Why Do Dogs Put Their Ears Back

Why Do Dogs Put Their Ears Back

Do you ever feel so close to your cuddly canine companion you feel like you understand one another just by looking in their eyes? You may have become attuned to the body language your dog uses to communicate. While your dog can't speak to you with words, their body parts can provide insight into how they're feeling. Understanding how your dog communicates through body language can improve your relationship and help you understand what their sometimes perplexing behaviors mean. The most crucial information you can get from a dog's body language comes from their ears. While the ears can tell us more than we would think, their messages need to be considered along with tail movements, mouth position, and the overall stature of the dog. 

Dog Ears - Good for more than a scratch

We love our dogs for many reasons, and their cute factor is way up there on the list. Dogs' ears are often the first place people go to connect with a dog after the initial greeting. This may be because a dog's ears are one of the main body parts they use to express how they are feeling. You can learn to understand your dog's feelings by the positioning of their ears on their head. Whether their ears are back against their head or perked up straight, send different messages.

Dog's ears are an astounding body part. Along with showing the emotional body language of dogs, their ears are also attuned to sounds at a frequency humans cannot hear. You may notice your dog's ears twitching if he hears an interesting noise. The way a dog holds their ears on their head and other dog body language, such as a wagging tail, will help you understand if your dog feels relaxed or slightly agitated.

Let's have a look at what different dog body language can mean, and specifically, find out what your dog may be telling you when she puts her ears back.

Ear Position: Back

You will need to identify how your dog has their ears back precisely and the other body language they are using. Different emotions are expressed depending on whether the dog's ears are relaxed back and downward, back flat, or tightly pinned back against their head. Each position tells its own detailed story about how your dog is reacting to their current situation.

If your dog's ears are back slightly and his accompanying body language is incorporating a wagging tail and relaxed mouth, your dog is feeling friendly. This open and happy ears back state lets you know your dog wants to be social and accepts your interaction. When you are giving your dog positive attention like pats or kisses, or you're holding out a treat that they want, they will use this ears back posture to indicate that they like what you're doing and as a sign of happiness. Dogs whose ears are in this position are happy and relaxed with both their situation and the person they are with.

You will have to pay close attention because a dog with their ears back can also be a sign of submission or fear. If your dog is greeting another dog, his ears may go back against his head as a sign of submission. This action might also be accompanied by a lifted paw or closed eyes. In many cases, you will find only one dog shows these signs, while the other dog may look more curious or aggressive. Alternatively, if the dog is displaying fear, his ears will be back tight to his head, and his tail will be tucked tight underneath his body. Both of these situations show the dog is signaling to avoid conflict. Always be careful in these circumstances. If the dog is pushed, she may become aggressive. Keep an eye out for snarling and hair standing up on her back. While dogs will usually not want to enter into conflict if they are injured, aggression can be displayed as a survival tactic.

Finally, ears back can also tell you that your dog is feeling sad or anxious. Other body language may include panting, whining, or paw licking. You may also notice dilated pupils in his eyes. If you have noticed these types of behaviors regularly occurring in your dog, you should take them to the vet so they can rule out any medical issues. 


Ear Position: Up

Just as ears down has several different meanings depending on surrounding body language, the same is valid with ears up.

Depending on the breed, your dog's ears may be long and flop down or maybe stand up, perky ears. More attention needs to be paid then to how the ears move at the base of the head. 

With perky ears, your dog's ears at neutral can be up. The good news is that ears up tend to indicate more curious or playful moods, so you don't need to be as worried about watching out for aggressiveness.

Ears up may mean your dog is listening or paying attention to something. If your dog is focused on something, like a treat or a bird, their ears will be up and forward, and their tail will be held straight. When your dog is on alert, his ears will be perked up, body weight may be slightly forward, and the tail will be straight. This dog is assessing the situation and determining if action needs to be taken! He may be about to chase a ball or a bird. That being said, if you are walking outside, keep your eyes out for anything that may pose a threat to your dog like snakes or lizards. 


This up ear position also means your dog is listening. You might notice your dog's ears and tail move in response to a familiar sound, like the front door opening to signal you've arrived home or their treat or food bags rustling. You may also see their ears moving even when they are relaxed or napping. They use this selective hearing to determine if the noises they hear are worth investigating.

Amazing Ears

How incredible we can understand what our dog's non-verbal cues mean by looking at where they put their ears! Your dog's tail, eyes, and the general way they look can give you so much information.  

Here are some more surprising facts about your dogs' ears: 

  • Your dog's ears have 18 muscles
  • Puppies can't hear when they are born but develop hearing as they grow
  • There are about 12 different dog ear shapes like bat ears, rose ears and pendant ears
  • The number one reason for a visit to the vet is an ear infection
  • Your dog's ears can move independently from one another
  • Dogs are often given the hearing award out of our domestic pets, but cats can hear better
  • Hearing aids for dogs exist
  • The song, 'A Day in the Life,' by The Beatles, was recorded to include a frequency only dogs can hear. 
  • As we've learned dogs ears are used to convey the mood and how they are feeling
  • While we're using this information to determine how they're feeling, our dogs can smell how we feel! (not a fact about their ears, but super interesting!)

What Do Your Dogs' Ears Mean?

A wagging tail is always a good place to look to determine if your dog is feeling friendly, but now you know the next place to investigate is their ears. The messages you infer from the movement of both your dog's tail and their ears will speak volumes about what your dog is thinking and what they may need from you.  

This information is great to keep in mind on your next trip to the dog park. By paying attention to the clues your dog and other people's dogs are sending, you can decide if you feel comfortable with other dogs, you may not know as well.

This is also great information to teach younger children if they encounter strange dogs while out for a walk or playing in a park. Knowing these signals can keep you, your dog, and your kids safe when meeting and understanding new dogs.