dog with ears back

Dogs may not talk as we do, but they’re still excellent communicators1. From their tails to their eyes, body movements, and vocalizations, our furry friends have a lot to say. Their ears are no exception!

A dog that pulls its ears back may be feeling fear, nervousness, anxiety, or even positive emotions like contentment. To get to the bottom of why your pup’s ears are flattened, it can help to look at the whole picture.

The 5 Possible Reasons Why Your Dog’s Ears Are Back

1. Fear and Anxiety

This is one of the most common reasons for ears to be pulled back in dogs. If your dog’s ears are flat and they’re also showing other signs of fear or anxiety (like a tucked tail or wide eyes), it’s likely that they’re feeling scared.

Flattening their ears is a way to make themselves appear smaller and less threatening. It’s a natural defense mechanism that’s meant to calm the person or animal they’re feeling scared of.

2. A Warning Before They Attack

Fearful dogs aren’t the only ones that may flatten their ears. An aggressive dog may also pull their ears back as a warning signal before they attack.

Other warning signs that a dog is feeling aggressive include bared teeth, a stiff body, and raised hackles (the hair along their back and spine).

If your dog is displaying these behaviors, give them space and avoid eye contact. If you can, try to remove whatever is causing the aggression, like another dog or person. Give them time to calm down. Seeking help from a certified dog trainer or behaviorist may also be necessary.

german shepherd barking
Image courtesy of Pixabay

3. Pain and Illness

Dogs who are sick or in pain may also flatten their ears. They may be trying to protect themselves from further pain or discomfort.

Other signs that your dog may be ill or injured include lethargy, a decrease in appetite, and unusual vocalizations such as whimpering or whining. If your dog is displaying these signs, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

4. Contentment

Not all flattened ears are a cause for concern. In some cases, it may simply be a sign that your dog is feeling content and relaxed.

This is often seen in dogs that are being petted or scratched in just the right spot. If their ears are back and they’re also showing signs of happiness—like a wagging tail—then they’re probably just enjoying the moment.

5. Curiosity

Finally, your dog’s ears may go back because they’re curious about something. For example, if they hear a noise that they can’t identify, their ears may perk up and then go back as they try to figure out what it is.

Are you unsure if they’re simply curious or are actually feeling threatened by the noise? Observe their other body language. If their tail is wagging and they don’t seem tense, they’re likely investigating.

If the perky ears are combined with fearful body language like a tucked tail, they may be feeling nervous. Try to make the situation less scary for them by calming your own energy and voice, plus checking out the noise yourself to show them it’s not something to be afraid of.

Final Thoughts

Your best friend’s ears are one way to help you understand how they’re feeling. Next time you notice their ears pulled back, take a look at the rest of their body language, their surroundings, and any other context clues to help you better understand what they’re trying to tell you.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay