Many dog owners wonder whether dogs with erect ears hear better, considering that many guardian dog breeds have their ears cropped. The Doberman dog breed is a classic example. In this breed, a puppy's ears are cropped at an early age, generally anywhere from 7 to 10 weeks of age. According to the American Kennel Club's standard for the breed, a Doberman's ears are normally cropped and carried erect. There is belief that the cropping allows these dogs to hear better, not to mention, gives these dogs their "staple look." Whether dogs with erect ears hear better is surely an interesting topic that deserves some research.
A Lesson in Anatomy
There are a variety of dog ears shapes and types, but in general, we can categorize dogs as having erect ears (pointy ears) and floppy ears (pendulous). Of course, there are several other types of ears somewhere in between, but we'll stick to erect and floppy just to stay on topic.
Erect ears have the traditional pointed-up position seen in many "wolfish looking" dogs such as German shepherds, Belgian malinois and several Nordic breeds such as Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes and Samoyed.
Many dog owners are attracted to this look, because it gives dogs a typical alert and intelligent expression. Not all erect ears in dogs are natural though. Dobermans, great Danes and boxers are born with floppy or semi-erect ears and often undergo a surgical procedure to make their ears appear erect. Such cosmetic surgery is referred to as "ear cropping."
Floppy ears, on the other hand, are pendulous and therefore are hanging down. Interestingly, this type of ear is often associated with domestication and an increase in the appearance of floppy ears took place during the the famous "farm fox experiment."
Many dog owners are attracted to this look because it gives dogs a cute, puppy-like expression. Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and Chesapeake Bay retrievers are a few breeds with drop ears.
A dog's ear is composed of the outer part which is readily visible to everybody. It is composed by the pinna which is made of cartilage and covered by skin and fur. The pinna in dogs with erect ears is mobile and also shaped in such a way as to capture sound waves, funneling them towards the eardrum.
The inner part of the ear is composed by the ear canal which is runs for about 1 inch and then forms the horizontal ear canal, leading to the eardrum. According to Merck Veterinary Manual, because a dog's ear canal is deeper than the ear canal found in humans, it creates a better funnel to carry sounds to the eardrum. After the eardrum is the middle ear composed by 3 tiny bones, namely, the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, and the inner ear composed of the cochlea (responsible for hearing) and the vestibular system (responsible for balance).
Did you know? Dogs can hear about 4 times better than the average person. They are also capable of detecting sounds at higher frequencies.
Do Dogs With Erect Ears Hear Better?
After performing some research, it appears that dogs with erect ears are often believed to hear better, but the increase in hearing may be quite negligible. Perhaps, similar to somebody who has long hair covering the ears versus somebody who has shorter hair.
The topic of whether dogs with erect ears hear better is somewhat subject to controversy as seen in the below clashing statements. Folks looking for scientific studies may be disappointed as there isn't much research done on the topic.
"Pricked-up ears may be slightly more efficient than other ear shapes, since sound waves are able to go right in. Floppy ears present a problem. The sound waves have to pass through a big, heavy flap before reaching the eardrum. This probably doesn't make a big difference, but dogs with heavy, hanging ears may have to work a little harder in order to hear what's being said," claims veterinarian Dr. Tripp in the book "The Secret Lives of Dogs."
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association: "There is no evidence that cropping prevents or successfully treats ear infections. It has also been suggested that cropping avoids later ear injury or improves hearing, but no evidence is available to substantiate these claims either. "
While the practice of cropping ears in guardian dogs was originally performed to prevent animals or humans with malicious intent from grabbing the dog by the ears, it appears that cropping solely for the main purpose of increasing hearing would be pretty much a useless practice.
"Although it seems like big, pricked-up ears should best pick up the sound, the only scientific study that tried to answer the question could not find any difference in how well dogs with different types of ears heard."~ D. Caroline Coile, Margaret H. Bonham, Why Do Dogs Like Balls?
Do Dogs With Floppy Ears Hear Less?
Something to consider is that dogs with pendulous ears are also capable of moving the floppy ends of their ears out of the way from the outer part of their ear canals. They do so courtesy of several ear muscles. It has been estimated that dog ears have about 18 muscles that allow them to swivel in various directions.
Interestingly, there are several dogs breeds, with a history of being used as guardians, who sport floppy ears. Examples include the Rottweiler, Fila brasiliero, Dogue de Bordeaux, Bullmastiff, Boerboel, and Rhodesian ridgeback to name a few.
Despite the fact these dogs have floppy ears, many still retain a fierce look that will intimidate any wrongdoer. Owners of such dogs don't seem to notice any significant impact on these dog's hearing or watchdog capabilities.
"Many dogs, such as hounds, spaniels, and retrievers, have much longer and thicker ears than the working breeds that usually have their ears cropped. Nobody seems to argue that these breeds should have their ears cut off, even though many of the hunting and retrieving breeds are trained to work to whistle-signal commands and certainly this should classify them as “hearing breeds.”~Stanley Coren, How To Speak Dog, Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication
Did you know? While adult members of several wild canine species, such as wolves, jackals, coyotes, dingo and foxes have erect ears, during puppy hood these animals sport floppy ears.