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How the Dog's Ears Work

The Inner Workings of Your Dog’s Ears

Your beloved dog's ears go well beyond the outer appearance.  In fact, your dog’s ears are interesting sensory organs capable of amazing things.  Dog ears are made of three primary parts:  the external ear (also called the auricle), the middle ear, and the inner ear. 


  • The External Ear

The external ear is the part you see on the outside of the dog.  This part of the ear has a great impact on the overall appearance of the dog.  Depending on the breed of dog, the position, shape, and carriage of the external ear is different.

The position of the external ear of the dog is called the “ear set.”  This can be close, wide, high, or low.  A dog with close ears has ears that are near to each other on the skull, while the ears on a dog with wide ears are further apart.  Italian Greyhounds and Australian Cattle Dogs are examples of dogs with wide set ears.  High ears are those whose bases are positioned above the eyes, such as Shelties, Siberian Huskies, and Great Danes.  The bases of low set ears are located below the eye, such as with Canaan Dogs, Basset Hounds, and King Charles Spaniels.

There are also a variety of different shapes to the external dog ear.  These are:  bat ear, rose ear, tulip ear, heart-shaped ear, v-shaped ear, and triangular ear.  The bat ear is blunt and has rounded tips, while the rose ear is folded back from the head.  The tulip ear is upright and has edges that curve forward and the cartilage of the heart-shaped ear is wider at the base than at the tip.  V-shaped ears are long and triangular and triangular ears are shorter and upright.

The external ear carriage can be erect, or pricked, such as with a German Shepherd.  Or they can be semi-dropped, like with a Sheltie.   The carriage is determined by how the muscles attach to the base of the ear. 

  • The Middle Ear

Usually, the middle ear is filled with air.  The tympanic membrane, commonly known as the eardrum, forms one wall of the middle ear.  It vibrates in response to sound.  The eardrum is made of two parts, the pars flaccida and the pars tensa.  The pars flaccida is capable of stretching and it bulges out with air or fluid.  This bulging area is what the veterinarian sees when your dog has an ear infection.

When the veterinarian attempts to relieve pressure in your dog’s ears, he sticks a tube in the pars tensa.  This part of the ear is translucent and, therefore, it is possible to see the malleus, or hammer, through it.  The hammer is one of the three bones present in the middle ear.  The other bones are the incus, or anvil, and the stapes, or stirrup.  Each of these bones is about as big as a match head.  These bones work together to transmit sound to the inner ear from the middle ear. 

  • The Inner Ear

Unlike the middle ear, the inner ear is filled with fluid.  This is where sound is changed from airwaves into recognizable nerve impulses.  The inner ear, which is situated in the temporal bone, has nerves that aid in hearing and in maintaining balance.  These nerves interact with hairs located in the Organ of Corti.  The 8th Cranial Nerve is also located in the inner ear.  This nerve carries sound and important balance information to the brain.

With all these parts working together, it is no wonder your pet always seems to hear the can opener or knows when your car pulls into the driveway.

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