The German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds in existence today and for good reason. Their intelligence, trainability, and their athleticism are top-notch.
The breed is also visually stunning, with a proud and noble carriage of their head and body. One of their most endearing and noticeable characteristics is their large ears. The ears of a German Shepherd are oftentimes the first thing someone will comment on.
But why do German Shepherds have such big ears?
German Shepherds have big ears due to their breed history and use as working dogs. The size, shape, and maneuverability of their ears make it easier for them to monitor their surroundings and do their job efficiently. While the ears may appear large, in most cases they’re proportional to the German Shepherd’s head and body.
Below we’ll take a deep dive into how the history of the German Shepherd contributed to their ear size, and why having such big ears is beneficial to the breed and the jobs they often perform. We’ll also discuss the breed standard for the ears, as well as if it’s a negative trait if your German Shepherd’s ears are larger or smaller than the typical size.
Why Do German Shepherds Have Big Ears?
One of the German Shepherd’s most notable characteristics is their large bat-like ears. While some other breeds of dogs have similar upright, pointy ears, it seems like the German Shepherd’s ears are far larger than those of any other breed.
While their ears may appear very large, it can often be a trick of the eye as in many cases a German Shepherd’s ears are proportional to the size of their head and skull. As most German Shepherds have very large heads, their ears also tend to appear quite large.
While their ears may be larger than some other breeds, they are not all that unusual for the German Shepherd when it comes to body proportions. The German Shepherd’s ears, though, serve an important function and are the result of a careful and lengthy breeding program.
Originally bred to herd and protect sheep, the German Shepherd required larger ears that were easy to maneuver. This may have helped them process and sort external stimuli without taking their visual focus off of the sheep they were working with.
The working German Shepherd could easily orient their ears towards the cues of their handler or be more aware of any potential threat in the distance. Their large, upright ears may have also acted as a visual deterrent to potential intruders and made them look more wolf-like in appearance. A Shepherd’s ears also generally came with more sensitive hearing which allowed them to do their jobs even easier.
While initially used as herding dogs, the German Shepherd’s prowess as a working dog became evident and they were promoted for use in the military during World Wars I and II. At the conclusion of World War II, the German Shepherd’s popularity was at its highest, and separate lines of German Shepherds (primarily those in America) were created, all of which focused on specific characteristics and personality traits.
The German Shepherd’s ears, though, were a consistent trait amongst all of the different lines. While some lines of German Shepherds were bred to be smaller and thus had smaller ears, in general, all of the German Shepherds still maintained the desired ear-to-skull proportions which is one of their most noticeable breed traits today.
How Their Large Ears Benefit Them
A dog’s sense of hearing is much more powerful than that of a person’s, so those ears that contributed to the success of the German Shepherd as a herding dog also worked well when the dogs were transitioned to military and police work, and general guard dog duty.
The size and maneuverability of their ears not only allowed them to monitor their surroundings at all times, but allowed them to hear abnormal noises in often busy environments such as cities, war zones, and intense situations where their ability to hear was even more important.
As the German Shepherd’s guard dog reputation grew, even the sight of their profile in shadow can sometimes be enough to cause an intruder to think twice!
Are My German Shepherd’s Ears TOO Big?
Puppies and growing German Shepherds will usually have larger ears than their relative body size. It often seems like their ears are the first to reach adulthood!
This can make them look very disproportionate and make it seem like their ears are too large for their bodies. Because ear size has so much to do with genetics, each individual German Shepherd may have differences in their ear sizes.
Some German Shepherds can have tiny ears compared to their body whereas other German Shepherds can have larger ears. German Shepherds who have a mixed heritage (such as a German Shepherd mixed with a Belgian Malinois) may also have a difference in ear size compared to the rest of the breed.
German Shepherd puppies are not actually born with their big ears standing erect. As newborns and very young puppies, their ears are generally folded closely towards their heads and begin to grow upwards and erect as the puppy ages. In some cases, the cartilage within the ear does not grow properly or is damaged and the ear may flop over.
While German Shepherd breed clubs have standards for the size of Shepherd’s ears (they must be proportional to the head), it’s likely not a bad thing if your pup has ears that are a little bigger (or smaller) than they should be. Even floppy ears are OK!
Unless you plan on showing them or there is a genetic defect in a breeding line related to the ears, then they should be of no concern.
There are a few additional risks for German Shepherds and their large ears, though. This includes accidental injuries because their larger ears are a little easier for dogs to grab at, and they may be more prone to getting unwanted things in their ears such as dirt and debris, which can cause ear infections.
The bat-like ears of the German Shepherd are due to their history as a working dog and are a primary breed characteristic. While their ears may appear to be too large, in most cases a German Shepherd’s ears are actually very proportional to the size of their head and bodies.
The shape, size, and flexibility of their ears allow them to easily monitor their surroundings and do whatever job they have been assigned as efficiently as possible.
In some cases, a German Shepherd’s ears may be out of proportion due to growth spurts or genetics, but this usually isn’t a cause for concern.