We are supported by commissions earned for purchases made through the links in our articles. Learn more.

Dog Ear Positions: Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language

Key Takeaways

  • Dogs usually have perked ears if they are interested in something, however, their ears could also be perked up if they are suspicious of something or if they are happy to see you. You can better understand what they are trying to convey if you look at their entire body language.
  • If your dog pins their ears all the way back, it means that they are sad, fearful, in pain, or angry. If their ears are slightly held back, then your dog is most likely excited to see you or trying to court another dog.
  • Although understanding your dog’s emotions through their ears is harder for dogs with floppy ears, it can still be done if you take time to analyze their body language as a whole.

The main way that pups communicate their emotions is through dog ear positions which can generally be categorized as relaxed, flat, pointed, or perked. For example, when your dog has pricked ears, it means that they are interested in something. When they have pinned ears, they may be experiencing fear or aggression.

Have you ever wondered what your dog is trying to tell you? Anyone that has been around dogs for any length of time whatsoever knows that they definitely have the tendency to communicate. The only problem is, we don’t always understand what they’re trying to tell us. It isn’t that they can’t speak. The bigger issue is that we don’t always know how to listen. Sometimes, we need to be reminded to take time to better understand what they are saying to us through their body positions and language. Body language is a unique way of expressing emotions and intentions. It’s incredibly important for dog owners to pay attention to their dog and how they act since the way they communicate is very different from humans.

In this article, I will explain the importance of dog ear positions, what they may mean, and what positions reflect besides emotion and intentions.

Dog Body Language

Dogs speak with their entire body. Everything from a dog’s head motions and tail movements to a dog’s eyes can tell a story. Truth be told, body language is a canine’s way of communicating. Since our furry friends can’t speak our language, it’s up to us to take the time to figure out what they’re trying to say so that we can better understand their needs. If you think that a dog only speaks with their tail, think again. As previously mentioned, the entire body is used to express a dog’s feelings. In fact, you might be surprised just how much you can learn from a dog by watching their ear movements.

Can A Dog’s Ears Really Tell A Story?

Dogs have ears that come in all shapes and sizes. Some have pointed ears that stand straight up while others have floppy ears that practically drag the ground. Some have neutral ears or flattened ears. Regardless of the way that your furry friend’s ears are shaped, they use them to communicate everything from their feelings to their intentions. Ears play a huge role in dog body language. If you want to know more about how to read this body language, you have come to the right place. Rest assured, you can use this information across the board, regardless if your dog has pointed ears, neutral ears, flattened ears, folded ears, or anything in between. You may have an aggressive dog or a relaxed dog depending on their ear position, so it is important to get a strong understanding of what ear positions can mean. Dogs have a tendency to communicate in much the same way, regardless of their physical makeup.

What Do Ears Held Forward Mean?

Typically, a dog with perked ears is interested in something. However, it can still mean a number of different things. For example, your dog may have perked ears if they are watching something that interests them. They may even be suspicious of strangers approaching the house or something similar. At the same time, perked ears can mean happiness to see you, a desire to play, or that your dog is simply listening to you when you give him a command. 

If having perked ears can mean all these different things, how are you supposed to know exactly what your dog is actually trying to tell you at any given moment? The key is to read the body language of your dog conveyed through their ear position as well as their other body language cues. If you’re only looking at your dog’s ears, your dog’s eyes, your dog’s facial expressions, or your dog’s tail, you could easily miss something. This in turn could put both you and your dog in jeopardy. Therefore, you have to take the perked ears into context with everything else. For instance, if your furry friend has a wagging tail, is it in a relaxed manner or do they have their tail up in the air and curled over their back like something is bothering them? Are their eyes soft or are they fixed on something? Are they keeping eye contact? Are they growling? Are they lip licking? All of these cues will help you better understand whether they are merely paying attention to you or if there is something more serious that is imminent.

What About Ears That Are Held Back?

Dog with ears held back.

When your dog has flattened ears, there are a couple of different things they may be trying to tell you. It can be difficult to understand exactly what they’re saying unless you get a good look at the position of their ears in order to tell exactly how far back they’re holding them. Why does this matter? My dogs, for example, have a tendency to hold their ears back when they are really excited to see me, a friend, or when they’re about to get a treat that they’ve really been looking forward to. (Yes, they sometimes hold their ears at attention when they are happy to see you, too. This is why total dog body language is so important). Their ears don’t typically go all the way back until they are against the head, but just far enough back to give your dog a softer appearance. This behavior also tends to happen with male dogs who are trying to court a female dog. By holding their ears back and making their body look bigger, they attempt to make themselves more appealing.

On the other hand, seeing a dog with pinned ears against his head so that they look as though they’ve almost disappeared can mean something entirely different. I know that when one of my dogs does this, he’s either sad, fearful, or senses danger nearby. In order to tell what emotion he is experiencing when they have pinned ears it is important to look at the body language. If your dog breaks eye contact, lowers their body position, has a lowered tail, and is trying to retreat, then they are most likely afraid. On the other hand, if your dog is bearing their teeth, barking and growling, flicking their tongue, or giving hard stares, then they are either angry or feels like they are in danger. Aggressive dogs are more likely to exhibit this kind of body language and have this kind of ear position. If it’s safe to do so, your best bet is to remove them from that environment and give them an opportunity to calm down and feel safe.

Are There Other Signals You Can Pick Up From The Position Of A Dog’s Ears?

The answer is yes. It is possible to glean more information from the position of your dog’s ears. For starters, it’s important to know that your dog holding their ears back can mean more than a few things. They may be trying to tell you that they want a treat or that they’re stressed or unhappy with something. They could just as easily be telling you that they’re just not very happy in general. Dogs will sometimes hold their ears back after you have scolded them for something or if you’ve been away a lot, especially if they suffer from separation anxiety. The subtle difference here is that the ears are almost touching the head, but not quite. Again, when distinguishing what your dog is feeling, paying attention to their body language is incredibly important to determine what your next action should be.

Do Dogs React To Sounds With Ear Positions?

When dogs change their ear position, they may also be reacting to things that they smell or hear. Have you ever seen a dog that is looking straight ahead, yet one ear is tilted sideways while the other is at attention? This means that your dog is focused on whatever is directly in front of them, yet they’re also paying attention to something off in the distance. If you look to see the direction of their ear position, you can at least figure out the general vicinity that they are paying attention to. In this respect, dogs really aren’t that much different than people. They may be paying attention to more than one thing at a time. As a result, you might see this divided attention in real-time by looking at their ear positions.

Do Ear Positions Reflect Dog Health?

You might be surprised to know that your dog’s ear position could also potentially even reflect how they are feeling from a physical standpoint. A dog that doesn’t feel well isn’t likely to have pricked ears that are facing forward as if they were alerting to something. Instead, their ears are likely to be all the way to the back of his head. In some cases, like if your dog has an ear infection, they may be carrying one ear lower than the other and frequently shake their head or your dog may have neutral ears that don’t reflect any emotions. The ear positions of your dog usually come down to the amount of pain or discomfort that they are feeling. Remember, a dog in pain may be faster to lash out so it’s important to look at their body language and ear positions to determine if they are feeling any discomfort. If you see a dog in this state, you should always use caution. If you suspect that your dog’s ears are in a different position because he doesn’t feel well, it may be time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. 

Are Ear Positions Always Indicative Of Mood?

White puppy with pink shirt walking.

One thing that you do have to remember is that there are those rare occasions where ear position isn’t really indicative of your dog’s mood at all. Unfortunately, there are those times when you might be looking at a dog that has injured its ear at one time or another. If that’s the case, that particular ear may not naturally sit in the same position as the other one. It may also be harder for the dog to move that ear in a normal fashion. This means if a dog is interested in something their ears may be in a neutral position instead of them having pricked ears. This can happen when a dog suffers some type of traumatic injury to their ear. For example, the dog might have been injured in a dog fight or virtually any other type of accident. If physical damage occurred to the ear, it could have damaged either the structure of the ear itself or the nerves that control it. Therefore, the injured ear may not be a reliable indicator of your dog’s mood. In this case, you should monitor your dog’s body language as a primary way to determine what they are feeling and if they feel any pain or discomfort.

What Else Can Ear Positions Tell You About Your Dog?

Remember, you might be able to figure out when your dog doesn’t feel well physically by the way that they hold their ears. What should you do if they are holding one ear normally and constantly holding the other one back or down and slightly to the side? This type of situation may indicate that your dog is suffering from an ear infection. This is especially true if it’s accompanied by repeated shakes of the head. You might also see your dog scratching at the ear with their paws and then whimpering when they do so. They may also be reluctant for you to touch their head on the side where they are experiencing pain. If you see any of these things, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian so they can be evaluated as opposed to letting the situation continue to get worse.

What About Dogs With Floppy Ears?

You might be thinking that it’s easier to read body language regarding your dog’s ears if you have a dog that has straight perked up ears to begin with since you can see the ears clearly. A similar train of thought can be followed for Border Collies, Aussies, and dogs of similar breed. Their ears may or may not stand straight up, but no one in their right mind would consider them floppy. As such, it’s easy for them to move their ears around and express how they are feeling through that type of body language.

Can you analyze a dog’s body language in a similar way if their ears are floppy? What if you have a Basset Hound or a Bloodhound and you’re trying to read his body language through ear position? Is it even possible to do so? Some people have the misconception that these types of dogs scarcely move their ears at all because they are simply too heavy to be moved. While it is true that dogs with these types of ears may not move them as dramatically as German Shepherds or Border Collies, they still move them. You can still see them move their ears forward slightly when something intrigues them. If they are unhappy, they may move their ears back toward the back of their head. Granted, it’s not as easy to understand a dog’s body language with these types of dogs, but it still happens. More importantly, you can still read it if you take the time to pick up on the subtle cues that your dog is giving you.

Understanding a dog’s body language is one of the most important things you can do. It helps you avoid potentially stressful, painful, or even dangerous situations with your dog and it gives the two of you an opportunity to strengthen your bond through increased understanding. The key is to look at your dog’s ears and other body language cues, such as looking at your dog’s tail, your dog’s eyes, or seeing if they have an open mouth, and then constantly work to understand what your furry friend is trying to tell you through the only way they know how.

Home » Pet Parenting » Dog Ear Positions: Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language

Leave a Comment