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It seems that every sport, specialty, or interest group eventually develops its own language to describe the things that are important to them. The world of dogs is no different. For example, when they describe such common things as the shape of a dog's ear, people in the dog fancy may use terms that are unfamiliar or undecipherable by the average person. While I am sure that most people can visualize in their minds what might be meant by a prick ear or a drop ear on a dog, they might have much more difficulty visualizing what is meant by a rose ear or a button ear when it refers to their canine pet. So let me give you a bit of a visual glossary of common terms used to describe the shape of a dog's ear.
The basic shape of the canine ear which was inherited from his wild ancestors such as the Wolf depicted here is the prick or upright ear.
Prick or upright ears are very common in dogs. Their main characteristics are that they are sharp, pointed and stand erect. They can be found in most of the Nordic breeds such as the Malamute here, the Siberian husky, the Samoyed and so forth. It is also found in breeds like the Cairn Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, and others.
Sometimes prick ears are surgically created by the process called "ear cropping" in order to turn a drop ear into a pointed prick ear that stands upright. Breeds in which this is commonly done include the Great Dane shown here and also Doberman Pinschers and Boxers. It is not unusual to refer to dogs that have had this surgery as having cropped ears rather than prick ears.
Through selective breeding, humans have modified the pointed prick ear shape of the wolf into a variety of different shapes. For example, the French bulldog shown here has large upright ears with the sharp tip altered into a smooth curve producing what dog people call blunt ears or rounded tip ears.
Ears that are upright and large in proportion to the size of the head are called bat ears. There is often a large and V. shaped space between the ears causing them to be inclined outward extending beyond the sides of the face and giving the faint impression of a batwing, and hence the name. Wonderful examples of these bat ears can be found on most Corgis and many Chihuahuas.
There are some subtle variations on prick ears that have earned separate names in the dog world. One elegant version is the hooded ear, such as that seen on the Basenji here. The nuance which makes it different from standard prick ears is that they are medium-sized and the ear curves in on both sides giving a crude impression of a cowl or hood.
I suppose that subtle variations can get out of hand in the naming of ear shapes. For example, this English Toy Terrier is usually described as having candle flame ears. The characteristics are that the ear is curved slightly inward at its base with a slight pinch on the outside edge, which gives the lighter inner ear color the shape of a candle flame.
While all of the wild canines have upright ears, one of the characteristics of domestic dogs is that many breeds have ears that hang down. Biologists refer to these as "lop ears", however dog enthusiasts refer to them as drop ears or pendant ears. The classic example of this is shown in the Basset Hound here. The only requirement for this label is that the ears hang down from the place where they are attached to the head. They can be a variety of different sizes and shapes.
The folded ear refers to pendant ears that hang down in the folds, like a curtain, as in the Bloodhound here. You can see the difference when you compare it to the Basset hound whose ears hang down flat. Another example of a breed with folded ears is the Field Spaniel.
Sometimes dog people do take the shape of a pendant ear into account as in the V-Shaped Ear which he usually refers to a medium length triangular drop ear as on this Vizsla. Similar shaped ears can be seen on the Bullmastiff.
Perhaps the most extreme attention to the shape of the ear occurs in the Bedlington Terrier shown here. It is described as having a Filbert Shaped Ear, supposedly because the ear is shaped like a leaf of the hazelnut or Filbert tree. I have never heard this label applied to any other breed besides the Bedlington.
Some dog's ears are neither fully erect nor clearly pendant, and the various ways in which an ear can be partially bent has resulted in specific labels. Cocked ears or semi-pricked ears, as seen on this Rough Collie are basically an upright prick ear that bends over slightly at the tip. You can also see this ear shape on Border Collies and Pit Bulls.
If you have a medium-sized erect ear that folds over towards the front to form a flap which almost completely obscures sight of the ear canal, you have what dog enthusiasts call a button ear, as seen here on this Jack Russell Terrier. Presumably, this name comes from the fact that the folded portion of the ear roughly resembles the flap on a shirt with button-down pockets. Another good example of the button ear is the Fox Terrier.
If instead of folding forward the ear folds back at the midway point you get what is called the rose ear, as seen here on this Greyhound. I am told that it gets its name because at the point where the ear folds the creases look vaguely like the shape of a rose viewed from above. Whippets and Bulldogs also show this kind of ear.
Hopefully, these descriptions will allow you to label and identify the shape of your dog's ears. If not, rest assured that regardless of their shape, most dogs like to be scratched lightly behind their ears, especially if you make loving sounds at the same time.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including Born to Bark, Do Dogs Dream? The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses?
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