Helping Your German Shepherd Puppy Achieve Upright Ears

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question or seen it asked on forums dating all the way back to AOL chat rooms and Yahoo Answers, I’d be on a mega-yacht off the coast of Vietnam right now. And yes, I did date myself a bit with the AOL and Yahoo Answers references, but I need those dollars the most!
So, what can you do to help your pup’s ears stand?

1: Genetics.

Genetics matter. Just as having puppies from hip-scored parents will lower the chances of your puppy getting hip dysplasia, or just as having puppies from parents who were show champions increases your chances of your puppy becoming a show champion, buying a puppy from parents with in-standard shape, placement, and size that stand strongly increases the chances that your puppy will have similar ears. No matter what you do, you can’t cheat DNA. If this is a major concern for you, and it is for some people, cover your bases by starting with a healthy puppy with health-tested parents with in-standard ears.
Unfortunately, I’m aware that by the time this question is asked, the most important factor, genetics, is no longer under the questionee’s control because they’ve already chosen a puppy. So on to tips that will help with a current puppy and not the next!

2: Don’t touch.

I know you want to play with them, don’t you? Those cute little satellite dishes! But don’t do it. The more you flex and bend them, the harder time they have firming up as the pup gets older. It’s okay to pet a puppy. You should pet your puppy but use backward strokes in the way that their ears lie backward naturally. Playing with them isn’t going to help.

3: Calcium doesn’t help.

Ears don’t have bones in them…well, the inner ear does, but nothing you can see. The same goes for dogs. Ears are made of cartilage. Supplementing calcium isn’t going to strengthen cartilage. Calcium isn’t a bad thing for a growing puppy, but if you feed a commercial diet, all of the calcium your dog needs is already in the diet.

Giving a bunch of calcium tablets won’t help, but it can give your puppy hypercalcemia, which can damage organs such as the kidneys and heart.
Find a high-quality diet, and you’ll never have to give extra calcium to your puppy or dog.

4: Chewing helps.

Dogs have 18 muscles in each ear. Each of these muscles controls the possible ways a dog can decide to move their ears. While muscles alone won’t help cartilage harden, strong jaw and ear muscles can help with ear set placement.

5: Relax.

I’ve seen people worry about the ears of 3-month-old puppies. It’s perfectly normal for a pup’s ears not to come up until after teething. Teething is usually completed at 4-5 months. So if your pup hasn’t shed all of its milk teeth and replaced them with their big boy/girl teeth yet, you’re fine. Everything is fine.
Use the time before, during, and slightly after teething to make sure your pup is eating the healthiest diet you can provide, is being vaccinated according to your veterinarian’s wishes, and make sure your puppy is parasite-free. Little critters sucking blood and nutrients away from your puppy’s body will take a toll on its ears…and more importantly, organs that actually matter and may even be stunting growth. Focus on the things that matter most and hope for the best.

6: Taping/Gluing.

Your puppy has finished teething. It’s 5-6 months old. They’re still not up. Well, now is the time to be interested in your puppy’s ears. At this point, you have four choices.

● Throw in the towel.

They’re just ears. And yes, German Shepherds have really cool ears. It’s surprising how few dog breeds have erect ears. Something about the domestication process causes floppy ears in a lot of animals, such as lop-eared rabbits, most dog breeds, some breeds of cattle, some breeds of pigs, etc. One of the first things a person would say to describe a German Shepherd to someone who had never seen one would be to mention their erect ears. But in the end, they’re just ears. Your dog will be fine, and it’s no big deal if your dog’s ears don’t stand.

Personally, I would contact the breeder and let them know that the pairing they’re using is producing weak ears. But if I adopted, I wouldn’t have anyone to call to warn. So, I would go on my merry way hoping that whoever bred my dog and let it end up in a shelter never, ever, ever breeds another litter of dogs again.

● Taping.

There is a method where you tape up your dog’s ears to support them to help them stand. This must be done in the 5-6 month window. Any sooner is too soon, and 7 months is most likely too late. Your vet likely knows how to do it, but be prepared to get judged by people who have no familiarity with ear taping.
A lot of people see tape and think you cropped your pup’s ears like it’s commonly done on some mastiff breeds and Dobermans. In that procedure, some of the ear is removed during a surgical procedure under anesthesia, and the ear is shaped and taped. You have a very high chance of someone thinking that’s what you’ve done to your German Shepherd puppy, even though no vet in their right mind would do it, even if you asked them, including veterinarians who specialize in doing crop surgeries in show dogs.

Again, remember, taping a German Shepherd’s ears involves no pain whatsoever. No cutting. No surgery. Nothing more than maybe slight confusion as to why you’re taping a structure to their head. The same confusion a puppy would have if they had any bandage or new collar on them for the first time. Even after reading this and it being explained, someone will still say it’s abuse to tape a puppy’s ears up. It happens every time. And then they’ll go put a harness or collar and leash on a puppy, both of which caused very similar confusion before their puppy got used to it.

Moral of the story: If this is what you want to do, don’t let anyone make you feel like a bad person for using the same skin-safe medical tape we’ve all had on our skin for one scrape, cut, burn, or another.

● Gluing.

Same principle as taping, only you’re using skin-safe adhesive and gluing foam cutouts to the inside of the ear. It works, but honestly, no one really uses this method anymore. It’s harder for the dog to get off, but it’s messy. It’s still an option, though.

In my opinion, if you’re winning shows by using surgical enhancements, you’re being dishonest with the judges, unfair to the other competitors, and deceitful with your puppy buyers if you ever breed the dog.

Of these four options, throwing in the towel is the option with the least amount of hassle. Taping can work and causes no pain, except to you as you re-tape again and again when your puppy removes the tape. The last two options aren’t practical in my book, but I said we’d talk about how to get a puppy’s ears to stand, not exclude things that work because I personally don’t find the ethics behind surgery appealing or find other methods outdated.

These are the dos and don’ts, the maybes, and the why-nots of German Shepherd puppy ears standing. Remember to relax. If your puppy is still teething or under 5-6 months, it’s normal for the ears to be down, or to have been up and gone back down during teething, as is having one ear up and the other down or any combination of the aforementioned.

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