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Collie Puppy Ear Taping & Bracing

How to Tape Collie Puppy Ears: The Wyndlair Way


This article was originally published in the June 2021 issue of Collie Expressions Magazine

Instructional Video and Guide

Do you struggle with taping Collie or Shetland Sheepdog puppy ears? Bracing ears can be frustrating, even for experienced breeders. Let’s face it; there is no gratification wrestling a puppy to glue, stick, or tie ears into place – only to watch them shake out minutes later.

In this how-to guide, we will share the Wyndlair Way for bracing Collie and Sheltie puppy ears. We’ve developed the easiest, most effective ear taping method for great results. While not a replacement for breeding correctly shaped and set ears, this method will maximize what you have. We’ll explain the tips and techniques necessary to ensure success. When done correctly, these ear tapes will hold for weeks – requiring removal due to the ears outgrowing the tapes rather than them loosening and falling out.

Ear Taping Materials

This taping method requires several items and tools. Some are premium products, but their cost is well worth the result. The following materials are needed:

Collie Sheltie Ear Taping Materials
Collie & Sheltie Ear Taping Materials

How To Tape Collie & Sheltie Puppy Ears

There are four steps to taping Collie and Shetland Sheepdog puppy ears with this method:

  1. Ear Preparation
  2. Tape Individual Ears
  3. Cross Brace
  4. Tape Ear Tips Over
  1. Ear Preparation

If the puppy’s ears were taped previously, remove all tape and adhesive residue using Zo-Eze, cotton balls, and a flea comb. Leave ears out of tapes for 12-24 hours before retaping.

Clean the Ears

The first step is to completely clean the ears. It is critical to remove all the oil from the ear or the tapes won’t stick properly. Residual oil is the #1 reason that ear tapes fail.

It is important to use real cotton balls rather than the synthetic variety, which do not absorb oils. We prefer wintergreen-scented rubbing alcohol for a more pleasant smell. The green color also helps differentiate the bottle from Zo-eze, which resembles regular rubbing alcohol in both appearance and odor.

wintergreen rubbing alcohol
Wintergreen Rubbing Alcohol

Soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and clean the ear thoroughly. Work from outside in and take care not to wipe ear wax back onto cleaned surfaces. Repeat until all visible wax is removed and the cotton balls come out clean.

Cleaning puppy ear with cotton ball
Cleaning the ear with rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball

PRO TIP: While it is critical to get the ear leather oil-free, be gentle. If the skin gets aggravated, it will stimulate a sweating response that brings more oil to the surface. It is a delicate balance. If any perspiration comes to the ear surface, let the ear rest for 12 hours and retry. It is fruitless to tape ears that have been irritated as the tapes will not stick properly.

Dry the Ear

After cleaning with rubbing alcohol, fold a piece of paper towel and dry the ear. Begin by blotting, then wiping the ear. The paper towel fibers will grab residual oil that the cotton balls did not. Next, let the ear air dry for a few minutes.

Drying Collie Puppy ear with paper towel
Drying the ear with paper towel

Trim Hair

Trim excess hair inside the ear. It isn’t necessary to scalp the ear; however, the less hair in the ear, the better the tapes will stick and the less chance for irritation. If the puppy will be shown at a puppy match or have pictures taken with ear tapes out, leave a little more hair to keep an attractive, natural look.

Trimming hair in Collie puppy ear
Trimming the hair in the ear

Wipe the Ears with Tape

Finally, wipe the ear surface with a strip of Japanese tape. The tape will grab any remaining oil that would prevent the tapes from sticking. Again, be gentle as rubbing too hard will irritate the skin and stimulate more oil production. Several strips may be necessary. When the tape begins sticking to the skin instead of sliding across the ear, the skin is oil-free, and you are ready to begin taping.

Rubbing ear with Japanese tape
Rubbing the ear with Japanese tape
  1. Tape Individual Ears

To tape Collie ears, we use Yutokuban Japanese tape. It is a surgical tape that adheres well to the skin without irritating it or causing discomfort. It outperforms anything else made.

Japanese Tape for Collie & Sheltie puppy ears
Yutokuban Japanese Surgical Tape

Main Strip – Begin by cutting the main strip to run up the middle of the ear – its length should run from just above the little knob (antihelix) inside the base to near the ear tip. Avoid touching the adhesive side of the tape. Mist the backside lightly with Scotch Super 77 adhesive spray and let dry a few moments before applying to the ear. From the inside base of the ear, place the main strip just above the small knob and apply it straight up toward the ear tip. Press and hold the tape in place, as the heat and pressure from your thumb will help set it. 

Supporting Strips – Next, cut two supporting strips for each ear. These strips are shorter than the main strip and serve to reinforce the ear leather. Apply one to each side of the main strip to form a pattern somewhat resembling a peace sign ☮.

For Shelties, depending on their age, often just the main strip will provide enough support for the ear. Apply supporting strips if necessary.

Applying Japanese tape to Collie puppy ear
Applying one of the supporting strips to the main strip

If necessary, use additional tape strips to brace any weak or soft areas that want to crease or fold, especially when the ear is pulled up on the head. Focus on supporting the natural cupped ear structure that is shaped like a tulip leaf. Avoid taping the ear flat across. Apply tape strips until the proper shape is achieved. The older the puppy (and the larger the ear), the more strips that may be required.

  1. Cross Brace

The cross brace is a crucial step for success and it is important to do it properly. Cross bracing is necessary until 6 months of age – longer than what most tutorials instruct. Until six months of age, the earset can begin to relax without a cross brace. In puppies over six months of age, skip the cross brace and jump ahead to taping the ear tips over.

Collie puppy ears with Japanese tape
Estimating the proper length for the cross brace

Make the Cross Brace – Creating the cross brace is the most precise part of this method. It may take some trial and error, but with practice will come confidence and proficiency.

Pull the ears up in their natural on-alert position. Visually estimate the distance between each ear’s center, then cut the cross brace strip to a length slightly longer. Snip halfway through the cross brace at a 45-degree angle leaving tabs with square ends. Fold the cut half back on itself to keep the centerpiece from sticking to the backskull hair between the ears. Take a short piece of tape, cut down the center lengthwise, then apply on both sides of the cross-brace above the 45-degree cut lines. Without the reinforcement, the cross brace will tear at the cut lines.

Step-by-Step Photos: Making the Cross Brace

Cutting the ear cross brace
Cut the Cross Brace to the appropriate length
cut cross brace at 45 degree angle
Cut halfway through the Cross Brace at a 45 degree angle
fold the cross brace lengthwise
Fold the cut half of the Cross Brace underneath
stick the cut half of the cross brace to itself
Stick the sticky sides together so no hair can be caught
cross brace reinforcement strips
Cut a short piece of tape lengthwise to reinforce the 45 degree cut ends
Completed Collie ear cross brace
Place the reinforcement strip to complete the Cross Brace

Apply Cross Brace – It is essential to apply the cross brace properly and an extra set of hands will aid in correct placement. Place one tab down low in the middle of the ear, centered on the main strip. Next, place a small piece of tape on top of the tab to “sandwich” the cross brace in the ear. Press the tapes together to help set the adhesive and hold the cross brace in place.

PRO TIP: Contrary to what several ear taping resources instruct, the cross brace should pull from the center base of the ear, not the outside edge. Doing so will make the ears “fold in” and result in an incorrect ear set and shape.

Pressing Japanese tape cross brace in puppy ear
Sandwiching the cross brace into the ear

Next, pull the other side of the cross brace across to the other ear and place the tab in the same position as the first ear. Immediately put another small strip of tape over the tab to “sandwich” that side. Press tapes together with your thumbs to mold the ears into the proper cupped shape. Makes sure no hair is caught or pulled by the tapes. If the puppy is shaking his head in discomfort, search for the cause. If the tapes are pulling any hair, snip the hair rather than removing the tapes to restart.

Completed Japanese tape cross brace
Cross brace applied. Ready to tape the tips down.

A cross brace of proper length will pull the ears up on the head, but not so close that they touch or the ears fold in. Ears should be erect with a 3/8”-1/2” gap between them. Ears taped too tightly will cause an unnatural set and shape, and the ear tapes can pull loose.  If the cross brace is pulling the ears too tight, cut it in half between the ears try again. Cut a slightly longer cross brace and reapply.

NOTE: If you are working with wideset ears, you will need to utilize a longer cross brace and cannot pull the ears as tight. Doing so will cause the ears to fold in unnaturally. Never pull the ears past 12 o’clock above the ear auricle position. While taping ears won’t correct an incorrect ear set or shape, it can help the ear set develop into the best version of itself.

  1. Tape Ear Tips Over

The final step is to tape the ear tips over. The Collie Standard calls for the ear to be carried ¾ erect with ¼ tipping forward. If the ears are properly shaped, rarely is the break placed too high. Tips that go high are generally the result of ears that are not taped long enough rather than being taped too high. If the ear is a flatter, thicker, or wider, the break may need to be placed lower for the tip to hold, but understand that the Collie’s expression will be negatively affected – giving a more cumbersome, heavy, or dull appearance.

Set the Break

Before taping the tips over, set the break in the proper location. Fold the top quarter of the ear over straight down the center of the ear. Avoid tipping the ear over too far or toward the outside edge, as some popular articles and videos instruct. The Japanese tape will take the break point and provide a visible line for applying the ear tip tapes.

Collie puppy ears in tapes

Ear Tip Tapes – “Triple-Double” Technique

To tape the ear tips over, we utilize several “double” techniques to create the perfect break in the ear. These small details result in improved results.

Rather than using a standard single tape loop, we use a double loop. Cut two short strips for each ear. Make the first loop – sticky side out – then double one open edge over on itself. Next, place it in the middle of the non-sticky side of the second piece of tape, folded edge up. Finally, loop the second piece around the first piece, sticky side out. The folded end inside makes the top thicker, creating a more rounded break rather than an unnatural crease.

Step-by-Step Photos: Making the Double Loop

Single loop Japanese tape
Make a single loop of tape, sticky side out
Double fold Japanese tape
Fold one edge on itself
Place the folded loop on the Japanese tape
Place the folded loop on a strip of tape, folded side up
Making the double loop
Wrap the strip of tape around the folded loop
Completed Double Loop
The completed double loop

Finally, apply the double tape loop, thick edge up, just below the break line previously set in the ear. Press the tip down on the tape with your thumb, then wrap your index finger around the ear tip to double fold the ear tip vertically around the thumb. Hold for a few seconds. This double fold helps form a natural curved break that will help keep the tip from rising as the Collie gets older. Repeat on the other ear.

Tape Collie ear tips down
Double-loop applied. Ready to fold tip over.
Fold Collie puppy ear tip over
Folding ear tip over
Press Collie ear tip down
Press and hold ear tip down

Once the tapes are completed, place thumbs again in both ears to press the tapes in place, and hold for a few seconds. Let the heat from your hands help set the tapes and form the desired shape.

Mold Collie Puppy ears into proper form
Press thumbs down on ear tips and wrap index fingers behind the ears and around thumbs to complete the “triple-double” technique

Summary

In review, here are the steps to create the proper ear brace using Japanese tape:

Step-by-Step Photos: Complete Ear Tape Assembly

Main strip with supporting strips
The Main Strip with two (2) supporting strips
Main Strip with Cross Brace applied
The Cross Brace connecting both Main Strips
Cross Brace sandwiched to ear tapes
The Cross Brace sandwiched to the Main Strip
Setting the break in the ear tape
The ear break set into the ear tapes
folding the main strip over the double loops
Folding the Main Strips over the Double Loops, set just below the break
pressing the ear tips down with thumb
Pressing the ear tip down with thumb
wrapping index finger around ear tapes and thumbs
Wrap index fingers around thumbs to put the double break in the ear tips
Complete Collie Ear tapes with double break in Japanese tape
The completed ear tapes showing the double break (horizontally & vertically)

We now have a perfect set of ear tapes. An extra benefit of this method is the ear tapes are almost completely hidden. There is no exposed material for littermates to chew or pull on or for the puppy to catch a claw on.

Collie Puppy Ear Taping & Bracing
Properly taped Collie puppy ears

Correctly done, these ear tapes won’t come loose and will need to be removed due to ear growth. Remove ear tapes after 12-14 days or at the first sign of loosening. Leave the ears out of tapes for 12-24 hours, then retape. Collie and Sheltie puppy ears should be taped until six months of age. After six months, it is still advisable to keep ears taped over in show puppies to maintain a correct tip, but omit the cross brace.

Matt Stelter with Collie puppy ears taped
Completed Collie puppy ear taping

So, toss out the moleskin, yarn, and glue. Taping ears the Wyndlair Way is a proven method for great results. We encourage you to try it with your next litter or show prospect.

blue-merle-collie_wyndlair-amen-hallelujah_face-2
An adult blue merle Rough Collie with perfectly set, tipped, and trimmed ears.

Published on Apr 14 2021

Last Updated on Jun 20 2021

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