Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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Incorrect Earsets


If an Aussie has prick ears is it purebred?

Probably, if it otherwise looks like an Aussie. Prick ears don’t meet the breed standards but they do sometimes happen.  Prick and high-breaking ears have always been present in the breed and some present-day working lines are prone to higher set ears than what you see in the show ring.  Smedra’s Blue Mistingo, a bitch that figures in many Flintridge pedigrees and therefore behind most, if not all, show line Aussies today, had one prick ear.  (See ASCA Yearbook 1957-1977: Twenty Years of Progress, pg. II-20, upper left.)  The trait might still be in the show lines as well, though it would be rare due to strong selection for a lower-breaking ear.  However, there is also a lot of gluing and other practices intended to give ears on show dogs the “perfect” break so a dog’s appearance does not always indicate what it’s actual ear carriage (and therefore its genetics) truly is.

Are prick ears in Aussies inherited?

Yes.  It is very unlikely in this breed that anyone would do something to make a dog’s ears stand upright.

What is the inheritance for prick ears?

The exact inheritance isn’t known and it is probable that there are differing genetic mechanisms that can determine whether ears are up or down.  In most drop-eared breeds where prick ears are occasionally seen, they seem to be recessive.  However, some erect eared breeds (the German Shepherd Dog is one example) sometimes have dogs whose ears aren’t fully erect.

What does having prick ears mean for my Aussie?

Prick ears are a major, though cosmetic, fault.  A prick-eared dog will not be able to compete in the show ring but if you are breeding stockdogs or performance event dogs there is no point in sacrificing an otherwise suitable animal over a cosmetic fault.  Dogs with prick ears or who have produced prick ears should be bred only to mates with naturally (aka non-doctored) correct earsets.  It would probably also be a good idea to avoid mates with high-breaking ears even if within the breed standard.

Will a dog that has a high earset produce high earsets?

Possibly, depending on what genes are contributed by his mates.  The specific genetics of the various types of earsets seen in dogs have not been well studied.  However, you should treat higher than standdard earsets like any other fault and make an effort to breed away from it by selecting mates with proper earsets who come from families with proper earsets.

If a dog’s earset is wrong, can it be fixed?

The short answer is yes, but there are some things that need to be considered first.

Incorrect – or less preferred – earsets in Aussies are a cosmetic fault.  There is no health or soundness justification for changing them.

If the earset has been altered, particularly if it is done at a very young age or done prophylactically (“just in case”) there is no way you can determine what the natural earset would have been.  If you are considering buying or breeding to a dog whose ears have been doctored (and you may or may not be told that they were) you don’t really know what you’ve got, genetically, where ears are concerned.

Finally, artificial alterations in appearance are in violation of show rules because they are a form of cheating – changing the dog to improve its ability to win in conformation.  In practice, the authorities turn a blind eye to gluing and taping but if a surgical alteration is detected the dog would be disqualified and dismissed from the ring and there might be consequences for the owner.