Contents, Index of Headings:
Meaning of Dogs Ears and Position
Cropping Dogs Ears
Dogs Ears and Hearing Sound
As a follow up to my and their relation to Canine body language and communication, this segment will focus on a dogs ears, and how they pertain to body language cues, interaction, etc.
Meaning of dogs ears and position
Neutral position- a signal of non-threatening relaxation. Again, look at the other obvious indicators besides dog ears on this Aussie (photo left); tongue position and head slightly tilted.
Pricked, angled in a certain direction- You can always tell what sounds a dog is trying to pick up on based upon the direction the dogs ears are facing (except in the case of those breeds who can’t manipulate their droopy-ears). Alone, this signal just means intent or focus, but combine that with other signals (see Lupa to the right, notice the angle of her face, mouth, eyes and body) and it become easy to pick out ’emotions’. You probably do this every time you see a dog playing without even thinking about it.
It is interesting to note- horse ears have a wide range of motion; they can nearly rotate them completely around! The same thing happens here as with dogs ears; they point in the direction sounds originate. The same thing can be done with us, in a way- try angling your head toward a noise, and cupping your ears.
It becomes slightly more difficult to judge by dogs ears alone with our Retriever here (left), but if you focus- you can tell they are pricked (as much as is possible) and angled forward. Take a look at the rest of him (or her), and it becomes pretty obvious. Tail position, forward stance, eyes focused directly ahead and nose slightly in the air; this dog is very attentive and alert; he (she) is very focused on something.
Fearful, submissive, in pain- Just like their tails, there is one very recognizable and particular way dogs ears are used to convey distress or insecurity- flat against their heads and angled rearwards. It is the same case here as before; the dog is trying to make itself look small. These signals can also be signs of submission; next time you chastise your dog (or often yell for any reason) it may crouch, moving slowly away or exposing it’s belly, ears low to the forehead and tail tucked.
Take a look at the two dogs to the right. At first they may seem to be playing, but look closer- the dog on the ground is clearly hunched, dogs ears low against it’s head and (what it has left of a tail) is tucked. The submissive dog is exposing it’s belly to the other, who seems to be holding it’s tail either straight rearward or up, body posture slightly forward, looming over.
These dogs are probably not going escalate their confrontation any further; whatever brought it about is likely going to stop here. Dogs don’t ‘hold grudges’, there isn’t any reason to continue once proper hierarchy is re-established.
Cropping Dogs Ears
A question I seem to run across often concerns ear cropping, an operation in which the pinnas (ear flaps) are surgically altered. The operation is done purely for cosmetic purposes; unlike tail- docking, there is almost always absolutely no medical advantage with cropped ears (if the breed exists, it is a rare one indeed). The physiological benefits that do exist are so small they might as well be non-existent, mentioned to rationalize the surgery more than anything.
Some argue there is no difference between cropping a dogs ears and a spay or neuter; that is completely false. Where it is possible to perform the same vasectomy on dogs as humans, it is a more costly method and wouldn’t do anything to halt testosterone production. There are potential benefits to eliminating a dog’s ability to produce testosterone; the operation in some cases can completely remove aggressive tendencies, desire to run, as well as help limit the already staggering animal population (or it would be staggering, if the surplus animals weren’t simply put down- consider the moral obligations).
Where it is true dogs that heavy, floppy ears tend to be more prone to infection, regular cleaning is a simple solution. In the end, very few Veterinarians will suggest associated health benefits to ear cropping (if any at all). I don’t know of any, and have never spoke to either animal or human Dr. who would.
In fact, removing the pinna (cropping a dogs ears) would decrease a dog’s quality of hearing, since the purpose of the pinna is to funnel sound into the ear canal. Range of motion is now severely limited, further decreasing their ability to distinguish sounds.
Though it is in no way a desirable situation for the dog himself, cropping is traditional and popular among showmen (especially with breeds like the one above). It may be a harsh example, but if you care for your dog like a child- watch this video of an actual operation, then consider doing this to your own children. If you can still rationalize it, by all means…
The removal of dew claws, those vestigial claws that sort of hang from your dog’s lower limbs, has also been used in rationale. Again, the reasons for this outweigh any possible benefits cropping may or may not have. In some hunting and working breeds, these have the potential to damage or tear- causing great pain and potential for health complications, infection, etc. Of course, this is also sometimes done for pointless aesthetic reasons.
I know of a large Labrador- over 110lbs, an English Lab I believe, that to this day defecates before passing out nearly every time his claws are trimmed (if he is conscious to begin with). This needs to be done by a veterinarian, and often under anesthesia; it would be simply impossible for the female owner. He harbors extreme anxiety to this day because a careless breeder simply tore off his dew claws when he was a puppy.
They may appear to be simple excess skin, but are in fact the equivalent of a human’s boneless thumb; five tendons extend from muscle then bone.
Dogs Ears and Hearing Sounds
Even though the main purpose is to describe body language, this wouldn’t be much of an article on dogs ears if I didn’t define their actual hearing capability.
Though no where near an equivalent to their powerful sense of smell, a dog’s hearing is still significantly greater then a humans (and, interestingly, slightly greater then most feline breeds). A wolf’s senses are ideally honed to very efficiently compliment their hunting prowess, today’s dogs still caring much of these enhanced abilities. Indeed, each of their senses has evolved for one purpose- to hunt prey. Their ability to hear is no different.
Even their vision, though visual acuity is much worse than ours, is finely tuned to discern the tiny rapid movements of prey, a small animal- perhaps a rabbit, in the shadows and low light of dusk; they don’t see like us because they don’t have to (but that is for another story!).
Dogs are capable of perceiving higher sound frequencies then humans, meaning they can hear quieter sounds clearly. Much of this has to do with ear structure; I will break down the basics without getting into a college level lecture. If you want the precise medical article, you can follow the blue text.
The ear canal of a dogs ears can be broken down into four main areas, the pinna (ear flap) you see at the top left of the photo, the ear canal, middle and internal ear. The pinna (ear flap) is a funnel like area of cartilage that picks up air vibrations and sends them on their way down the ear canal (also shaped differently then our’s) to the eardrum (look to the scanned image on the right). Those vibrations are focused and amplified at the eardrum; three small bones (we have these same small bones; hit my link further up for a better description) transmit those vibrations to the inner ear, and are eventually directed to their brains via the auditory nerve.
Whew, and that was the extremely basic version! Suffice to say, their hearing is better than ours; a sense they rely on for survival in the wild.
I absolutely love studying body language; one photo can almost tell the most amazing stories! Let me leave off with a fun little puzzle; below are a couple photos- one dog in each is the aggressor and the other submissive and frightened.
I once ran across a professor who incorporated two separate photos of the exact same dog, a comparison. Both dogs were looking extremely vicious (they/he reminded me of Steven King’s Cujo). Both curled back their muzzles, bearing teeth so sharp they looked like they could take a human leg. There were significant differences in facial language though; we were supposed to distinguish which is a bigger threat- an aggressive, fearful dog or an aggressive, dominant dog (which was the difference between the two).
So, the two Beagles above, you can see the one by the fence is pretty upset, but the other looks calm. Who is the aggressor here? It is obviously the mean, snarling looking one, right?
WRONG! This dog feels cornered, is afraid and trying to tell the other to go away. The tails are the dead giveaway; the first thing you should see. The snarling looking fella is hanging his low, a clear sign of submission. The calm guy there couldn’t hold his higher; he is very conf
ident, clearly in control.
Second clue- look at their posture; the one closest to the fence is arching his back, hind limbs bent ever so slightly. The other- if he were to stand any straighter, he might break in half!
Third, and final clue- this one you have to look for a second to see. What is this entire article about- the dogs ears! Even though they are hounds, and don’t have the same control over ear movement- the insecure fella is holding his as low and backward as possible, where as the other’s are pulled up and slightly forward.
Let’s try another! This is kind of fun. (: This is probably going to be easy now.
These two to the right; which is nervous, and which is in control? It might be a bit tougher because you can only see the face of one.
Think it through? Ok, the one bearing his/her teeth is submissive and uncomfortable- I like this photo because the one and only clue you have to go by is the dogs ears. Well, he/she is averting eye contact slightly too- but you can barley tell; the only reason I say this is because it would make absolutely no sense for him/her not to ( I honestly can’t really see it). Man, what if that one’s ears were cropped- that would be tough.