Tuesday, 17 May 2011

How to achieve perfect ears

First, up, how to glue a Border Collie's ears. Why? Because the breed standard calls for them to be erect or semi-erect.

And here's how to achieve perfect 'rose' ears on a Bulldog. Why would you want them? Because the Kennel Club breed standard stipulates: "Rose ear correct, i.e. folding inwards back, upper or front inner edge curving outwards and backwards, showing part of inside of burr."  Problem is, many Bulldogs are born with button (normal) ears.

You can staple them, too (NB: you are not allowed to do this yourself in the UK - stapling is considered a veterinary procedure).

And here's how to achieve the perfect Airedale ear - because the breed standard demands: "V-shaped with a side carriage, small but not out of proportion to size of dog. Top line of folded ear slightly above level of skull. Pendulous ears or ears set too high undesirable."

Now, not even the stapling appears to hurt the puppies so I am not claiming that this is causing the dogs pain (although joining two surfaces together that nature rendered apart is going to cause irritation or infection in some cases). But what do you all reckon?

Are we nuts?

Is it cheating? Or fine to do what we want to dogs as long as it causes no real harm?

And if you don't think we should be doing it, how on earth do you stop it?


  1. Yes we are nuts. And yes, it is cheating. It worries me that some breeds are not capable of meeting the standard just by being born.

    I like that you have focus on the lua/nua dalmatians, I think more breeders should open their eyes, especially in Europe. I own a dalmatian male, and I am constantly worried about him getting urine-stones. He is perfectly healthy, and I know that almost all breeds have their problems, but the problems should be worked at, not ignored.

    Thank you for a very interesting blog.

  2. Absolutely it's cheating. But if the majority puppies in a given breed naturally have the "wrong" earset, how does a breeder select for the correct one? Not condoning the behaviour of course, particularly the stapling. The cheating is standard practice, to the detriment of the genetic stock.

    However, I have to wonder if sticky tape on the ears is really the worst thing we have to worry about in the world of dogs.

  3. Yeah of course its cheating and like dyes (or the shaving of Crested hairless) it is ALTERING a dog to fit a description in permanent or at least semi-permanent fashion...a different kettle o' fish entirely than your previous post.

  4. Absolutely cheating! And regardless of whether the dogs are in any pain, i'm vehemently against ANY alteration of this kind. Why did the KC have a standard written up that is NOT the norm for most puppies born? The gluing of ears ( which i didn't know was legal here ) is almost as bad as cropping in the US.


    1. To be fair the KK only approves the breed standard that is written by the breed clubs. I have an Irish Terrier and most of them seem to have 'non standard'ears unless they are glued.
      Her father was an international champion but she is just a pet so we didn't 'set' her ears. I agree that it is strange that a breed club set a standard that could not be met at the time it was written. If it is written as a target or ideal to work towards, it will never be met whilst altered dogs are winning top honours.

  5. Who cares whether it is "cheating" or not? It's cheating the DOG just by placing such importance on "correct" ear set.

    I was able to sit through that poor little Barbie collie puppy, scared and pancaked and treated like an ugly broken thing that needs to be "fixed" with glue and I'm done watching such things. Can't imagine the bulldog or Airedale fared better.

    Oh, Nature and its terrible, terrible mistakes. Pretty rose ears on a Barbie collie must be made to go away!

    There is NO WAY one of my working-bred pups would sit still for such treatment, much less leave the crap on his head for five minutes.

    I had one intact verbatim contribution to the final draft of the breed standard for my club of non-show dogs. (The committee rejected my suggestion that it not be called a standard or formatted as such, but I have hopes for the next revision.):

    "Variations in ear set are common and are of trivial significance."

  6. It's the natural result of people coming to see the breed standard as more of a 'grooming guide' that is not really meant to describe an actual real-life dog. Once you divorce the standard (and show ring) from reality, then it all becomes simply different ways of faking the dogs to meet an ideal that is no longer bred for/doesn't really exist or just to make them match the current fashions.

    Normalizing 'cosmetic altering' is easier than breeding a dog that is naturally correct; therefore as it's the path of least resistance, it ends up becoming the norm for a breed over time, with the dogs in the show ring becoming an illusion of the standard, rather than true representations of it.

    Unless a trait is actually bred for, it will be lost. Perhaps some breeds are too far gone now, and need some standard revisions/allowances to acknowledge that fact, instead of people pretending they are still succeeding in meeting it.

  7. Most of the ear setting videos are american, so please do note that the 'styling' of show dogs (if you can call it that) in the US is far more extreme than the UK.
    I show dogs, and personally cringe at the thought of this. Surely any fault in a dog be it physical appearance, health, temprement etc, should be removed through careful breeding.
    Covering up the problems doesnt fix anything, only adds more problems for the future.

  8. Did you see photo in the papers of the mother in the States injecting Botox into her young daughter for a Pageant? it's not just the poor dogs who suffer for a 'beauty competition, it is all abominable.

  9. This is my pet peeve regarding my breed, the collie. Virtually NO show collies in the U.S. have "naturally tipped ears." Every conformation breeder glues, tapes, or otherwise holds the ears in a tipped position until just before showtime. The ears are completely fake! If the correct ears are not important enough to breed for, why not change the standard to prick ears? Fake tipped ears are pointless, and ridiculous! They look totally fake too and honestly they just make me laugh.

    1. The breed standard says erect or semi-erect ears. It's the fashion for tipped ears that is causing people to glue and judges to judge erect ears not good enough. Drop ears are apparently not in the breed standard (despite BCs often being born with drop ears).

  10. Im sorry, I do love dog shows and showing, but human behaviour is ruining it. We need to get away from this obsession with purity and looks. My beautiful heinz 57 is healthy and has a beautiful look. My friends border collie is stunning, but too tall and too short coated (and the wrong markings) to be taken seriously in the show ring. Scrap the picky standards. Show on health and type. So what if its got a bit of pointer or a bit of terrier in it, still looks like a healthy collie. Yes yes...but it won't have the herding instinct...Correction, those dogs used for herding will retain the herding instinct. How many show dogs are actually used for the purpose they were bred for? If you do, why not allow breedings between dogs that do the same job. Healthier dog, still the same instinct.

    Of course people will hate I said that...oh no, not my breed. But "breed" is a human concept. Jack russells come in all shapes and sizes, but you still recognise it as a jack russell.

    Im sorry, but dog breeding and showing has become an obsessive hobby where winning and the pride of producing the best has come priority. Get rid of the rules, the standards. In its place put more relaxed shows where the aim is to pick the most healthy, truly well bred dog is prized. So what if they're more difficult to compare. So what if its more opinion than picking one that fits the type. Its a human sport, it would never happen in nature.

    We need to get over our human perception of dog breeds, this has long gone too far. I am fed up with seeing debilitated purebred walking into veterinary surgeons offices and C-sections being done on show winning champions which are bred again and again. Im fed up of seeing dogs being treated as objects, as ways to reach the top of something.

    I think Im going to start a new type of dog show. One where the dogs truly matter.

  11. Since when are freakin BORDER COLLIES altered? Must be a show ring thing. I've grown up around the breed (working aka TRUE lines) and have never even heard of "setting" or "gluing" the ears. Most had either erect or semi-erect naturally. If they were floppy as a puppy the ears almost always came up by adult hood (similar to German Shephereds). This is ridiculous.

  12. I guess my thoughts are there are far worse things out there than a few days of ear glue. I know this blog is UK focused but here in the USA one just needs to see what Danes and Dobes endure with ear cropping or taping if left "natural". We're not talking a few days of glueing, but rather months of inserts, papercups, and other stupid ear sticking for a particular look.

    There are also worse acts of "cheating" ment to deceive judges and potential puppy buyers. I can't count how many dogs I've seen drugged so they are not too anxious in the breed ring, how many I've seen dyed to cover up a white spot not allowed in the standard, dogs with their noses colored and some cases even tattooed, or even cases of outright hung papers.

  13. Now here's an admission from the Irish Terrier Club of America:


    "It is safe to say that virtually all Irish Terrier puppies, whether we are talking about show or companion prospects, will need to have their ears set to obtain the proper ear carriage."

  14. I think that's amazing about border collies, because a large percentage of the one I've seen have rather floppy ears.

    I am not going to get too worried about this; it is harmless. It's much less invasive or painful than cropping or docking.

  15. America now has silicone inserts for cropped ears (from the people that brought you Nueticles)! If there is a 'correct' ear set then it should be bred for otherwise the buyer of that dogs offspring are cheated.If a dog has been 'helped' to acheive correct ear set this should be openly admitted; just as in some breeds we once had docked and natural bobs.

  16. Agree with retrieverman. These things are a bit odd to me but even the dogs in the footage seem quite chilled. Certainly not in pain or distress. Cropping is a horrible practice. I didn't mind docking when it was legal.

  17. The most chilling feature of all these videos is the complete lack of any normal interaction between the people and the dogs.
    From their manner and attitude, these expert ‘fixers’ might as well be showing us how to ice a cake or decorate a hat and one is left with the disturbing impression that the unfortunate dog is regarded as nothing more than a lump of raw material to be crafted into something more desirable.
    But this thought also suggests a solution to all the ethical concerns arising from the dog-show world........
    If exhibitors are so eager to demonstrate their creative skills by moulding living creatures into bizarre shapes, why not take the game a step further and let them start from scratch by creating the entire dog from inanimate components? Then dog shows could carry on just as they are now........BUT WITHOUT THE DOGS! And in no time at all the rings would be full of Robodogs, whirring around on their mechanical legs and displaying the wrinkliest wrinkles, the longest ears, the flattest faces, the shortest legs and the droopiest eyes ever seen – free from the design restrictions caused by the inconvenient necessity of breathing, eating, etc.
    And the real dogs could be left to those of us who love them for themselves and the pleasure of their company. Problem solved!

  18. Agree, Vicky. Have often thought exactly that. If a robodog, or perhaps a miniature rocking horse, could be the starting point onto which varying lengths and shades of coat, as current fashion demands, could be crafted; or a back and two hind legs conveniently broken and set into novel angulation to be presented as a show GSD; no unhygienic whiskers ever attached to the robopoodles; and three quarters of the legs amputated for belly line to drag on the ground in the most charming way for a certain used-to-be tracking and hunting dog...
    I mean, nobody would have to bother about doing it by the time-wasting way of genetics and surgery, would they?

    The show competition people would be just as happy. ( A few of them might not notice the difference.) The rest of us,and the dogs - definitely the dogs! - would be better off too.

    Lynne, is there any way we can get there? :-)

  19. Yegad. You should have to call show bred dogs something else. My border collies were bred for intelligence and working ability by people who don't give two shiny shits what their ears look like as long as they use them to listen.

    You should have to append something to the end of these ridiculous conformation bred lines so that no one inadvertently buys some altered silly abomination. Why not call them Border Follies?

  20. Disagree strongly, Katy, if only because the folly is not on the side of the dogs... It´s not them that are ridiculous.

    There is a sentient creature inside each of these heads with tacked ears, wrinkle-eaten corneas, etc, just as trapped inside the show GSD, or the modern bulldog there is a dog - a DOG, for chrissake!- wanting to run and work and get on with life.

  21. The funny thing is that the ears of a border collie that are naturally tipped look *nothing* like the ears that have been set that way.

    I really don't understand why a standard is written so that dogs who are left as their natural selves can't meet it. If a standard calls for tipped ears and you can't get there genetically (through breeding), then what's the point in the standard?

    Granted, the pup doesn't look like she's suffereing, but it's pretty clear that she has been bred for extreme mellowness (dullness?).

    Sad what humans do to animals in the name of ego.

  22. I had to stop the video when she fixed the ear to the side of the head.... absolutely disgusted about it. As far as I am concerned, for showing a dog you should not go beyond washing, combing, cleaning teeth, ears and trimming nails.

    In my opinion acts such as this are plain and simple cruelty by the owner, who should be prosecuted by the authorities..... not in my name!!

  23. I have to admit the first video made me cry. Utterly vile, unnatural, and just plain disgusting in my opinion. People should not be allowed to do this - anywhere! All to adhere to some standards that could be easily changed, and to win prizes and personal acclaim.

  24. I find it difficult to believe that gluing an Airedale's ear to its head will hold them there for long. Perhaps it will last as long as the next show,but I don't think it's going to last lifelong.
    Not only are the judges being hoodwinked, but the owner is deluding him- or herself.

  25. Oh My God. I found it so hard to believe what i was seeing. the world has gone crazy. who in their right mind would want to do that to a beautiful little puppie.

  26. I have Chinese Crested's and gluing there ears up as a pup not only changes there looks but also helps when they are adult. With large flopped down ears they are prone to ear infection, but when they are erect they have greater ventalation so have less chance of infection.
    Gluing up the ears does not hurt the pup but can be a mild irratation, but they only have to be in a week or so and it has the potential to last a lifetime.
    Im pretty sure there is worse things out there happening to dogs, I mean I show my dogs but they get all the love and affection they need/ could ever want. Atleast my dogs are not in a filthy enviroment, where they are malnourished like so many cases you hear about.

  27. Any sane person has to agree that stapling or anything else purely for the sake of it is not right.

    BUT, this blog shows these things, but fails to give any real indication of how predominant the incidence of such proctice is.

    I have been showing dogs since 1991. I have yet to come across ANY icnidence of this nature. I have been judging dogs sionce 1994. In that capacity I have yet to come across ANY incidence of obvious alteration of an animal to meet the breed standard.

    Incidentally, breed standards are an ideal, brought about by consultation with many 'experts', and have evolved over many years. As an example, Tibetan Terriers in the UK call for a maximum height of 16 inches (bitches slightly smaller). As a result of a typo, the American standard states 17 inches. As a result of intermixing the breed from the two countries, UK based dogs ended up outside standard a few years ago.

    If, as is suggested here, the answer for breeders were to alter the dogs to match the standard, we would be chopping off their legs so they fell below the requirement. In reality what has actually happened is that a proposal has been put forward to alter the standard to match the current trend.

    Personally I think Jemima Harrison needs to get real and realise that unwanted things happen in all walks of like, and some may be just as unpalatable to the people she sees fit to attack. Give the breeders the right to respond, to put forward their views, and you may then be respected for your views. Instead at the moment all we see is a witchhunt!

  28. Two things in DAZ's post above caught my eye:

    1: "In reality what has actually happened is that a proposal has been put forward to alter the standard to match the current trend."

    Whilst it is true that breed standards are not set in stone, they should only ever be altered when there is clear evidence that such a change will improve the breed. And by that I mean TRULY improve it, not simply to make the dogs look more attractive for the show ring. They should, in my opinion NEVER be altered to conform to fashionable trends.

    2: "Give the breeders the right to respond, to put forward their views, and you may then be respected for your views. Instead at the moment all we see is a witchhunt!"

    Breeders DO have the right to respond and this blog is full of posts by breeders, some who agree with what Jemima is saying and others who clearly don't. Really she should be congratulated for this as it would have been easy for her (and far easier on her) to not allow such posts through. That she does allow them indicates that she welcomes a debate on the subject. So feel free to add your own thoughts Daz, as long as they are not offensive then there's no reason for them to be edited/ deleted. But be ready to have your point of view challenged. That's what makes for a good debate. Don't see it as a witch hunt, instead see it as an opportunity to help make things better for the dogs instead of better for the people who show them.

  29. Daz said:
    "I have been showing dogs since 1991. I have yet to come across ANY icnidence of this nature. I have been judging dogs sionce 1994. In that capacity I have yet to come across ANY incidence of obvious alteration of an animal to meet the breed standard."

    Well I have. I've seen it at shows (dogs with taped ears for all to see, of other breeds than Jemima has listed as well); I've seen it written about in breed books; I've seen it illustrated on breeders' websites; I had a friend who bought a show-bred Kerry Blue Terrier as a pet whose breeder instructed them to glue the ears - and they did it; I've had cases of dyeing and plucking out white hairs in a dark coat confided in me etc etc etc. It does happen. It worries me that you, as a judge, are so willing to suspend your disbelief (or are so easily hoodwinked).

  30. In response to Roger.

    Where do you get that altering a size issue in a breed standard (or indeed any other area of a standard) to match what current animals are currently NATURALLY conforming to is simply making dogs more attractive for the show ring?

    The charge that has been levied in THIS blog (this article that these comments are attached to) is that breeders are taking steps to make breeds conform to the standard unnaturally. If you care to read my comment again (and remove the rose tinted blinkers for a minute) my comment actually suggests that consideration should be given to whether breed standards SHOULD be altered, and altered to match what is occurring naturally, rather than breeders continuing to try to unnaturally alter what they have (if the evidence put forward is true, cruelly) to match the standards.

    In all breeds that I have experienced evolution has occurred. That evolution results in what we see now not being what we saw 10 or 20 years ago. But that is not to say that all change is good, or bad. It is change. Such changes can occur naturally, and are not always what we desire. I have often said that just because any person has a particular 'type' in their kennel, it does not follow that the same person will award a similar 'type' when judging, the contents of a kennel may not be what the judge truly desires to breed. What we need to remember we are talking animals, not white goods, and genetics plays a part over which we often have no control.

  31. In response to Éadaoin.

    Maybe I have been lucky, or maybe I don't frequent the right (or should that be wrong) circles.

    I have yet to see the issues you describe. I would be interested to receive information of the breed books of which you talk, and links to the websites. I would be interested to know what breeds and at what shows you saw taped ears, and also what you did when you saw this. I certainly would have to open my mouth if I saw anything that I felt was cruel.

    Dyeing and plucking I guess probably does go on, but how detectable is this in the short time a judge has to 'go over' a dog? Certainly an odd plucked hair would be nigh on impossible to see (incidentally I currently have a black lab that has a couple of white hairs visible on his head, guess what I have done about that).

    I have not suspended any disbeliefs, and I am not easily hoodwinked. There is one word for what is described, that is cheating. And if you have to cheat to win, who are you really cheating.

    Oh, and for the record, Denzel still has his white hairs on his head, and probably always will have, and he has one top honours while they were there.

    I trust this allays your fears.

  32. I'm afraid I cannot remember the name of the specific breed books. They were various ones, mainly terrier books, that I read in libraries and browsed in book shops over the years.

    As for what breeds I'm referring to: pugs, a min pin, shelties, cresteds, Boxers. This was in Ireland. I did nothing because it was none of my damn business, I wasn't competing against any of these dogs, and the Irish Kennel Club wouldn't have cared anyway. I don't believe it's cruel, particularly. Lowest-level cheating, sure.

    Some examples of websites:

    I think you get the idea. Google will provide many many more. Search for "taping ears [breed name]".

    I also have seen a dog have its mask and nose coloured in black with an oil pastel in direct view of the judge; knew someone who sent their BOB min pin into the group ring with mascara hiding white hairs in the coat (the mascara easily came off on my hands and clothes); and finally I know of some people who have put silicone implants in their dogs' ears to make them stand erect. I will not name names. I definitely find this unethical but this was not illegal in the countries where it was done. There is at least one famous imported dog I've seen with my own eyes who is now at stud in the UK, complete with surgically re-set tail and silicone in his ears. Yes, he produces the unaltered tailset, but I suppose as he was not originally intended for export the breeders' plan was to treat his offspring the same way.

    I will give you that dyeing or plucking white hairs is not something a judge can see all that readily in the ring. I just find it implausible that you have never heard of such a thing, seeing as how I heard of it almost immediately. Not just from one source either.

    One cannot forget the power a "face" in a breed has to make a newbie turn a blind eye. I regret that I did not find it in me to report certain people's behaviour. Taping ears does not, however, fall under that heading. Focusing attention on minor issues like this detracts attention from the actual abuses in pedigree dogs.

    As this is an old thread, I'll leave it there.

  33. Daz I think you misunderstood my point, though reading it back I can see why. So to clarify - I understand that breed standards are not set in stone. I approve of changes to standards if they are in the best interest of the dogs. I do not approve of changes which affect the conformation of dogs purely for aesthetic reasons. Of course breed standards should also take account of evolutionary change. With regard to Tibetan Terriers I don't know much about them but if what you are saying is true (no reason to suspect otherwise) then I do have some sympathy with the breeders. I would ask if:
    a) Has the prevalence of increased height gone too far to be reversed by careful selective breeding within the breed?
    b) Has the increase in height had any negative impact on the health of the dogs?
    From what you are saying I would expect the answer to a) is yes and the answer to b) is no. If that is the case then I would be ok with a change to the standard as it would be in the best interest of the breed. I confess I haven’t researched this breed so I’m taking what you’ve told me as the truth. I would view this in a different light to a breed standard that was for example changed simply because a particular breed looks cuter with a flatter face or looks more striking with a sloping back instead of a flat one. Sorry for the confusion my original post caused.

    And by the way, thank you for adding a name to your posts. So many who disagree with the authors views leave comments under Anonymous that sometimes it’s hard to know who is talking to who.

  34. It is as if a supposed 'aesthetic' should trump everything. Even if you buy in to an ideal look for a breed this is ...well frankly it is bloody awful. Aesthetic Imperfection is not something to just fix, these dogs aren't broken, they just have ears that don't fit the ideal.The fact they are almost treated like works of art to be perfected is unnerving, they are not inanimate objects.

  35. Ridiculous. My breeder did briefly mention ear gluing when I took my puppy home...as soon as "tent glue" was mentioned I decided against it. Now my Airedale has wonderful natural ears that change position depending on her mood. Sometimes they stick up, sometimes they flop down like "hound ears" (so dreaded by the all-important Breed Standard), sometimes they stick right out to the side and look downright hilarious.

    Anyway, rather than worrying about ear set, I spent her puppy months teaching her to swim,retrieve, and hunt. You know, they things Airedales were BRED to do...once upon a time.

  36. I thought these breeds grew into their ears. Some breeds go from floppy to erect naturally, like Shepherds.

    1. Lot's of show GSDs do NOT set their ears naturally. From generations of having their ears glued, breeders are not selecting for natural ear set, or correct ear leather, because they know all they have to do is glue the pups ears and the ears will set.
      I have seen DDR GSD (look them up) pups with theirs ears fully erect at 8 weeks old. I rarely see a show line GSD at 8 weeks with their ears up, and most, again, end up having to have some kind of help getting up. Or the owner is impatient and tapes up the dogs ears without giving them a chance to go up themselves.. But again, this is not selecting for good ear leather, ear set, or ear muscle to produce the right ear for the breed, causing more and more pups to actually NEED their ear set.

  37. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  38. I have bred/owned Australian Shepherds since I was a kid... and our breed glues ears also... but for my breed it's much simpler, a couple dots of human false eyelash glue, then stuck to the face. The glue is safe for sensitive human eyes, does not cause irritation, and the pup does not get infections if the ear is swabbed out with a bit of rubbing alcohol first. The glue comes loose naturally, and easily combs out. No pain whatsoever.

    I think you should select for better natural ear carriage, because it requires less intervention on the part of the breeder. If the pup has generally good ears to start with, it requires less glue, shorter tie up times, and less stress/discomfort on the pup.

    I think as long as you are breeding for standard, and only using ear gluing as a minor cosmetic aid... Not your sole way to get proper ear set... Then it's not cheating.

    1. What exactly is "better ear carriage" ? A look that suits humans and makes the dog look "cuter" as if it's just an accessory like a bag or jewelry? Rather than bothering with all that rubbish why not do REAL improvements to the breed and breed away from hyperactivity, sound phobias and OCD behaviour?

  39. How sad that an animal has to have things cropped, glued or whatever to meet what humans THINK they should look like, how would the owners like it if someone took them to the hospital to have a nose job, chin implants etc cos they don't like how that person looks😡

  40. I have a Kerry Blue and when he was a puppy we did get his ears pasted to achieve the correct ear-set. Once by the breeder and then we did it ourselves at home. We still have a dog who has the wrong ear-carriage for the breed though! However he is a very friendly, well-socialised and well-trained dog and sadly some Kerries that I know of are being re-homed or put-to-sleep for people-aggression.

  41. We had our Kerry's ears pasted as a puppy, once by the breeder then we did it at home. It was very stressful and wish we hadn't have bothered as he still has ears that are "wrong" for the breed! It is just the mind-set that the breeders have that the dogs have to look like such and such and you og along with it as you think they should look like that. However, some Kerries I know of have been put to sleep because of people agression or re-homed because of this-temperament seems to be a mojor problem in the breed sadly. My Kerry has just passed as a Pets as Therapy dog and also wins at obedience and agility as he does have a good working ability so I'll take that over the perfect ears!