Dogs are social creatures with unusual habits. Of course, the things they do are perfectly normal to them…like licking your ears.
If you own more than one dog, you may have even noticed them licking each others ears. Mutual grooming, for example is a common behavior. If you have the opportunity to watch a litter of puppies, you may notice them grooming the ears of another pack member.
Dogs evoke all sorts of emotions from us, the pet owners. We worry, laugh, and wonder at the sometimes silly things they do.
One reason for licking behavior is simply for the taste. Yes, that’s a little gross, but it’s the way it is. Of course, dogs use their ears to communicate in all sorts of ways!
A submissive dog will have his ears down and possibly pinned back a little. An angry dog will perk his ears and pull them flat against his head in an aggressive stance. Curious dogs will cock their eyes up and out and if your dog is very interested in something, his ears may push forward.
If you’re a dog lover (as I’m sure you are), you probably don’t mind your dog’s licking behavior. Family members and friends, however, may not find it as charming.
Today we’re talking about ear licking and what it means for you and your dog. Spoiler Alert: It’s perfectly normal.
1. Natural Instincts
Dogs are pack animals. In fact, they are at their best when they feel confidence and secure in a setting where there is a strong pack-leader. That pack-leader is you! You may not realize it, but dogs look to you for commands and guidance. Without those, they can become fearful or worse – aggressive.
Licking can be a sign of affection or a dog’s way of getting your attention. In fact, there are a number of possible reasons for the behavior. The good news is that it’s okay. Unless, you want to curb the behavior, there’s nothing to worry about.
2. Saying Hello
Dogs only have so many ways of using their body’s as a means of communication. They use subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) body language to get your attention.
For example, your dog may jump on your lap at the end of the day to say hello. If you’ve encouraged “kisses”, he may lick your ears as a way of expressing affection towards you.
In some cases, a dog or puppy may lick your ears as a way of saying, “I’m cool; nothing to worry about here.” It may not necessarily be a sign of submissiveness, but it’s definitely a gentle sign that everything is okay.
Dogs need a way to communicate their place within the social structure of a pack. In some cases, it’s simply a sign of respect for the pack leader.
4. Ear Infection
If you have dogs, you may have noticed one of them licking or cleaning the other’s ears. In some cases, it could be a sign of a medical problem like an ear infection.
As you know, dogs can smell between 10,000 to 100,000 times better than we can. Their extensive sense receptors are able to actually smell bacteria forming in the body.
Have you heard of cancer-sniffing dogs? Dogs are used for all sorts of reasons involving the tracking and finding of various things including drugs, disease, and cadavers.
Excessive licking of another pet’s ears could be their way of alerting you to medical problems.
Some dogs are more cuddly and some are more in-your-face with their love.
We’ve all met that one dog who can’t help but stick his tongue in your ear. It’s funny and gross at the same time. But let’s face it, we love our dogs and when they do that it only makes us love them more. Consider it a compliment and a sign of affection .
Pet experts claim that dog licking is a common bonding activity.
Our canine companions can develop a variety of anxiety behaviors that may include compulsive licking.
If your dog obsessively licks your other pet’s ears (or yours!) it may be caused by a compulsive disorder. You may also notice your dog licking his own body parts over and over again. This is a sign of stress and should be addressed.
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety, fear, and insecurity, may engage in this behavior. Generally speaking, it’s not a problem for the other animals (unless they hate it).
Too much of a good thing could actually cause your other pets to suffer from otitis externa. By keeping the ear canal continuously wet, the pet can develop inflammation and redness .
7. Seeking Attention
We don’t want our dogs jumping on people, especially if they are large dogs. Most pet owners take steps to curb this behavior. While you don’t want an obsessive jumper, you also don’t want an obsessive licker!
If you want the ear licking to stop, the worst thing to do is reward the behavior. We do this without even thinking. Our dogs lick us and we laugh. We might say “get out of here” but our voices and actions are telling the dog something entirely different.
If it becomes too much, you may need to try behavior modification techniques to help curb the activity. You could use the services of a dog trainer or use the distraction method to stop your dog from licking. There are a variety of ways to do this including:
- Interrupt the licking by offering your dog interactive toys
- Distract your dog with a treat. For example, smear peanut butter on the inside of a kong toy. This will help soothe your dog’s need to lick without sacrificing your ears.
Dogs also see children as part of the pack and may be more than happy to lick their ears all day. The problem with this is in the dog saliva.
An occasional ear licking is nothing to be concerned about. However, if your dog is always licking toddlers’ ears, excessive moisture will build up in the ear canal over time.
Children can get ear infections easily and if your dog’s tongue is constantly in a toddler’s ear, it becomes a prime breeding ground for bacteria to grow.
Dogs show happiness in a number of ways. You can tell a dog is happy by their body language. They appear relaxed and at ease. Greeting you with “kisses” and a few licks to the ear could just be your dog’s way of showing happiness.
Mutual grooming is often seen in young puppies from the same litter/pack. It’s not unusual for dogs to lick other dogs’ ears for the same reason.
As pack members, puppies often lick another dog’s mouth as a sign of appeasement. It’s actually an evolutionary behavior dogs have learned as a form of communication with you and other animals. It’s a way of relieving stress.
In licking human ears, for example, it can be a way for a dog to try and diffuse what he considers a stressful or tense situation.
Licking dogs’ ears can be a way of saying, “I come in peace”.
Unfortunately, domestic dogs don’t have the most sophisticated palate. We can buy them all the boutique dog food we want, but at the end of the day they’re going to crave some pretty undesirable things. Like your ear wax.
Yes, it’s kind of disgusting. For a dog, it’s normal behavior. They like the taste of earwax because it’s salty.
When a puppy licks your ears, it’s probably just his/her way of learning the ways of the world. Human babies put things in their mouths as a way of learning tastes and textures.
A dog’s mouth is no different in that respect. Young puppies also use this method to learn about the world around them.
At the end of the day, your dog licks your ears because he loves you. You can say it a million different ways, but it’s a pretty obvious sign of affection.
As a dog owner, you’re likely aware of the differences between a loving greeting versus compulsive behavior.
If it feels natural and there are no health concerns for your dog, just go with it! The one disclaimer here would be to watch how often your dog is licking a toddler’s ears.
First, you don’t want a dog jumping on a toddler. Second, that extra moisture can sit and fester in a child’s ear drum. The last thing you want is for your child to develop a painful ear infection.
If, for whatever reason, you are worried about your dog’s behavior, see a veterinarian. It’s important to rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing the behavior. Otherwise, a little redirection and behavioral training is usually all that’s needed.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you’ll come back for more great posts related to your dog’s health matters! In fact, here are a few posts you may be interested in reading next: