Now Ear This! Read Your Dog’s Mood by His Ear Posturing

Posted - December 30, 2020

In this mask-wearing pandemic time, it’s difficult to gauge a person’s mood because the mouth is covered. You can try to read the eyes or eyebrows in hopes of sensing if the person is smiling, frowning or upset.

Fortunately, our dogs do not need protective masks. And, if you pay close attention, you can possibly determine a dog’s mood by factoring in a key clue — his ear placement. This applies no matter if the dog has upright ears like in a German Shepherd or drooping, heavy ears like in a Basset Hound.

Although there are more than 200 recognized dog breeds plus countless mixed breeds, all dogs sport about 18 muscles that they use to raise, turn, and tilt each ear independently. Let’s take a closer look at two common canine ear positions:  cupped and flattened.

How Dogs Communicate by Cupping Their Ears

Dogs rely on a variety of body cues to let you know they are alert and ready for play. The ear position is a big canine clue.

Ready-for-play dogs often arch their ears up and forward – in a cupping position – when they see something of great interest, such as you picking up their prized tennis ball. They are using their cupped ears to let you know they are excited and ready for playtime.

Kona, my terrier-mix, is a master at cupping her ears, tilting her head slightly to one side and opening her mouth in a relaxed manner, the second she sees me head for her tennis ball in our backyard. She knows it is game on.

Curious dogs also cup their ears when they watching animals on your television. Thanks to high-definition and stereo sound systems in today’s TVs, squirrels scurrying and chattering across the screen may seem just too doggone real for your canine pal to not react by cupping his ears, moving closer to the screen and maybe even delivering a bark or two at this one-dimensional squirrel.

Confident, alert dogs also raise their ears forward and deliver a steady – but not intense – stare. This is the dog’s way of conveying that he feels secure and strong in his surroundings.

Interpreting Flattened Ears for Your Safety

Dogs on different ends of the emotional spectrum – from fearful to aggressive – flatten their ears to convey their mood. So, it is critical for your safety to carefully look for these distinct differences:

  • A fearful dog will flatten his ears against his head. His forehead will be smooth and he will crouch down in a cowering posture. Be careful when you approach a fearful dog who has his ears back, his tail tucked and his body lowered. A dog in this state may believe his only recourse to your advance is to nip and flee.
  •  An aggressive dog will also pull his ears tightly against his head, but his forehead will be tense and even wrinkled. You may also see that he has drawn his lips back to show a slight snarl.
  • A curious dog pulls his ears back loosely to convey he is concentrating on what you are saying or what he is seeing.
  • A sad dog often lays his head on his front paws with his ears back. He usually lies motionless.
  • A submissive dog may fold his ears back and out, like the wings of an airplane, when he is scolded by his owners who return to the home to discover a pee puddle on the living room rug. The dog cowers and flattens his ears not to show his guilt for piddling, but to convey that he recognizes his lower rank in the household hierarchy.
  • Feuding dogs will flatten their ears just before a fight to protect their ears from being scratched by nails or being bitten.

Finally, there are medical reasons for a dog to flatten his ears. He may flatten his ears and lean his head to one side because of the itchiness or irritation caused by an ear infection or due to the presence of a burr or foxtail inside his ear. Regularly inspect your dog’s ears and sniff inside them to catch any medical problem early, especially if you notice your dog is flattening his ears and rubbing them with his paws or on the rug.

Quick Ear-Cleaning Tips

A dog’s ear posturing can tell us a lot about a dog’s mood and healthy ears are important to all dogs.  Clean ears help dogs hear better – and feel better. Fortunately, keeping your dog’s ears clean, healthy, and free of irritation or itchiness can be easy with ZYMOX ear products.  Just consult with your veterinarian about the array of ZYMOX® ear products to select the one most appropriate for your dog’s needs.  The line includes an ear cleanser and ear solutions for infected, irritated ears. They contain no antibiotics and are easy to use.  Just shake the bottle before use, pour into the ear to fill the canal, gently massage and wipe to remove excess. There is no pre-cleaning prior to application. Easy, right?

ZYMOX products are available from your veterinary clinic or select pet specialty stores as well as the soon-to-open ZYMOX Store from its manufacturer, Pet King Brands.

Arden MooreArden Moore wears many collars in the pet world. She is a best-selling author, master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor, pet behavior consultant, host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio and happy pet parent to a Furry Brady Bunch in Dallas. Learn more at


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