Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Ears - The Long and Short of Things" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog

Ears - The Long and Short of Things

Ears stand straight up, hang straight down, fold at the half way mark, start high on the head or low, and are thick or not so thick. The various shapes and positions of the ears bring an assortment of health problems that may range from a bit of itchiness to infections serious enough to cause tympanic perforation and brain infections.

The only natural shape for canine ears is the erect, or prick, formation. Other shapes have been carefully selected for specific types of canine work, such as the ground dragging ears of the bloodhound, which are supposed to channel scents to the nose. If that were really so necessary, why then are so many breeds of dogs, including prick eared types such as German Shepherds and others, used so effectively in search and rescue work?

In reality, dogs' ear shapes are very often that way just because someone opted for that "look" somewhere along the way and so it is. The shape of the ear -- standing up or hanging down -- matters very little to the supreme hearing abilities of dogs. Unfortunately, however, there are many breeds with deafness problems, such as Dalmatians, Australian Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Bull Terriers, to name a few. Deafness is often associated with the merle color (that bluish blend of colors seen in Great Danes, for example) or piebald coat patterns and increases in some breeds, such as the Dalmatian, with the percentage of white in the coat.

Ears that hang close to the head (such as the various Spaniels and Poodles) often suffer from ear infections, but watch also for very narrow ear canals and excessive growth of hair in the canals. Observe your dog for any signs of scratching at the ears, shaking the head, tilting the head, a greasy appearance to the inside of the ear and any unpleasant odor coming from the ears.

Immune system problems top the list of causes: mites may be at work; there could be ticks; and yeast infections are all to be considered. For the latter issue, the top of the list for cause, from what I read, is that good ol' standard in most households -- grain-based dog food!

Long floppy ears can be damaged by roughhousing with other dogs, cactus spine penetration, and just the scratching to relieve itching from problems in the ear or that horrible dog enemy, fleas.

Many breeds of dogs that would otherwise have long ears are victims of fashion, and have their ears cropped. That means, of course, that healthy, sensitive tissue is chopped off in early puppy hood with the primary reason being to make owners happy about the "look" of the dog when and if the ears eventually do stand up. In San Miguel, we get to see many examples of cropped ears among fighting breeds, which practically eliminates the ears completely so they won't be torn off and bleed a lot during a fight. Swell.

Cropping is now banned in the United Kingdom, Norway, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and other countries. In the U.S., the two largest veterinary associations (the American Animal Hospital Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association) have adopted the following statement: "Ear cropping and tail docking in dogs for cosmetic reasons are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient. These procedures cause pain and distress, and, as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection...."

An argument so often used by fanciers of cropped ears is that it is done to prevent ear infections. Well, I must say that the very worst results of ear infections I have ever seen have been in cropped ears! On a couple of occasions the poor dogs suffered completely deformed ears as a result of the raging infections.

Dogs ears, whether prick, drop, folded or whatever, are very effective in presenting information about the dogs' feelings at a given moment. Learn their language and you'll better understand your dogs and any others that you meet. It is much harder, obviously, to "read" a cropped-eared dog!

As an owner of a dog, you should understand what problems dogs can and do suffer, how to recognize the symptoms, and get veterinary help as soon as a problem is evident to prevent possible permanent damage and unnecessary pain to your trusting companion.

Care for your dog's teeth. Check those ears. Don't have a Dragon Breath guy at your house!

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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