What does it mean when a dog’s ears are held back?
Jason Jones, MBA - October 1, 2021
A dog has few ways to communicate with its owner, and the ears can tell an entire story if a person interprets it correctly.
This blog explores what it means when dogs’ ears are held back and other forms of canine ear communication.
Table Of Contents
- Why its important to understand what your dogs ear position means
- What does it mean when a dog’s ears are held back?
- Dog Ear Position Table
- When to use caution
Why its important to understand what your dogs ear position means
Dog body language is important to understand for a pet’s mental and physical health and its owners. Often, people unfamiliar with a dog will wrongly interpret dog body language and approach them with negative consequences. Most of the time the dog takes the brunt of the retaliation even though the human misinterprets their signaling.
Usually, the ears are read in conjunction with other visual signals, such as tail wagging, laying chest down and butt up, rolling on their backs, and many more.
Generally, a dog’s ears can measure its level of engagement during times of anger, arousal, fear, happiness, and of course, aggression. Learning a dog’s communications and positions through the ears can improve the health and relationships owners and dogs share.
What does it mean when a dog’s ears are held back?
When a dog's ears are held back it can convey a number of different emotions. Most importantly, if the dog is showing additional body language cues like barking, showing teeth, posturing, stiffness, or whisker twitching the dog is most likely in an aggressive mindset.
On the other hand, ears pinned back can also show the dog is ill, injured, or stressed. Pinned-backed ears on a dog is a sign that something is off in your pet's world and needs immediate attention.
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Ears that are pinned in conjunction with barking, growling, stiffness, and teeth are a sign of a dog who is ready to attack or defend.
Slightly Forward Still Relaxed
Ears that move somewhat forward but remain in a relaxed position may signal that the dog, while still friendly, is becoming edgier and alert to something in its immediate environment.
Pushed Forward w/ Teeth
Ears angled far forward can be a sign of play arousal, but they can also indicate aggression arousal, especially if the body is stiff and the mouth is openly showing the teeth. Be weary of an animal showing this posture, giving a person a clear signal not to approach.
Up and Relaxed
When a dog’s ears are up and relaxed, it shows that the dog is calm, friendly, and approachable. Dog owners need to learn what their dog’s ears look like in a neutral position to acknowledge any hinted changes in emotional or physical wellbeing
Ears tilted back is often a sign of stress or fear and possibly a submissive state. But – caution here – a dog holding its ears back could also become fear aggressive.
Dog Ear Position Table
|Ear Position||Possible Temperament|
|Up and Relaxed (Neutral)||Calm, friendly, relaxed|
|Slightly Forward, Still Relaxed (Attentive)||Still friendly, becoming edgy about something around them|
|Push Forward and Showing Teeth (Aggressive)||Potential for anger, aggression, and or arousal|
|Tilted Back (Intimidated)||Fear, illness, injury, stress (danger of fear aggression)|
|Pinned Back with Teeth, Barking, Growling, Facial Expressions, and Stiffness||Combined with other signals/fearful and nervous (Ready to attack and or defend)|
When to use caution
Never approach a dog you do not know. These are suggestions to what a dog may be thinking based on ear placement and posture. Unfortunately, circumstances do not always align with this table. Animals have a mind of their own and, if pushed, will become highly aggressive and can cause harm.
Canine body language is deeper than just a wagging tail and a wet tongue bouncing around playfully. While these are great emotional signals, a dog owner needs to be aware of the other emotional cues. For instance, the dog’s body language displays alertness, anger, anxiety, boredom, playfulness, relief, and vulnerability.
Canine ear emotional signals can include but are not limited to danger, fear, courting, nervousness, and sadness. Once again, every dog has a different set of ears to non-verbally express themselves, so the owners need to know their dog’s signals.
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