What Does it Mean When Dogs Ears Are Back?

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A careful observation of your dog’s eyes, mouth, and tail can give you critical information about his intentions and emotional state. However, accurately reading what your pup communicates through ear positions is a totally different ball game. Dog ears are much more challenging to read and understand, and you’ll need to view them in conjunction with other body language cues to make a useful interpretation. But what does it mean when dogs ears are back?

As a general rule of thumb, you can determine your dog’s level of attention by watching his ears. Erect ears facing forward is a sign that the dog is engaged; slightly pulled-back ears indicate he is feeling friendly, while tightly laid back ears against the head is a sign of a fearful or timid reaction.

Emotional Signals Of Laid Back Dog Ears

So, why do dogs put their ears back? Dog ears tucked close to the head generally indicate negative emotions. Some common reasons dogs pull their ears back include:

1: Sadness

A sad dog may tuck down his ears close to the sides of his head. Most dogs show this when their favorite person departs. Additionally, a dog may pull his ears back when he sees his dog buddies playing, and he can’t join them because he is on a leash or crate.

2: Fear

A fearful dog will often pull back his ears. This reaction is sometimes combined with other body signals and facials associated with a fearful emotion. Watch out for lowered body posture, panting, yawning, avoiding eye contact, dropped tail, lip-licking, and an attempt to retreat, hide, or escape.

However, you need to note that dogs express fear in different ways, and they may only showcase some of these signs. Some pups also show fear through stiffness of the tail or body, squinting, trembling, a furrowed brow, dilated pupils, whale eyes, or pulling the corners of her lips back.

3: Nervousness

Dogs sometimes put their ears back when they feel nervous, and this reaction will often be combined with other body cues such as tongue flicks, body tension, panting, or other signs of anxiety. If you’re traveling with your dog in the car for the fits time, you may realize this behavior. A dog overwhelmed by too many noisy kids might also pin her ears back.

4: Appeasement

A dog in a comfortable situation usually has his ears in their natural resting position. But when dogs greet each other, it is common to see a comfortable dog maintaining her natural ear posture, indicating that she is at ease. If the other dog puts her ears back, it may indicate an appeasement behavior.

5: Danger/Warning  

If a dog feels threatened and is ready to bite, he may pin his ears tightly on the side of the head. Dog experts have suggested that this is simply a measure to protect them from injury by keeping their ears out of the way of any attacking teeth. Often, this reaction is combined with other body language cues such as growling, barking, tongue flicking, lunging, going sniff, tooth displaying, hard stares, charging, and other facial expressions indicating fearfulness or nervousness or fearfulness.

Scared dog ready to react
Scared dog ready to react

While such behaviors can be disheartening, stressful, and worrying to see, be careful never to punish your dog for snarling or growling. By scolding your dog for warning or alerting about their feeling of discomfort or fear, they learn that such warning behaviors bring them trouble. Next time they feel threatened, they might bite before issuing any warning, which can put your kids or neighbors in danger as you’ll have no time to bring your pup to order.

Instead of punishing your pooch for the growl, find out what is causing him to feel threatened. For example, if your dog is not accustomed to crowded places, try to give him more space and a little privacy. You can then gradually socialize him to be more comfortable around strangers through positive reinforcement training.

6: Contentment

Some dog breeds have their ears naturally NOT pointed, so when they are relaxed, the ears would be laid back in their natural position. As long as your dog’s ears are back and not pinned flat against the head, it may indicate contentment.

Other body language cues you may see if your dog is relaxed and contented is a ‘soft’ face, a loose and relaxed stance, and a relaxed tail that is not curled between the legs.

7: Illness/Injury

On rare occasions, a dog with a severe ear infection may hold their ears back due to the pain. By holding the ears back, they may be subconsciously guarding them against further injury. You should regularly inspect and lean your dog’s ears to prevent mites and other infections. But if there is a visible infection already, it will require veterinary medical attention.

8: Listening

Sometimes, your dog might simply draw his ears back to better hear something happening behind them. For example, if you’re in the yard with your dog and another family member calls from the inside of the house, you might notice your pup laying back his ears.

Dog Laying back ears to listen
Dog Laying back ears to listen

9: Courting

Male dogs will pull their ears back when courting a female. This body language is one form of expressing his interest in her. 

Wrapping Up

Overall, reading your dog’s body language or behavioral cues can be quite intuitive. Most dog owners recognize that a dog with his tail tucked between his legs is frightened or uncomfortable. But some dog’s body language cues, such as ear positions, may be harder to interpret. The position of your dog’s ears will change based on his emotions. 

However, it’s essential to look at your dog’s entire body language to get an accurate interpretation. Things like what their eyes are doing, whether or not their facial muscles are relaxed or tense, and where their center of gravity is can make a fundamental difference. 

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