Fear or Anxiety: Top 9 reasons why dogs put their ears back

why dogs put their ears back

Why do dogs tuck their ears back, you may ask? Well, canines engage in this intriguing behavior for a variety of reasons. For centuries, they have utilized this method as a means to express their emotions, and its significance is deeply ingrained within their species. Interestingly enough, our beloved companions, dogs, have also learned to employ this communication tool when interacting with humans.

It’s fascinating to observe how most dogs possess the ability to adjust the position of their ears. They can effortlessly perk them up, flatten them against their heads, or even swivel them around, showcasing a remarkable range of motion. However, it’s worth noting that dogs with cropped ears may have a more limited repertoire when it comes to ear movements and communication.

The act of tucking their ears back serves as a nonverbal form of communication, allowing dogs to convey various messages. It can be a clear indication of fear or anxiety, an attempt to show submission or deference to a dominant individual, or even an expression of physical discomfort or pain. By observing their ear language, we can gain valuable insights into their emotional state and well-being.

So, the next time you notice your dog putting their ears back, take a moment to consider the underlying message they may be conveying. By decoding their ear language, you can embark on a journey of enhanced communication and strengthen the unique bond you share with your four-legged companion.

9 common reasons why dogs put their ears back

Showing Contentment
why dogs put their ears back

When your canine companion is in a state of relaxation, their ears typically hang in a neutral position. However, it’s worth noting that certain breeds, such as German Shepherds, have pointy ears, which may give the impression of alertness even when they are at ease. Nonetheless, when content, dogs have the ability to flatten their ears or gently fold them back.

Interestingly, some dogs can exhibit subtle signs of tension on their face even when they are content, causing their ears to pull back slightly. It’s important to recognize that not all dogs display this behavior, as each individual has their own unique way of expressing contentment or relaxation.

Dogs are stressed
Deppressed dog

When dogs fold their ears back, it’s an indication that they are experiencing stress or anxiety. This behavior serves as a clear signal of distress. The degree to which their ears fold back corresponds to the intensity of their anxiety. If their ears are completely flat against their head, it suggests they are highly anxious. Additionally, when a dog is anxious, you might notice the whites of their eyes showing, a phenomenon known as “whale eyes,” which is another sign of stress. Tension in their body may also be evident.

It’s interesting to observe how our furry friends react to our anger or displeasure. You may notice their behavior leaning towards appeasement rather than guilt. This response is not indicative of them feeling remorseful, but rather, it stems from a sense of intimidation in your presence. In an attempt to appease and avoid further conflict, dogs will often try to make themselves appear small.

When encountering a dog in this state, it’s crucial to exercise caution. A scared and anxious dog can be more prone to snapping or biting if they feel threatened. It’s important to approach them calmly and provide reassurance rather than escalating the situation further.

Warning Signs
feels warnigs sings

When your dog folds their ears backward, it can serve as a warning sign that they may resort to biting. This is particularly true if their ears are completely flat against their head. This behavior often coincides with fearful or aggressive body language, indicating that they are on the defensive.

Pay close attention to the sounds your dog makes, as they can also provide insights into their intentions. Growling and snarling are clear indications that they are prepared to defend themselves with aggression if necessary. Additionally, curled lips are another visual cue of their aggressive disposition.

Although it can be concerning to witness these behaviors, it’s important not to punish your dog for growling or snarling. Disciplining them in such situations may teach them that expressing warning signs will lead to negative consequences. As a result, they might suppress their signals of fear or discomfort and resort to immediate biting instead. It’s crucial to allow them to express their emotions, even the negative ones, so that they feel understood and are less likely to escalate to biting without warning.

Listening to Something
Listening to Something

Dogs have the fascinating ability to swivel or pull back their ears as a means of honing their listening skills. Have you ever wondered why dogs put their ears back when they’re trying to listen? Well, unlike us humans who rely on turning our heads, dogs can direct their hearing by moving their ears instead. They effortlessly swivel their ears towards the source of the sound they’re focusing on or pull them back if the sound originates from behind them.

When a dog is engaged in attentive listening, you’ll observe them assuming a poised stance. They’ll stand still, maintaining a fixed position, while diligently concentrating on the sound at hand, with their tails hanging naturally at a neutral position.

Depending on the direction of the sound, dogs may even move their ears forward, as if channeling their auditory prowess.

You can easily witness this phenomenon by taking your furry friend outside with you to the garden, for instance. Ask a family member to remain inside the house and call out to your dog. In an instant, you’ll notice their ears perking up, their whole demeanor becoming alert, as they focus intently on the familiar call. It’s truly remarkable how dogs employ their ears as finely tuned instruments for the art of listening.

Safety Mechanism
Safety Mechanism

Dogs also have a tendency to pull back their ears as a protective measure. It serves as a safety mechanism during times of stress or when faced with potential threats. By retracting their ears, dogs aim to minimize the target areas that an attacker could potentially exploit.

This instinctual response to danger is not unique to dogs—it can be observed in humans as well. When we perceive a threat, we instinctively try to make ourselves as small as possible. We might curl up, assuming a fetal position, bringing our limbs and body close together. Similarly, dogs exhibit similar behavior when they tuck their tail between their legs, bend their knees, and pull their ears back while swiftly retreating from a perceived threat.

Ears are delicate structures, and a bite from another animal could cause severe damage. Given that hearing is a vital sense relied upon by dogs, they naturally seek to protect their ears as much as possible. This is why they instinctively pull their ears back when confronted with a dangerous situation, prioritizing their auditory well-being alongside their overall safety.

Feeling Pain
Safety Mechanism

When your dog is injured or experiencing pain, one way they may communicate this is by pulling their ears back. It serves as a signal that they are fearful of exacerbating their condition. As mentioned earlier, this instinctual response is part of their safety mechanism—by retracting their ears, they aim to protect this vulnerable area from further harm.

It’s important to note that dog ears are highly vascular. Excessive scratching can potentially lead to the rupture of a blood vessel within the ear flap. This can result in swelling, puffiness, or a pillow-like appearance. If you observe such symptoms, it is crucial to promptly seek veterinary care for your furry companion.

In rare cases, a dog may pull their ears back due to a severe ear infection. If no other apparent cause can be identified for their ear position, it is advisable to consult a vet or seek professional assistance. Untreated ear infections can lead to further complications and discomfort for your dog.

Your Dog Is Greeting You
Dog Is Greeting You

There’s nothing quite like the heartwarming sight of your dog’s sheer excitement when you return home. As you walk through that door, you’ll likely be greeted by a delightful display—ears playfully folded back, their body contorting into a joyful U-shape, and an enthusiastic wag of their tail. Some dogs may even come running towards you, eager to shower your face with affectionate licks, all while keeping their ears tucked back.

When your dog pulls back their ears in this manner, it’s often a welcoming gesture. They’re expressing their desire to approach you without appearing threatening. It’s a friendly demonstration accompanied by a face radiating happiness and a relaxed, carefree body language. In their presence, they want you to feel at ease, just as they do in your company.

Courting Another Dog
Courting Another Dog

When it comes to expressing interest in a potential mate, dogs have their own unique set of courting rituals. Interestingly enough, folding their ears back plays a significant role in this process. It serves as a signal of submission, indicating a willingness to engage and interact with the other dog.

During these encounters, it’s important to give your dog the space and freedom to explore this connection without unnecessary disturbance. Interrupting their interaction can be perceived as aggressive behavior, potentially triggering a negative response from your dog. So, it’s best to observe from a distance and allow them to establish their own rapport.

Trying to Get Close
Trying to Get Close

When your dog is filled with curiosity about another being, be it a person or another animal, you may notice their ears folded back as they approach. It’s their way of signaling that they harbor no ill intentions and wish to appear non-threatening as they draw nearer.

This gesture of folded ears is often accompanied by a curious expression and a gentle disposition, showcasing their genuine interest in getting closer. However, it’s important to remember that their cautiousness stems from uncertainty about what might unfold in the interaction. They are simply being vigilant and aware of the potential outcomes.


The ear is an intriguing aspect of your dog, offering valuable insights into their emotions, particularly for breeds with expressive ears. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution when interpreting their signals. What may appear as appeasement at first glance could actually indicate underlying stress. Misreading their cues could exacerbate their distress and even lead to unintended bites.

It’s essential to take a comprehensive approach and consider all factors at play. While the ears provide a starting point, they don’t tell the whole story. External circumstances and environmental stimuli greatly influence your dog’s state of mind. By remaining mindful of their surroundings, you can gain a deeper understanding of their emotions.

Remember, each dog is unique, possessing its own distinct traits. Building a strong bond with your furry companion hinges on effective communication. By actively engaging with your dog and establishing clear lines of communication, you foster a harmonious relationship based on trust and understanding.

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