ ears do indeed stand straight up (called “prick ear”), while the breed standard is a triangular-shaped upright ear that breaks forward (called “button ear”); alternate ear types include one that breaks to the side (called “rose ear”).
While button shapes tend to be the most desired in the breed, Australian shepherds pose an unusual problem to breeders in that any ear type can show up in subsequent generations, despite their best efforts to produce button-eared offspring — and some individuals can even have two types of ears!
No Guarantees in Breeding for Ear Shape with Australian Shepherds
Unlike almost all other breeds, there is no guarantee of ear shape in this very desirable breed of dog.
Button and rose-eared Australian shepherds are the most common, while truly floppy ears appear more seldom in the breed;
they occur lower on the head and do not feature any observable folds. Experts believe that button or rose-shaped ears are more conducive to the cattle and sheep herding that they are bred to perform since these shapes protect their inner ears while at the same time allowing them to hear properly.
Prick ears may result in debris entering the ear canal, which would be very detrimental while sheepherding.
It’s a waiting game to see what kind of ear shape your Australian Shepherd will have since this only becomes apparent after teething concludes — usually at several months of age after the ear cartilage has stiffened.
This makes choosing your Australian Shepherd according to ear type very tricky, or indeed impossible, since the puppy you adopt at up to 12 weeks of age may have completely differently-shaped ears just a couple of months afterward.
Not only that, but the ear type can vary week by week, as the dog goes through the teething process.
Ear Shape an Issue at the Outset for Australian Shepherd Breed
The breed was created in the United States; thus the American Kennel Club (AKC) and The Kennel Club (KC) have set the standard for the traits that they are expected to exhibit, and all other kennel clubs around the world tend to follow their leads.
Australian Shepherd dogs have triangular-shaped ears, which are considered moderate in size and “leather,” or thickness.
The AKC states that “they break forward and over, or to the side as a rose ear” at full attention, while fully erect, or prick ears, are considered a “fault”: however, this term refers only to the strict judging requirements of dog shows and has no bearing on the overall desirability of the dog — or its ability to hear.
Meanwhile, the KC notes that the triangular ears of the Australian Shepherd have slightly rounded tips; when the animal is alert, they are semi-erect, “with half or three-quarters of the ear breaking forward or to the side.”
It was only in 1977 that this type of shepherd was accepted as a separate breed, but the standards were not spelled out in great detail at that time, nor were they enforced by breeders; some were concerned that certain dogs accepted into this breed classification were not actually purebred and thereby posed a threat to the breed’s purity.
Since some of these individuals had prick, or upright, ears, these ears were designated a “fault” according to show standards, which was meant to discourage this trait among breeders.
Nevertheless, upright ears have persisted in the breed — as they do in other breeds, where they are a widely-accepted, even desirable, trait.
When is it Too Late to Tape an Aussie’s Ears?
Some dog owners choose to tape or glue the ears of Australian Shepherd puppies to create the desired button shape, although this poses a problem for future breeding because there will be no way to know if the dog’s ears would have developed that shape naturally. Since this is such a common practice, however, many dog shows overlook it.
Experts say the optimal time to start taping dogs can be as early as 10-12 weeks, although it may be best to delay it until 18-19 weeks, according to when it begins teething.
This process affects the muscles at the base of the ears, often making them floppier. Some owners note that teething can even make a dog develop two differently-shaped ears because of the tremendous muscular development that occurs at that time from teething.
If taping or gluing is the road you desire to embark on as an Aussie owner, be prepared — it may take a matter of months for the shape of the ear to conform to the placement that is desired, although the time required varies a great deal.
Teething generally takes 3 – 4 months — after which time it will be too late to alter ear shape permanently. Alternatively, you can even tape or glue the ears temporarily, just for one show.
If you choose this route, be sure to take great care. There are no less than 18 different bones in the skull, along with the cartilage involved, that can be damaged by improper taping or gluing, and some products used on dogs in the past have led to the injury.
After healing, it is often too late for the ears to be trained into the button shape; be sure to consult a veterinarian before embarking on this practice.
Regardless of the wisdom of taping and gluing ears, there is no way to set a dog’s ear shape after teething has concluded, which generally occurs around six months of age, and no surgical interventions to alter ear shape for Australian Shepherd show dogs are allowed, according to Kennel Club rules.