A bit of history on the prick ear and the Australian Shepherd by Ernie Hartnagle

The severe fault on prick ears has been a blight on our breed. Prick ears are naturally occurring among the bloodlines. A few of the foundation Aussies that had prick ears include Wood’s Dandy, Mansker’s Freckles, and Smedra’s Blue Mistingo.


In 1975, our registry was operating in its third year. The Breed was not yet established. We had set up viewing committees to accept dogs for approval. We had no official guidelines, and most of the existing Standards were little more than dumpster quality.


The first official Standard, the one that we are using today, was approved by the membership in 1977. Dr. Robert Kline chaired the committee, with a number of qualified veterinarians as consultants. There appeared to be an existing concern that some of the viewed dogs accepted by the viewing committee were possibly not entirely of pure Australian Shepherd breeding, most of which were endowed with prick ears.


The Breed Standard Committee, in needless desperation, agreed to list the prick ear set as a serious fault. They felt that this stop gap remedy would focus attention on the prick ears to discourage acceptance of these questionable individuals into the breed. This move proved to end in dismal failure.


In retrospect, this was unwarranted, unproven, thoughtless overkill by the committee. We, at that moment, unknowingly put a millstone around our wonderful working Aussies and have blighted his very existence and prestige among the five most popular working breeds used today. Ironically, most of these breeds support prick ears! And yet, we are the only one that needlessly faults the prick ear.


When prick ears were severely faulted breeders started taping their dog’s ears to their heads. Some even had them surgically cut which took away any lift. Therefore, we started seeing a majority of dogs in the show ring that had ears that couldn’t lift. If prick ears are only a fault rather than a severe fault people might be less inclined to tape them, especially if ears with no lift are severely faulted.


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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for this honest bit of history. It should not be lost to knowledgable breeders.

  2. This is great! Very informative, I’ve been researching this topic a bit recently!
    I believe The Breed Standard Committee needs some of its criteria reassessing.

  3. Change the standard. Long live the prick eared Aussie. Stop docking the tails too.

  4. I appreciate the background on why prick ears were faulted. I’ve been dismayed at the number of people breeding larger ears, just so they don’t have to worry about prick ears. These ears don’t have the lift they’re supposed to have, which changes the appearance of the entire head. Since this is a working breed, not a ‘head’ breed, it would be nice if the standard would change to encourage breeders to keep the dogs in their natural state.

  5. I have a pricked eared Aussie with a full tail. He has a wonderful pedigree of champion agility dogs. I love his pricked ears! He has the best ears I have ever seen. When we go on our daily walks everyone comments on what a good looking boy he is. If I decide on getting another Aussie (they are like jelly beans you can’t stop at one) I will be seeking a puppy with pricked ears.

  6. I have had many Aussies the one I have now has a prick ears and the smartest easiest to train and best trickster I have had and everybody thinks she is the best babysitter in the world just put the kids in the back yard and she puts them in a corner and keeps them there and they don’t even know a dog is controlling them

  7. My first Aussie (a foundling I named “Havoc”, c1980, was the most engaging, intelligent, and loyal PERSON I had ever met. My second, another blue, found at the local pound (1993) was precious and my best ever friend. I now have a third little Aussie flown to my place in Washington state from a breeder in N. Carolina This girl (Abby now 2yrs) is a bundle of electricity, complete with all the energy, willfulness, and traits I had come to know. She is prick-eared and from a reputable breeder. My former two Aussies had symmetric ears and their origins and pedigree unknown. The point is….regardless the source, or the lineage, Aussies are the best people I know.

  8. Thanks so much for this. I bought a purebred aussie and she was the only one out of her whole litter to get prick ears. I had been planning on showing her and getting into breeding so I’m really sad I can’t do that with her. Other than her prick ears she has a perfect body(told to me by multiple aussie breeders), perfect gait, perfect temperament, and is extremely intelligent. It really sucks that I can’t show her. =(

  9. To severely fault a working dog solely on a feature like prick ears is ridiculous. I don’t show – my dogs work. When I purchase or sell a pup, I pay more attention to the mother’s abilities and the pups personality and ability to focus. I have a prick ear male and a regular eared female. With traceable lineages, there shouldn’t be much worry about mixed breeding. It’s time to quit limiting the breed to make people in suits at dog shows happy.

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