We all know that dogs are basically the best pets on the planet – loyal, protective, affectionate, and kind; they are basically the anti-cat! Now, as we all know, dogs come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, including tiny dogs, and huge dogs. Often it’s the characteristics of dogs that appeal to us so much – and one of the most noticeable dog characteristics is floppy ears.
These are really distinguishable, not to mention cute, soft, and cuddly. In fact, if you’re anything like us, this will be one of the things you love the most about dogs! But, have you ever wondered exactly why it is that dogs have floppy ears? If you have – and we’re sure you have – you’re in pretty good company, as you’ll see from reading on.
Charles Darwin actually first questioned why dogs have floppy ears way back in 1868. Darwin had been studying the behavior of animals and compiled a book entitled The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. In this book Darwin first questions the reasons behind why dogs have floppy ears, as well other results of what he views as the domestication of animals over the years. Something he first recognized and coined was domestication syndrome.
Domestication syndrome comes when animals and plants are domesticated by humans over time, which can influence their traits and personality. These animals have a small number of traits that make them different from their wild ancestors. Darwin picked up on many of these small traits and recognized the difference between conscious and unconscious selection. In fact, as Darwin discovered, it was not just dogs who are affected by this, and it’s certainly not just ears.
It turns out that it’s not just the ears, but other facial characteristics, such as snout lengths, not to mention fur patterns, of domestic animals vary significantly from their wild counterparts. Animals for whom these traits are noticeable include dogs, pigs, goats, cows, and rabbits. In fact, it is the case with almost all domesticated animals vs. wild animals. So, what is going on here, and what is it that contributes to this syndrome?
We know how animals became domesticated eventually, and many have pondered the correlation between domesticated behavior, and these personality traits. One of the main factors is that humans needed to be able to tell apart their domestic pets from potentially dangerous wild animals. By breeding domestic dogs to have floppy ears, if they saw a dog-shaped animal with pointed ears – a wild wolf – they knew they had to respond to protect their livestock or families. Now, it is only recently that another new hypothesis has been suggested. The theory is that the answer lies in a special group of cells in the body known as neural crest cells. These cells show up early in the development of these animals, and these cells take on different jobs. The idea is that, in domesticated animals, these cells are dialed back, making them more placid and docile. These cells also form some parts of the face, which would go a long way toward explaining the differing appearances as well.
So, there you have a new theory about why it is that domesticated animals like dogs have floppy ears. In fact, we would be willing to bet that almost every animal kept as a pet would have some distinct differences in appearance from the equivalent animal in the wild.