Posting Ears - the Do's and Don'ts

A Veterinarian's Perspective


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Last updated 2/2/10

About German Shepherd Ears:

There is a lot of information and apparently a lot of mis-information out there about German Shepherds and their ears.  I can't even begin to tell you the amount of times that I have been out with one of my dogs and people walk up to me and ask -- "Who did your dog's ears?"  Now, I admit, at first I was a little confused as to what exactly that meant -- Did what to my dog's ears?  It appears that there is a common mis-conception about shepherd ears.  Let me clear it up.......

YOU DO NOT TRIM GERMAN SHEPHERD EARS TO MAKE THEM STAND!

Now, that being said, here is what else you need to know:

        German Shepherds ARE born with their ears down

        They should have their ears up before they each 4-5 months of age.  Some puppies have their ears up by 4 weeks of age.

        If their ears are not up by 4-5 months of age, they need to be posted.

        If their ears are up before 4 months of age, they often will come back down, temporarily, starting at 4 months.  This happens to also coincide with the time that they begin teething.  This phenomenon is thought to have something to do with the calcium levels and re-distribution within the body.  It is normal and nothing to worry about AS LONG AS the ears WERE UP before 4 months. 

o   DO NOT SUPPLEMENT CALCIUM DURING THIS PERIOD OF TIME!!!  IT IS HARMFUL TO THEIR JOINTS!

        If your Shepherd's ears have problems coming up and have to be posted, this is a puppy with "soft ears".  It is generally considered a "flaw" and you must decide whether this is a puppy that you want to breed.  If you do decide to breed this puppy, make sure that his attributes out-weigh his flaws, for often (but not always) this trait is passed on to the next generation.

         It is very common for GSD pups to have ears that tilt and flop this way and that as they gain strength to stand on their own. The German Shepherd ears may take all matter of shapes (1 up, 1 down; 1 this way, 1 that way) until they come completely up. Do not panic when this happens - It is completely normal.

 

Anatomy of the Ear

The pinna, or ear flap, is covered by skin, and the outer or posterior aspect is covered by fur. Numerous muscles are attached to the curved cartilage located between the inner and outer layers of skin around the ear, and these muscles allow the pinna to move and twitch.

  • The ear is made of a series of cartilages
  • The position of the ear flap is largely controlled by muscles that attach onto the cartilages of the ear.
  • Trauma (pulling of the ear) when a dog is a pup (or even when it is mature) may cause disruption of the muscles of the ear and cause the ear flap to flop over.  However, massaging the base of the ear gently may help increase blood flow and improve it's ability to stand 

 

Posting Ears:

German Shepherd ear taping is something that many GSD puppy owners do not take seriously until it is much too late.  Shepherd ears can come up on their own anytime between 4 weeks and 6 months.  If the ears are not up by 4 months I tell my puppy customers to start paying attention.  Also, if you have purchased one of my pups and their ears are not up at 4 months - Please, PLEASE let me know! 

I will tell you right now, I hate posting ears.  Hate it!  If I have a breeding that is producing soft eared pups, I most likely will never re-breed it.  It is just one of my pet peeves. 

Posting ears is a "head-ache" for the owners, and "ear-ache" for the dog, and general pain for me (if it is one of my pups).  The running joke is that if a breeder raises a German Shepherd with floppy ears, it will most likely be sold to some owner that takes him/her everywhere and tells everyone where they got it.  And, inevitably that dog will live FOREVER as a testament to your breeding program. ;-)

That being said, there are simply going to be some puppies that need a little extra help with their ears. 

 

Getting Started

First of all, it is very important to make sure that your GSD puppy is in good health.  Make sure that the puppy is kept on the proper schedule of de-wormings and vaccinations.  It is also very important to make sure that your GSD puppy is on a good quality food.  If you are unsure, check with your local vet or German Shepherd breeder for suggestions on a diet that would be appropriate for your puppy.

Help stimulate your GSD puppy to use their ear muscles to help bring their ears up faster naturally, by making interesting noises, whistling, calling their name, etc.  This will cause your puppy to use those muscles on their ears to help stand them up on their own.

From my experience, if a Shepherd's ears are not trying very hard to stand and the puppy's ears are taped after 7 or 8 months old it has very little chance of working.  At that point in life, the cartilage has started to harden and it may very well harden with a "crease" in it.  I usually like to compare it to cardboard -- Cardboard can be very tough but once it has a bend in it, it will never be as tough as it was without the bend (similar to ears that harden while they are down).

There are several techniques that can be used to help your German Shepherd's ears get the little extra lift that they need.

 

Roller Method

What you need:

  • Large pink spongy perm rollers (Goody's is one brand) from Wal-mart or similar store.

  • Tear Mender fabric glue (Skin Bond may also work too)

  • White surgical tape or other porous tape such 3M Micropore tape

  • 1 un-sharpened pencil (optional but helpful)

Take out the hard plastic clip out of the middle of each roller and discard.  You only need to keep the spongy pink foam roller part.   (Grey foam pipe insulation tubing works well too if you can't find the pink foam rollers.  You will have to cut this to length and I also tend to thin them a little with a scalpel blade too.)  I, personally, like the tubing better with sedated dogs because I can fit it to the ears exactly.  But, for home use, I would recommend the rollers.

Insert the pencil (unsharpened end) inside the pink foam roller about an inch or so to make it easier to hold. Next, put the Skin Bond on the pink foam roller about 3/4s of the way around the roller, so it is well covered but not oozing or dripping off the roller in any way. You do not want the glue to drip off the roller into your pupís ear canal during this process.  You don't want to get the glue on your hands either while in the middle of this process. That is where the pencil comes in.

Place the roller inside the German Shepherd's ear flap itself fairly deep, leaving about a finger space opening above the pupís head and the bottom of the roller inside the ear flap.  While holding the pencil end, wrap the GSD puppies ear around the glued foam roller and then tape them into a fairly tight roll (but not too tight), in an upright (vertical) position.

NEVER use any tape such as duct tape, electrical tape, or the like for ear taping.  If you don't have the right kind of tape and for some reason you have to un-tape the ears, it will do more damage than good.

Remove the pencil from the sponge roller.

Optional: Take a piece of tape long enough to wrap around both ears and span the distance between the ears.  Take one end of the tape and wrap around one ear (roller and all) approximately 1/3 of the way down the ear.  Be careful not to wrap too tight.  Take the other end and wrap it around the opposite ear at about the same level.  The trick here is to pull the ears up into the proper position on top of the head as you are taping.  Leave enough of the tape that you can bring it back across the exposed sticky end of the horizontal piece tape (between the ears) and tape it back to itself.  This will help ensure that the tape will stay in place. The German Shepherd puppy will shake his head and mess with the ears several times but sooner or later he will forget about the tape all together and leave it alone.

Distract the puppy with food or by playing ball, etc. for about five minutes until the glue stops itching and is well set. The roller will fall out on its own in about a week or so if not taken out by you or your puppy. Continue the re-taping process until the German Shepherd puppy ears stand on their own.

I also need to say that many ears will be a little weak right after taping but with time they will strengthen. So when an ear does not stand perfectly after taping don't panic. Just have patience and see what happens. You will really not have an idea exactly what you have until the pup is 12 months old.

 

Glue on the Ear Method

What you need:

  • Tear Mender fabric glue (Skin Bond may also work too)

Another simpler method is the Ear Glue method.  It is simple, easy, and does not bother or irritate the puppy to dig at his ears.  With this technique, you do not put tape on the ears but instead only glue the ears together.  (Tape can cause their ears to get sore.)

Wait until the pup is at least 4 months of age.  If puppy's ears are still down like a lab or pointing out to the sides like the flying nun, you can glue them at this point.  If ears are at least half ways up, leaning towards each other, or have been up and down, then give them another month to make it on their own.  Puppiesí ears can go up on their own as late as age of 5-6mths. But DON'T wait too long.  If you go ahead and help them out, then there are no worries about them not going up.

Since German Shepherd puppies ears naturally lean in towards each other or even lay clean over on top of their head towards the other ear in the process of going up on their own, this technique attempts to mimic that.

HOW TO GLUE:  Use "Tear Mender", a fabric glue.  Shake glue well. NEVER pour the glue from the bottle directly on to puppyís ears!  We recommend putting some of the glue on to a paper plate or piece of note book paper, etc.  The ears will be glued together over the puppies head like an Indian tee-pee. Using your finger, put a small amount of glue in a vertical line on the outside/back side of the ear - edge of the ear from just slightly above the base to the tip of his ear. (edge on the top of puppies head- over forehead only (not the outside of the ear).

Take hold of the other ear and with both hands press the edges together and hold for 30 seconds even though the glue will appear to hold after about 3 seconds. They should only be glued about 2/3 's of the way down.

Only use a small amount of glue, it doesn't take much. In a few seconds it is dry and holds well.  

Your puppy should not be irritated by it at all. The ears still get air - unlike taping.

You might have to keep your puppy away from others dogs to keep them from rough-housing with him.  Other dogs can easily pull the ears apart making it difficult to keep the ears glued.

Some people say that using this technique, you can get ears to stand as late as 10 months.  It is probably worth a try but don't be too disappointed if they don't stand.

Once you have the ears glued correctly do not take them apart, they will come undone on their own with time.  The longer they stay glued the better.  If they come undone on their own and are still floppy, glue them again. We have had ears that stayed glued for 4wks at times.  Once the ears come undone they will not look perfect, but as long as they are "up" then leave them alone, they will straighten out on their own in the months to come.  

After 1-2 months puppies ears should be up but we have heard of one person that had to glue for 3 1/2 months to get a tip up. I'm sure there could be the stubborn case where it could take even longer, but I would not quit - till you talked with your pup's Breeder or call me if you can not reach your breeder

By the way, there is also a glue remover for Tear Mender if you feel you will need it. 

 
Quick Brace System

Another great way of posting ears is the Quick Brace System

 

In Conclusion

Since posting this article, I have been asked several times if rubbing, petting, or if other people touching your shepherd's ears will have an effect on them (keep them from standing). 

I hear this from breeders ALL the time.  I think it is silly.  It is just cartilage - if is was really that sensitive why don't we have more lop-sized kids.  Remember when parents used to grab their kids by the ears to get them to listen.  When was the last time you saw a kid with ears that don't match?  Or, what about when those little kids hold their nose to go under water.  How come their noses still have holes in them? ;-)

I have to admit there sure are a lot of breeders out there that believe this though - I guess I could be wrong........?  My opinion is this - If he has good ears, it doesn't matter what you do to them.  I play with my puppies ears all the time.  They are so soft and fluffy, who could resist?!  Who would want to?!

So, If the German Shepherd puppy ears are not up by 7 or 8 months of age they are probably not going to come up. When the GSD ears do not stand on their own there are ear implants that can be surgically added. I have no experience with this personally but if you are unlucky enough to have a German Shepherd whose ears will not stand on their own, this is an option.  I have done some research into these implants and most vets DO NOT recommend them.  Number one - Downed ears is a cosmetic issue ONLY.  It will not affect your dog's quality of life.  Secondly, if the implants get infected and have to be removed, the original floppy ears are going to look better than what you will be left with after the implants are removed. 

Where downed ears are not the end of the world, however, erect ears are a part of the German Shepherd Dog breed standard. Upright ears are more handsome, tougher, and more regal and the way the German Shepherd was bred to look.  While I will try several techniques in order to get them to stand, I stop short of surgery.

If you do have questions about the German Shepherd ear taping process, feel free to contact your German Shepherd breeder or the local GSD breed club in your area or your veterinarian.

 

Sherle R. Thompson, DVM
Veterinarian and German Shepherd Breeder
Chattanooga, TN
 
Email: sequoyahgsd@aol.com
Phone:  (423)991-0979

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