About the Ears

by Nannette Newbury © 2002 AKC Breed Column

“To dog judges, breeders and fanciers, the ear lobe, pinna or leather, is of prime importance. Its size, shape, thickness, attachment, carriage, mobility, etc. all tend to be characteristic of individual breeds, and hence exert great influence upon ‘expression.’”
Harold R. Spira
Canine Terminology

The Australian Shepherd has been described in historical documents as well as the breed standard as alert, attentive, animated, sensitive, extremely aware of their surroundings, very sound sensitive and possessing uncanny intelligence. The Aussie can “express” these attributes primarily through body language, using both eyes and their ears.

For a herding breed that is unusually sound sensitive, the Aussie can and will continually use their ears to detect the source of sounds, or to determine the needs of their owner. The ears can be in motion to sense out their environment whether in the breed ring or the open range. While the breed is a drop-eared dog which probably does not allow for as refined as hearing in an erect-eared dog, the Aussie will move his ears and cock his head to determine the direction of sound.

While studying historical breed photos from the mid 1800s, through the more recent of popularity of the breed from the 1950s it can be noted that the breed had then and has now a variety of ear sets that have been carefully documented in the current breed standard.

The AKC Breeder Standard for the Australian Shepherd states, “Ears are triangular of moderate size and leather, set high at the head. At full attention they break forward and over, or to the side as a rose ear. Prick ears and hanging ears are severe faults.”

What is implied in the written language of the standard but is not completely illustrated is the variety of ear sets this verbiage allows and considers part of the breed character. Thus a judge may see quite a variance and variety in the breed ring. Allowable and acceptable are ears anywhere in between full forward and rose and in any combination. For judges this means you can and will see dogs with one forward breaking ear and perhaps the opposite ear is a rose ear. Perhaps one ear breaks lightly to the side while the other ear is not quite a rose ear. As guardians of the breed it is vital that judges don’t reward one ear set over the other.

Prick ears or hound ears are however severe faults as they markedly detract from the character of the Australian Shepherd. An occurrence evidenced in the breed today is dogs carrying a lower set, thicker larger ear. This can and will detract from the breed’s expression and type.

When judging the breed it is not unusual for an Australian Shepherd to have a mobile ear in the breed ring, constantly sensing out the handler, the judge, noises from surrounding rings and the like. They are listening, they do listen and they will use their ears to do so. This ear mobility and hearing sensitivity is a part of the Australian Shepherd and their communications skills.

While we can’t offer an easy, one ear-set breed to the AKC judges, we can illustrate that variety in individuality are also a part of the breed’s character and the ears are merely one way of expressing this uniqueness.