Why do dogs curl their ears back and what does it mean?

People who study animal behavior and those who own pets are always interested in finding ways to understand their furry friends better. It’s helpful to know what your dog is trying to say or how they’re feeling at the moment. One way to do this is by paying attention to their body language.

Have you ever thought about why dogs flatten their ears? Dogs do this for various reasons. They’ve been using this gesture to show their feelings for a long time. Each ear movement has a specific meaning among dogs. But since dogs are our close companions, they might also use this to communicate with us.

Many dogs have the ability to perk up, flatten, or swivel their ears to communicate. However, dogs with cropped ears might have fewer ways to move their ears to express themselves.

When you’re trying to figure out what your dog is thinking or feeling, it’s important to observe more than just their ears or eyes. Take some time to notice their overall body language and the sounds they’re making. Also, pay attention to their surroundings to get a better understanding of their mood.

But why do dogs put their ears back? Here are a few reasons why dogs might pull back their ears and what it could signify.

Expressing happiness

When your dog feels content, their ears typically hang in a neutral position. For breeds like German Shepherds with pointy ears, this relaxed stance might still appear somewhat alert. They might flatten or fold their ears back when they’re feeling happy.

In some cases, dogs can show tension on their face even when they’re content, causing their ears to pull back. However, not all dogs display this behavior.

Picture your dog sprawled out after a day of fun at the park or beach. They’re likely panting a lot, with squinty eyes and ears pulled back.

When your dog is relaxed, with a high-held tail and engaged in something enjoyable, like after a romp in the park, and their ears are back, it’s a good sign they’re content.

To understand your dog’s feelings, consider the whole scene: their body language, the environment, and what’s going on around them. All these cues combined give you insight into their mood.

Signs of stress

On the flip side, if your dog folds their ears back, it could be a sign of stress or anxiety. The further back their ears fold, the more anxious they might be. If their ears are completely flat against their head, it could indicate they’re very stressed.

If your dog is feeling anxious, you might see the whites of their eyes, a phenomenon known as “whale eyes”, which also signals stress. Their body might also feel tense.

Next time you find yourself getting angry at your pup for something they’ve done, pay attention to their body language. You’ll likely notice them trying to appease you, not because they feel guilty, but because they’re intimidated by you. They might try to make themselves look as small as possible.

If you see this behavior, be cautious. A scared and anxious dog may be more likely to snap or bite if they feel threatened in this state.

If you’re unable to pinpoint the cause of your dog’s stress, there are products available that can help, such as anxiety jackets or calming dog towels. Natural calming aids are also an option worth considering. However, if none of these solutions seem to work, it’s important to consult your vet for further advice and assistance.

Red alert

When your dog folds their ears back, it could be a warning sign that they’re about to bite. This is especially true if their ears are flat against their head. Often, this accompanies body language that shows fear or aggression.

Pay attention to other signals that your dog might be about to bite, like the sounds they make. Growling and snarling are clear indications that they’re ready to defend themselves aggressively if necessary. Also, watch out for curled lips, as this can be another sign of aggression.

While it can be concerning to see your dog snarling or growling, it’s important not to punish them for it. Punishing them can teach them that showing warning signs leads to trouble. In the future, they might skip the warnings altogether and go straight to biting when they feel scared or uncomfortable. It’s crucial to let them express their feelings, even if they’re negative.

Instead of punishing your dog for growling or snarling, try to understand why they’re behaving that way. They might be sensing something unusual, like feeling overwhelmed by new people.

Consider the dog’s surroundings and the environment when they show signs of how they feel. This can help you better understand and address their needs.

Tuning in

Dogs often swivel or pull back their ears when they’re trying to listen intently. But why do they do this? Unlike humans, dogs can adjust their hearing by moving their ears rather than turning their heads. They’ll angle their ears toward the sound they’re focusing on or pull them back if the noise is behind them.

When a dog is listening closely, they’ll typically stand in an alert position, staying still while they concentrate on the sound. Their tails will hang down in a relaxed position as they tune in.

Depending on where the sound is coming from, dogs can also move their ears forward. You can observe this by taking your dog outside to the garden, for instance, while another family member stays inside and calls for the dog. You’ll notice their ears perk up instantly, and they’ll appear alert as they focus on the call.

A safety measure

Dogs might also pull back their ears as a safety measure during stressful or threatening situations. This instinct helps reduce the areas a potential attacker could target.

It’s a natural response to danger, similar to how humans react. When we perceive a threat, we often try to make ourselves as small as possible, like sitting or lying in the fetal position, where our limbs and body are all pulled in close. Dogs show similar behavior when they tuck their tail between their legs, bend their knees, pull their ears back, and flee from a threat.

Ears are delicate and vulnerable. A bite from another animal could cause serious harm to them. Since hearing is crucial for dogs, they instinctively want to protect their ears as much as they can. That’s why they pull them back when they sense danger.

Sensing pain

When your dog is hurting or injured, they might pull their ears back to show it. This helps protect them from more harm. It’s a natural way for them to stay safe. If they’re in pain, they definitely don’t want their ears to be a target for more trouble.

Dog ears have a lot of blood vessels. If they scratch too hard, they might break a blood vessel inside the ear flap. This can cause the flap to swell up with blood, making it look puffy or swollen. If you notice this happening, it’s important to take your dog to the vet.

Sometimes, your dog might pull their ears back because of a severe ear infection. If you can’t find any other reason for their behavior, it’s a good idea to consult a vet. Ear infections can lead to more serious problems if they’re not treated promptly.

If your dog is in constant pain, they might lash out and bite, especially if you try to touch their sore ears. It’s crucial to have them checked by a vet to ensure they get the proper care they need.

To help relieve the discomfort, you can use eardrops to reduce the itchiness they feel. This can lower the risk of them causing further harm or injuring their ears while scratching.

Warm welcome

One of the most heartwarming sights is witnessing your dog’s excitement when you return home from work or anywhere else. They often fold their ears back and curve their body into a U-shape while vigorously wagging their tail. Some dogs may even rush to you, licking your face with their ears back.

When your dog has their ears back, it’s usually a welcoming gesture. They’re trying to approach you in a non-threatening manner, expressing friendliness. This behavior is accompanied by a cheerful face and relaxed body language. They feel at ease and want to make you feel the same in their Company.

Courtship behavior

Just like they use folded ears to greet you, your dog may also use this gesture when they’re interested in the opposite sex. Dogs have various courting rituals, and folding their ears back is a sign of submission. It can also indicate acceptance of the other dog.

It’s important not to interrupt your dog when they’re getting to know another of their own species. Disturbing them could be interpreted as aggressive behavior, and your dog might react negatively. Allow them space and time to interact naturally.

Approaching others

When your dog is curious about another person or animal, they might fold their ears back as they approach. This shows that they’re trying to appear non-threatening as they get closer.

Folded ears often come with a curious expression and a gentle demeanor when they’re trying to get close. While they want to approach, they’re also unsure about what might happen next, so they’re cautious.

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