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Do People Make Assumptions About Your Dog Because of His Appearance?

My Pit Bull has ears that flop back. They aren't signaling anger or discomfort. That's just the way his ears are!

Meghan Lodge  |  Apr 22nd 2015


As a writer for Dogster, I regularly post photos of my Pit Bull, and they regularly come under public scrutiny. Axle has been called too thin, too large, too close to a cat, and even sad looking. I brush most of these off, as everyone has an opinion and none of them are causing any actual damage. I had to draw the line, though, when someone took photos from my personal Facebook page and shared them in a notorious anti-Pit Bull forum.

One photo in particular was posted with the question, “Does this dog look comfortable?” I was also accused of “forcing my kid onto my dog,” as his ears “clearly indicated he was uncomfortable.” I am so glad someone has finally touched on something that has been a struggle for me for more than four years — my dog’s ears.

My husband with Axle as a puppy. Clearly uncomfortable here!

You might not know this, but Axle kind of got on my nerves as a puppy. He had a habit of drinking out of any nearby puddle, and we had this wonderful adventure with the bacteria Giardia. He was very energetic, and training was difficult in those early stages. Beyond these minor issues, he was absolutely adorable! I wanted to capture all of his adorableness in photo form, but there was a problem — those ears. I grew up with mutts, retrievers, and a Boxer, so I had never been around a dog who had what can only be described as “pigtail ears.” He almost looked bald!

Axle around three months old. Prime example of those “pigtail ears.”

Of course, I thought this was entirely abnormal. After all, every photo of Pit Bulls I had seen either had cropped ears or forward-facing ears with a bit of flop. Regardless of his mood, Axle’s ears stayed slicked back on his head like some throwback to ’50s greaser hair, minus the leather jacket and cool wheels. I would try to get photos of him with his ears up because I felt that’s how he was supposed to look, but the pictures often ended up blurry, as he would come walking toward me as I made all sorts of weird noises trying to get those ears to perk up.

Axle at six months, in the comb-over era.

As he grew, his ears went through what I like to refer to as the “comb-over” stage, when they sort of both flopped sideways in the same direction. I knew that dogs such as German Shepherds often went through strange ear phases as they developed, and I hoped this meant that Axle’s would settle into a nice, symmetrical forward flop. I was to be disappointed. It didn’t help that he also tended to look “concerned” in his photos. People on social media would often ask me why he looked “so sad” or worried. Like humans who get accused of having “resting bitch face,” I could only respond, “That’s just his face.”

“This IS my model face!”

It was even suggested to me a time or two that having Axle’s ears cropped would make them look more congruent with the standard, but I don’t agree with cutting off a part of my dog’s body for cosmetic purposes. I just had to come to terms with the fact that my dog has backward-drooping ears. Now that I’ve added a kid to my picture-taking equation, the struggle is even greater. I always want to take the clearest, cutest photo I can, but that can be difficult beyond measure. Trying to get a picture of them together, in which they are both relatively in focus and not doing something weird, like picking their nose or eating something off the floor, is a real challenge. I’m typically left with posting the clearest photo available, even if that means it’s the one with Axle’s ears in their natural, slicked-back position or in the middle of a stretch.

Trying to capture this adorable moment between Axle and my baby.

With the great visuals that have circulated the Internet on how to read dog body language, I can see where some people might look at a photo of my dog and assume he is uncomfortable based on his ears, but it’s important to remember those visuals are guidelines and don’t hold true for every individual dog. I can assure you that Axle’s slicked-back ears aren’t the result of him being upset. His stress signals include yawning when he isn’t tired, nose licks, and a constant turning away from whatever stimulation is making him uncomfortable.

It’s also been said that Axle’s “uncomfortable as indicated by his stiff leg(s).” He didn’t get the memo.

When I see negative comments about pictures of Axle with my daughter, I wonder, “What do they want?” Do they want me to keep my dog and child separate at all times? I assume that’s what the anti-Pit Bull crowd wants, as they don’t believe Pit Bulls deserve to even exist in the first place. But what about the rest of the dog lovers out there? Shouldn’t we promote supervised interactions between our beloved dogs and our children? After all, that’s how healthy relationships are forged, and it’s vital our children learn how to interact appropriately with dogs and other animals from a young age. They are our future.

Do people make assumptions about your dog because of his or her appearance? Let us know in the comments!

Read more about Pit Bulls by Meghan Lodge:

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby and Odin (cats), Axle (dog), and one human kid. I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.