Adult Furgie with picture-perfect ears.
Some breeders, acknowledging that there may be genetic differences between American and European Bullmastiffs in this regard, say the clock stops ticking much sooner for them: Kjeldby of Norway has found that ears can be corrected only during the teething period – up to six or seven months of age. After that, she says, “the cartilage will become hard and impossible to work with.”
Kjeldby prefers to start out with as minimal an approach as possible. Her first intervention is simply massage, rubbing and kneading the cartilage to make it more pliant. “I try to massage the ears from the moment I see them starting to ‘misbehave,’ and often that is enough if done every day,” she says. “It’s part of cuddling time, and my favorite method by far.”
If that doesn’t work, Kjeldby will move on to another taping method. Called “felt to felt,” it involves rolling the sides of the ear toward each other so they touch, like a taco, and securing them in this position with a band of tape in the middle of the ear. The final effect resembles swagged drapes on either side of the puppy’s head. “That makes it more airy for the ear,” she explains, “and there is less chance of infection.”
But, Kjeldby notes, the taping method she chooses depends on what part of the ear is affected: If the leather is just crinkling, then felt-to-felt might be the best approach, while an ear that is lifting at the corner might benefit more from a bonnet-type taping.
Bullmastiffs are hardly the only Molosser breed where fly-away ears are a problem. This Dogo Argentino puppy is a prime example.
Then there are those breeders who choose to do absolutely nothing at all. Benign indifference is the approach taken by Carol Beans of Tauralan Bullmastiffs in Santa Ana, California.
“In my half-century with Bullmastiffs, the percentage of dogs that would really benefit from ear-taping is extremely small,” she says. “One of the reasons I don’t like taping is that, for those dogs, it hides a genetic factor that needs to be changed by not constantly breeding dogs with the problem of too small ears or poor ear placement.”
Beans agrees that ears go wonky during the teething period from four to 11 months of age, but she attributes it to pain from teething, which causes muscle and tendon tension on the sides of the face that in turn pulls the ear placement into improper position. “That is also the age of development when the modeling of the skull is changing,” she reminds. “The back skull is narrower, with the occipital bone being more prominent. This deprives the ears of support of proper placement, and folding can occur.”
Beans says that as the back skull continues widen and the pain from teething recedes, the ears return to their normal shape and position.
Unless you are taking a hands-off approach like Beans, all breeders pretty much agree that, when it comes to intervening with those Sally Field ears, the earlier the better: Ears that are taped at four months will take their desired shape in far less time than ears that aren’t addressed until several months later.