Ear Tipping, Training, and Taping
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
As long as there are Collies, there will always be ear problems. The majority of Collie ears, if left on their own, will go prick (straight up in the air). The Collie ear is unique among dogs....being 3/4’s erect, with the upper 1/4 part tipping over. Historically, there was a reason for this particular type of ear. The tulip-tipped ear with a cupped base provides an amazing sensitivity to sound. This was especially important in the Collie's sheep herding days, when it was extremely important to listen for predators or lost stock. It is also said that the tipped ear helped filter out the wind and rain so prevalent in the Scottish Highlands, to hear the shepherd from a distance. After all, at their core, the Collie is a valuable herding dog that worked closely with their shepherd and stock.
The genetics that influence ear placement, size, shape, cartilage strength and even more small details; are, understandably, less important in breeding decisions than things like health and temperament. Therefore, over the years less and less Collies have all of the genes needed for that perfectly tipped set of ears. Although some Collies do still have beautifully tipped ears naturally, wither that is passed on to their offspring is still a genetic lottery.
Unfortunately ear problems even 100 years later, continue to be a source of frustration for most Collie breeders and owners. Most breeders have a preferred method of training the ears, depending on their experience and the genetics of dogs they are working with. It is the owner's preference if they wish to worry and work with ears, as it is a months long process. A Collie is a Collie, regardless of the ears, but tipped ears do make for that beautiful Collie expression we all know a love! If you plan on showing your Collie, you will need to train the ears, but otherwise it is up to the owner to decide if they wish too.
The AKC Collie standard says: "When in repose the ears are folded lengthwise and thrown back into the frill. On the alert they are drawn well up on the backskull and are carried about three-quarters erect, with about one-fourth of the ear tipping or breaking forward."
To ensure a Collie puppies ears tip and sit nicely on the top of head, bracing and tipping the ears in necessary. It is not an especially hard process, with a bit of practice and setting ears is quick and easy. Training ears has the added benefit of getting a puppy used to having their ears and head handled regularly, which translates to easier grooming, medical care and overall handling in the future.
There are many successful methods to training Collie ears to tip, and they all achieve the same goal; holding the ear cartilage in place as it grows and hardens. The process is started as a young puppy, usually around 8 weeks old, when the ear cartilage is soft and undeveloped. As puppies age, more and more calcium is deposited into cartilage all over the body, including the ears. Over time, this strengthens the cartilage and sets the ears shape permanently. This is why older Collies cannot have their ears trained, it would be uncomfortable at that point, but is not in younger dogs. And it is also why puppies that do not have their ears set will have an entertaining array of ear placement as they grow. It seems everyday their ears will be doing something different, pointing this way and that, or one up, one down, always changing. Periods of intense teething, stress, or even cold weather can send ears flying, only to change again in a few days.
Ear training is not painful or harmful to puppies in any way! The first time puppies ears are set, they may itch a bit at them like they would wearing a new collar, because it's a new sensation. But they rapidly forget all about the new feeling and are off playing and being a adorable Collie puppy! If your puppy seems bothered by their ear training, odds are a hair has been trapped in the tape and is tugging a bit. Simply find and free the hair, and trim the ear hair up a bit before resetting them next time.
Each time the ear set falls out, usually on only on ear, use rubbing alcohol or adhesive remover to remove all tape and glue from the ears. Use a gentle ear wash to clean the ear canal and leather of the ear. Wait a day or two before setting the ears again, this allows you to see how the ears are sitting and allows the ears some time to be free. Each ear set can last from days to weeks, a good set can last over 2 weeks. To ensure a Collies ears done developing and will not prick, ears need to be trained until around 9 months old. Some Collies have stronger ear cartilage and thinner, lighter ear leather, they will need longer ear training. This is why many owners of Collies that are not showing decide to not bother with ear training.
It is a personal decision for each Collie owner wither or not they want to train ears, either is perfectly fine!
Below is how we at High Altitude Collies train ears:
First you will want to gather your materials, keeping them all in a plastic tote makes it easy to have everything on hand and bring it to wherever you wish to place your puppy when doing ears. An elevated surface like a grooming table or kitchen table makes it much easier!
-Cotton balls or pads (such as make up remover pads)
-Leukotape or Chinese Hair Tape
-Tear Mender Glue
-Ear Cleaner (homemade or store bought)
-Optional: Adhesive Remover (such as Uni-Solve)
Ear Prep and Bracing Method Tutorial: https://youtu.be/5BxhIbJ4s0U
The beginning of this video to the 8 minute mark shows how to use tape to brace the ears over the top of the head. The breeder in this video uses Hair Tape, but we prefer Luekotape for it's softness and breath-ability. It is also made for human medical use, meaning it has been tested for safety on sensitive skin. You can also skip the vertical piece of tape put into the ears if you'd like to make it a bit more simple (3:30 to 6:00 time mark). Carefully trimming any extra hairs from the inner ear leather is preferred to using tape to remove them, as shown around the 4 minute mark.
Now that you have the ears braced into position on top of the head, you can tip the top of the ear into place. The next video shows a Sheltie breeders method, as Collies and Shelties both use the same ear training for tipped ears.
Ear Tip Gluing Method: https://youtu.be/O_AkocZe0nU
Tear Mender is a very gentle glue that will not stick to skin, in this case it will be sticking the hair on the tip of the ear to the tape that is bracing the ears across the top of the head. This reduces how much glue you later have to remove from hair, and allows you to tip the ear perfectly into place at roughly 1/2 way down the ear. Later on, the ear will stand more then when it is set, so you will end up with the proper 1/4 to 1/3 tip.
The above method is only one of many ways to train ears, there are several methods using only glue, such as this one showing Shelties again: https://youtu.be/8XPK_65DI7I
Here is a pdf with instructions on gluing ears like the previous video: http://www.showdogsolutions.com/Files/GluingEars.pdf