Our pets can truly be our pride and joy – we love to have them with us all the time; playing, sleeping, and cuddling with them can be incredibly rewarding. As we spend more and more time with our pets, particularly our dogs, we get to know so much about their personality – we know when they are hungry when they are sad or happy or scared.
Part of our dog’s ability to express themselves so easily comes from their body language, particularly how they use their ears.
What? Their ears?
It is true! A dog’s ears and how they move them can give us a tremendous amount of information when we pay attention to them. Our dogs use their ears as cues to how they are feeling – so as we look at our dog’s body language, what does it mean when they put their ears back?
Let us see if we can break apart the different things a dog is trying to tell us when they use their ears to communicate.
Why Do Dogs Put Their Ears Back?
As we all know, dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Some dogs are short, tiny, with little flaps for ears, while other larger dog breeds can have long, drooping ears that hang down past their neck. Regardless of the type of dog that you own, all dogs use their body language to communicate with us.
When we begin to understand our dogs’ language, we can better understand what they are feeling and what they may need or not want from us. Paying attention to body language as a whole is very important – as we look at how a dog can use their ears you will begin to understand how they use them to communicate.
Before we can identify the different ways your dog uses their ears to communicate, we need to think about the type of ears that the dog has.
For example, if you have a dog like a Basenji, with short ears that can pop up to form little triangles on their head and move them back and forth, they will have different ways to express emotion than a bloodhound that has long floppy ears that lie flat against their head. Each dog can use their ears differently to express their feelings.
When a Dog’s Ears Are Upright
Let’s say you are talking to your dog, and they have either perked up their ears and eyes are on you, or they shifted their ears towards you and are paying attention to what you are saying. This posture communicates intentional engagement, typically positive, and your dog is engaged with what you are doing or saying.
When a Dog’s Ears Are Lying Back
When your dog has their ears lying back on their head, or their head and eyes are downturned, this can mean a few things – your dog is probably scared or nervous. Any time you notice a dog with its ears shifted back or lying on its head, pause before you touch them.
Dogs that are worried or uncomfortable need to be approached carefully; you don’t want to startle them or cause them to bite in fear.
When a Dog’s Ears Are Forward
When a dog is engaged with you, paying attention to your face, and focused on you, they are eager and want to continue that interaction.
A dog that is curious and interested in you will show those emotions with its face and ears. This type of engagement is often seen when the dog anticipates a treat or someone throwing a toy to play with.
It is essential to get to know any dog before you jump in and start interacting and petting them. Although many dogs are friendly and want engagement, you never know what a dog has been through and what things may make them fearful.
If you are meeting a dog for the first time, use a happy, engaging voice and talk to them. Pay attention to their ears, their face, and their body – are they moving towards you, are their ears perked up, and are they wagging their tail or smiling?
These are all reasonable indications that the dog would like to engage with you.
If a dog is engaging this way and walking towards you, you are more than likely going to pet and play with this dog.
If when meeting a dog for the first time and they do not respond to your voice or sit down where they are and put their ears back, this may indicate that they are unsure or worried about you.
Do not immediately move towards this dog; let them watch you for a few minutes. Please sit down and talk to them or even look away for a bit before looking back at them.
Let the dog assess you, and if they choose to move towards you with ears forward and engaged, they may invite you to interact with them. If they stay put and continue with a stressed posture, ears lying back, do not attempt to pet this dog. Pay attention to the message that they are sending you that says, “give me my space right now; I am not so sure about you yet.”
Be thoughtful and pay attention to how the dog is using their body to communicate to you. Dogs can be fantastic companions, but they can also hurt us if they are put in a position that causes them to fear or worry, even if that is not their intention.
Just like human beings, dogs use their body language to communicate with those around them. Whether it be fellow canines or people, dogs use their ears to send a message to those near them to let others know how they feel.
A dog that is given time and space to relax and measure you up may be the difference between an excellent fun interaction or an injury waiting to happen.