Life with a dog is some of the most fun you’ll ever have. Of course, pet ownership comes with responsibilities, too – including making sure your pooch is clean and happy.
With German Shepherd (GSD) ears being so large, moisture and heat can build up and create an inviting home for bacteria to grow. This will cause your dog to be itchy and uncomfortable, so you should occasionally give them a little TLC to ensure their ears stay dry and healthy.
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Why Clean My Dog’s Ears?
A fire engine flashes by, sirens blaring, causing your dog to react with whining and howls (or at least rapt attention). Even in quieter moments, her ears are constantly swiveling and twitching as she picks up sounds of her environment. Seem familiar?
Dogs experience the world mostly through their nose, with the olfactory part of the brain being dozens of times larger than the same part in humans. But second to their sense of scent is that of hearing. It’s important to keep any dog’s ears free of irritation for health reasons and make them more comfortable.
The primary reason to clean your GSD’s ears is for their health, of course. Just like a pebble in your shoe, any foreign objects that make their way into the ears can bother them over time. Some breeds are more prone to ear infections due to the size or shape of their ears.
For German Shepherds, ear cleaning is especially important due to their proportionally large ears for the size of their head. Even a GSD mixed with another, smaller-eared breed is likely to produce pups that keep the open, upright shape of their GSD parent’s ears and are therefore more open to external irritants.
The secondary reason to clean your dog’s ears is so they will feel better. Anything that gets in under the ear flaps or into the ear canal can cause itching and scratching – no fun!
What You’ll Need
- Two soft rags or wipes
- Cotton balls (not cotton swabs!)
- Vet-approved ear cleaning solution
- A toy or distracting snack (optional for restless dogs)
The Cleaning Process
Now that you have the tools you need, it’s time to call your dog over. The sooner her ears are clean, the faster you two can get back to playing ball!
A Calm Environment
First and foremost, your pooch must be calm to have their ears cleaned. Ensure you create for them a safe, familiar environment, free of distractions, where they can be in a restful state and stay fully attuned to you. If they show any signs of nervousness, tension, or fear – especially around the cleaning tools – you might need extra time to help them get ready.
It’s perfectly fine to clean their ears on the kitchen floor, but you can also coax them onto a table or flat surface that won’t spook them if it tips or wobbles. Some dogs might be comfortable enough to lie down for you, but others will prefer to sit upright while you work. If you anticipate a mess, outside on a patio surface or a clean yard area is okay too.
Now that the situation is conducive to relaxation, make sure your German Shepherd is calm and focused on your commands.
Doing the Job
- Make sure your dog is restful, quiet, and still.
- If using a bottled ear-cleaning solution, follow the instructions on the label.
- Take the cotton ball or moist rag and gently wipe along the inside of the ear flap from the tip down as far as you can go without tickling or hurting them.
- Use a dry rag (carefully to ensure you don’t chafe the skin) to sop up extra moisture.
Depending on what’s been bothering them, you might see some gunky buildup on the rag or tissue that looks a little like dried tea leaves. This could be a sign of infection, so we recommend you call your vet to be extra cautious.
Just like humans, it’s not a good idea to travel too far down into the ear – those inner parts are hidden from exposure for a reason. Never pour any liquid solution directly into the ear canal!
FAQ About Cleaning German Shepherd Ears At Home
Here are a few quick answers to other common questions regarding the health of a dog’s ears.
How often should I clean my dog’s ears?
Try a couple of times a month, or as often as they get a bath. More may be necessary for certain breeds (like GSDs) with open ear shapes.
I saw a home remedy for ear cleaning solution online. Can I try it?
Generally, some kind of vinegar diluted with water can substitute for an over-the-counter ear cleaning solution. But always check with your vet first! Harmful ingredients not only fail to do the cleaning job but actually further irritate your dog’s ears. Definitely stay away from drying agents like hydrogen peroxide and alcohol.
What if my dog won’t stop flapping his ears?
If your German Shepherd constantly shakes his head back and forth, this could signify that his ears are bothering him and need to be cleaned. Try gently scratching him behind the ears and see if he pushes his head into your hand for relief.
If the flapping happens while you’re trying to clean his ears, he may be uncomfortable with the feeling. Stop what you’re doing right away and guide him back into a restful state before continuing so he doesn’t become agitated further.
My dog’s ears have a funky odor. Can I clean them myself and hope for the best?
It’s fine to try a home ear cleaning if your dog is amenable to it. By now, she’s probably shown you with ear flapping or scratching that she’s uncomfortable. If her signs of irritation persist, it’s best to take her to a vet to make sure there isn’t something worse going on.
It could be that a routine cleaning at home is all your dog needs to stay happy and irritant-free. If they show signs of their ear bothering them, try wiping out the ears more often. And, of course, make sure your dog is up to date on their vet visits so they can have a professional check for anything you may have missed.
Good health begins with a good diet. Just like humans, dogs are what they eat. Feeding your GSD the right blend of nutrients (Tufts University) will encourage his body to produce the proper digestive enzymes, immune function, and skin texture to protect against illness or infection.