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What Are Button Ears and Which Dog Breeds Have Them?

The Australian Shepherd, Smooth Fox Terrier, and three other breeds give their cute-as-a-button ears a shout-out.

Lynn M. Hayner  |  Mar 17th 2017


I’ve asked five breeds to give us an earful (of course!) about their ears. For while breeds such as the Basenji have erect ears, and breeds such as the Bloodhound have hanging ears, these breeds may have (typically an unofficial term!) “button ears.” Their ears are semi-erect, with tips folding over and covering some of the ear openings. Let’s lend them an ear:

1. Smooth Fox Terrier

Smooth Fox Terrier courtesy Denise Visco, Tail Waggin Events; Darlene Barnes photographer

I’m confident, charismatic, and (as any good Terrier should be) just a tad scrappy. Developed in Britain to catch vermin above and below ground, I can handle a turn of events with ease. But while I don’t often push life’s panic buttons, I do have classic button ears. You’ll notice my ears are erect, but then they take a charming bow over my ear canal. Oh and here’s something else delightful about us: We’re light-footed, quick and charismatic. We’re also low-shedders, so grooming is a breeze. Maybe peek under our ears every so often to help keep them clean!

2. Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland Sheepdog courtesy Eva Gibson

My small ears stand about three-fourths erect, with just the little tip breaking forward. While strictly speaking I’d call my ears tipped rather than button, I’ll take the cute as a button designation with a blush and a bow. I’m one of the most intelligent breeds, so there’s a lot going on between my ears. The people of the Shetland Islands developed me as a small, hardy dog to protect gardens, herd sheep and work alongside man. My tendency to bark (I’m certainly not button-lipped!) was encouraged for watchdog duty and to protect lambs from large birds on the Islands. Of course my excellent sight and hearing facilitated my watchdog responsibilities as well.

3. Manchester Terrier

Manchester Terrier courtesy Roberta Berman

You may recognize me for my jet black and rich mahogany tan coloring. After all, my forefathers were called the Black and Tan terriers. My ancestors kept the Manchester Inns (and many others) free of vermin.Today we continue to demonstrate our remarkable hunting drive in sports such as barn hunts. We have two varieties: Toys weigh less than 12 pounds; we Standards weigh 12 to 22 pounds. Our Toy cousins only have erect ears, but we Standards have erect, cropped or (my personal favorite!) button ears. Notice how my ears frame my deeply attentive, discerning expression?  We’re bright as a button!

 4. Airedale Terrier

Airedale Terrier courtesy Joval Airedales

I’ll describe my ears for you, but first I’ll outline my noteworthy history. I was bred by the British as an all-purpose dog. We hunted small game, killed rats, protected homes and assisted poachers on the landed gentry’s estates (we didn’t know it was poaching of course!). We served in search and rescue roles, as well as messengers, in the World Wars. I’m remarkably versatile, intelligent, and self-assured, but I also relish playing the clown on occasion. As for my ears, they’re V-shaped. The topline of my folded ears falls above the level of my skull. Personally I think my ears accentuate my “Let’s go!” Terrier-Perfect expression. But maybe I’m biased…

5. Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd courtesy Moira Cornell; photographer Jillian Ward

I’m proud of my work ethic, athleticism and all-American history, but (since you asked) I’ll talk about my ears. My breed standard says my ears are triangular, and that at full attention they break forward and over. Apparently some fall over to the side like a rose, but I’ll leave that explanation to my characteristically rose-eared Greyhound friends. Whether we call them button ears or not, my ears’ functionality is unbeatable. They don’t hang too low (which would hold in moisture), but nor do they stand too high (which might let debris enter). They’re just right. Ranchers in America also found us just right to get the jobs done. Our work drive, both historically and today, is right on the button!

Top photo: Australian Shepherd courtesy Moira Cornell; Bethany Howell photography

Homepage photo: Australian Shepherd courtesy Moira Cornell