Floppy ears!

Is there a difference? Mother Nature News thinks there is.

We don’t subscribe to the following idea that floppy-eared dogs are sweeter, more friendlier.

But there’s a serious notion that there is a difference.

I’m sceptical but see what you make of the following.


Why do floppy-eared dogs seem friendlier?

Many people think they seem nicer than those with pointy ears.


January 4, 2019

Charles Darwin thought there was a link between floppy ears and domestication. (Photo: Renee Heetfeld/Shutterstock)

You see a German shepherd and a golden retriever at a park. Which one do you want to pet?

A lot of people might perceive the German shepherd — with its pointy, upright ears — as a little more off-putting and maybe even scary. But the floppy-eared retriever seems friendly and sweet and just asking for a cuddle.

We all make judgments about dogs (and people, for that matter) based on certain characteristics. In dogs, one of those things is the shape of their ears.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been using more floppy-eared dogs to sniff out explosives because the agency says pointy-ear dogs are scarier.

“We’ve made a conscious effort in TSA … to use floppy ear dogs,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the Washington Examiner. “We find the passenger acceptance of floppy ear dogs is just better. It presents just a little bit less of a concern. Doesn’t scare children.”

Around 80 percent of the 1,200 canines the agency uses in the U.S. have droopy ears, according to the TSA. The agency uses seven types of dogs: five with droopy ears (Labrador retrievers, German short-haired pointers, wire-haired pointers, vizslas and golden retrievers) and two with pointy ears (German shepherds and Belgian Malinois).

But even though the dogs are friendly looking, they still have a job to do. Floppy-eared or not, they aren’t to be approached when they’re on duty, says the TSA.

A look at the science.

Charles Darwin thought a lot about ears when considering evolution, as the NPR video above explains in more detail.

“Our domesticated quadrupeds are all descended, as far as is known, from species having erect ears,” Darwin pointed out in “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.” “Cats in China, horses in parts of Russia, sheep in Italy and elsewhere, the guinea-pig in Germany, goats and cattle in India, rabbits, pigs and dogs in all long-civilized countries.”

In many species, ears seemed to flop when they no longer needed to be erect to catch every passing sound, Darwin mused. He called the phenomenon domestication syndrome.

More recently, in a 2013 study, Suzanne Baker of James Madison University in Virginia and Jamie Fratkin of University of Texas at Austin showed 124 participants images of a dog. In one, it was the identical dog, but it had a yellow coat in one photo and a black coat in another. The other photos showed the same dog but in one image it had floppy ears and in the other it had pointed ears.

Participants found the dogs with a yellow coat or floppy ears to be more agreeable and emotionally stable than the dogs with a black coat or prick ears.

But why the bias?

Pointy-eared German shepherds are often associated with working K-9s. (Photo: John Roman Images/Shutterstock)

Although there are plenty of people who love pointy-ear pups, why are so many wary of them? There are no studies that show prick-eared dogs are less friendly than their floppy-eared counterparts, says Elinor K. Karlsson, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and founder of Darwin’s Ark, a citizen’s science project centering around genetics and pets.

Instead, it’s likely that people base their opinions on past experiences they’ve had with dogs.

“If people do perceive floppy eared dogs as being ‘friendlier looking,’ it could be just because dogs they’ve known personally are more likely to be floppy eared,” Karlsson tells MNN, pointing out that Labrador retrievers, the most common breed in the U.S., have floppy ears.

In addition, many of the working police and military dogs people meet are breeds such as German shepherds and Belgian Malinois, which tend to have erect ears. So people may associate the ears with the working dogs which are in protector, not friendly, roles.

Karlsson says this kind of “perception bias” can affect how people see and interact with dogs, which is why she’s very interested it this theme in her research.

“People do have a habit of assigning characteristics to things based on general groupings,” she says. “People do this to humans as well. It’s the way ours brains work.”


 I’m still not convinced but it makes a lovely story and one that I wanted to share with you.

28 thoughts on “Floppy ears!

  1. Thanks for sharing, Paul. Fascinating read. For people of a certain age, like myself, German Shepherds were first known as German Police Dogs used by the Nazis in war movies, so there is a emotional trigger there for the breed.


    1. Ouch! That’s a powerful trigger, Tony. In my own case, my father had a German Shepherd on loan, as it was, for a few weeks when I was 11. I adored Boy, as he was known. So that didn’t create any negative triggers for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Floppy ears are visually more relaxed which might invite stroking perhaps. Our beloved Ray, being a Shepherd/Rotti X, is fortunate to have soft Rotti ears … and that with his eyes invite far too much attention! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Give Ray a hug from us! I need to think carefully about this. For I’m not aware of sensing a difference between wanting to cuddle, for example, Cleo, our GSD, over Brandy, our Gt. Pyrenean, but there could be. It strikes me that it is more to do with the dog’s personality.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that visually, and especially to a child, the cuddly teddy look will be a strong driving force. To me? I think the eyes are more powerful than the body contours. Friendly, thought provoking eyes will get me every time!


    1. Yes, the eyes have it! We have a Labrador cross (with a sheepdog) known as Oliver and he has a pair of eyes that are truly captivating. He will look you in the face, unblinking, and I find it hard to turn away. But he also has floppy ears!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Quite fascinating. And here I thought the function of ears was what contributed to upright or floppy (i.e. Bloodhounds have floppy ears to concentrate scents closer to their nose). Pointing ears tend to be associated with dogs who are tend to be more alert (guard dogs).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved reading more about this and the video, Paul. I heard something on a news show not long ago about this perception. I’ve found it to be the same for humans. Some appear more approachable than others. I’ve talked many women out of coloring their hair because often times they choose colors that make them seem sterner than they naturally are. Once I convinced my mother to let her hair go it’s natural gray, she started making friends more easily. Some people look like you can give them a hug, others you would absolutely ask for permission. It’s our visual cues. Straight up ears say “I’m all business and on the job” floppy says “relaxed and ready for hugs”. I think it’s built into us more than the dogs. I read a dogs body language and decide then whether to get closer. No matter what ears they have. They do speak to us. We just don’t always listen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a wonderful reply. You are so right in that dogs speak to us. Well our dogs at home do, and I imagine it’s the same with all dogs. It may extend beyond dogs. Every morning just after it is light I feed the wild deer. Have been doing it for six years. I ponder on whether they speak to me, non-verbally of course, but somehow I sense they do. Anywhere from just a few to up to a dozen.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I’m envious of your visits with the deer. My friend has a few on the other side of her fence and they know she cares so they linger there.
        Both my dogs understood every word I said and worked hard to communicate. The first tried to imitate speech. Funny to watch but heartwarming.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I love this response. I will often pet a stray dog, but not all of them. Dogs do communicate and I have learned to read their oh so subtle body language. My communication back is both verbal and non verbal. If a dog tenses upon my approach, ears up (even floppy one will move forward) , nose sniffing the air, tail straight with maybe a slow wag, I am careful and wary. The communication is, you are a stranger in my territory – what are your intentions? I keep my arms to the sides, I make soothing noises and my mind shows them pictures that I mean no harm and won’t come any nearer. If the dog wants to explore further, it will normally come over and sniff my leg. I do not put a hand out unless the dog relaxes dropping ears and tail (generally a faster wag) which tells me that I am OK. Dogs are like people… Not all are friendly to strangers. If a dog shows whites of eyes and low growls, I generally give it a wide space and do not enter its comfort zone. Learning to communicate with animals is so important. I found myself twice in situations with packs of feral dogs. Like meeting a gang of street kids with flick knives and weapons, it is wise to use a soft face and friendly voice to avoid conflict and try to stay out of their personal space, all the time sending the non verbal message that you are not a threat. Believe me, this has worked for me with both kids and a very large pack of aggressive dogs.

      As for floppy ears… Like people’s looks, I don’t think it has a lot of bearing on their behaviour. Always look for the more subtle clues. As Colin says, the eyes tell so much more.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve never found myself in a pack of feral dogs but tried to rescue a couple of stays running together. They didn’t want to be rescued so I left them alone. You are correct about subtle cues.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Most people might show fear of a pack of growling or barking ferals come after them (it is not always easy to keep out of their space on a street). The key is to stay as calm as possible. Don’t run, but walk away with a determined pace and the intention in your mind that you are leaving and wish no harm to them – send that to the pack leader. Look back at them frequently as you walk (to make sure that they are staying behind the pack leader and not spreading out). Do not maintain eye contact with the pack leader, only briefly look and drop your eyes. Then reinforce the nonverbal message that it is OK, you are leaving. If necessary, raise one hand up in the stop position for a few seconds to the leader to slow his progress. He will see the gesture as that you will not tolerate invading your space as you leave.
        The pack leader needs to maintain the order of the rest. He also needs to show his dominance over every possible situation. That is what he is doing when the pack see you as a threat. He will take charge. If you back down slowly , he has won the face-off and will drop the chase once you are clear of territory.

        For anyone who shows fear or tries to run in this situation. The leader see you as weak… The signal is given for all dogs to attack. They become aggressive in the face of your fear and it is much more difficult to control the situation.

        Liked by 2 people

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