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Dog Ear Positions: What They Mean

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Everyone knows doggo ears are adorable. Even better, dog ears are powerful. These super-sensitive organs help canines hear sounds that humans can’t even detect. But have you heard (ahem) that dog ear positions can also offer insight into our pets’ moods and emotions? 

“Ear positions are a great way to read a dog’s behavior,” says Dr. Lindsay Butzer, DVM, a veterinarian in Boca Raton, Florida. When you’re dealing with a dog, subtle ear movements can reveal whether they’re excited or apprehensive. “If you have a good understanding of dog expressions, this could help keep you and your dog safe,” she notes.

The more you know about dog ear positions, the more you’ll know about your four-legged friend. Ready to hear all about it? Lend us your ears!

Understanding Your Dog’s Ears: The Basics

Can you wiggle your ears? In humans, this skill is extremely rare because we evolved to capture sound by turning our heads. So the muscles that control the outer ear are extremely limited.

However dogs have ear muscles that allow them to raise, lower, tilt, and turn their ears, explains California veterinarian, Dr. Bethany Hsia, DVM, co-founder of CodaPet

This handy feature allows dogs to angle their ears toward incoming sounds to help them hear better. It also helps dogs communicate with other dogs (and humans!) through their body language

“Ears can convey quite a bit about what a dog is feeling,” says Dr. Hsia. “Positioning can signify calmness, fear, stress, focus, and more.”

Dog Ear Position Meaning: Decoding Movements

The size and shape of dog ears vary from breed to breed. Yet there are some dog ear positions and movements that most pet parents will find familiar. Here are some of the most common, and what they mean.


“When relaxed, dogs may have their ears set at a 40-degree angle,” says Dr. Butzer. But your dog’s neutral ear position depends on their individual breed and unique anatomy.

If your dog’s ears naturally stand erect and upright, they may remain that way, even when relaxed. The same goes for dogs with droopier ears, like Poodles, Golden Retrievers, or Doodles. “Their ears may be simply floppy and flat when they are relaxed,” Dr, Butzer says.  

Neutral ears usually mean all is well. “When dog ears are in a relaxed position, it typically indicates that the dog is calm and content,” says Dr. Hsia. 

“We often see this ear position when the dog is at ease, feeling comfortable in their environment, and not experiencing any stress or anxiety,” Dr. Hsia notes.

Dog Ears Back/Flattened

When a dog’s ears are flattened or pinned back against their head, it can be a sign of fear or submission. 

“This ear position can signal that the dog is trying to appear non-threatening,” says Dr. Hsia. “Or they could be feeling intimidated by a person, animal, or situation.” If you see this dog ear body language, your pup might need reassurance and support to feel safe, she adds.

However, flattened ears can also signal excited affection. Breeds including Lapponian Herders, Huskies, Doberman Pinschers, and Corgis are known for pinning their ears back in an excitedly playful manner, notes Dr. Butzer. 

“Pinned-back ears are a hard one to decode,” says Dr. Butzer. In some dogs, it could signal fear, while others could just be acting squirrely and sweet.

Dog Ears Perked Up/Forward

Unlike pinned-back ears, perky ears are fairly straightforward. Dogs often position their ears forward if they hear something exciting, like someone opening the cheese drawer or the school bus approaching. 

“This ear position shows that the dog is engaged and focused,” says Dr. Hsia. “Dogs will often raise their ears and point them forward when they are interested in a new sound, smell, or sight.”

If your dog’s perked-up ears start to lean forward even more, their anticipation may be growing. Take this as a sign that things have escalated from “curious excitement” to “it’s go time,” says Dr. Butzer. Be on your (literal) toes, as a chase may soon follow.

Changing Positions

If your dog’s ears move through a variety of positions, this can indicate a developing situation. Just as you might cycle through different expressions when reading a text message, your dog’s ears may move around as they take in information. 

“Ears that are changing positions mean your dog might be thinking or processing the sounds they are hearing,” says Dr. Butzer. “They may even tilt their head to try to hear the sound from different perspectives to figure out what it is.”

Dog Ear Positions Chart

What do common dog ear positions mean? Consult this handy chart for on-the-go info. 

Ear Position Meaning Additional Body Language 
Neutral Calm, contentLoose body; relaxed gaze; slightly open mouth; soft eyes
Flattened (scared)Stressed, submissive, fearful Whining, whimpering, or barking; tucked tail; tight lips; raised hackles; dilated pupils 
Flattened (affectionate)Affectionate, playful Wiggly body; “puppy eyes”; licking; wagging tail
Perked UpExcitement, focusWide eyes; closed mouth; extended tail that may wag slightly 
ChangingGathering information, formulating a response  Moving eyes; tilting head; leaning forward 

Dog Ear Language: Looking for Context

As expressive as they are, dog ears only tell part of the story. That’s why it’s important to consider your dog’s ear position related to their overall body language

Dr. Hsia recommends paying equal attention to your dog’s eyes, mouth, tail, posture, and vocalizations. “Dogs use their entire bodies to communicate,” she says. “When we look at the whole picture, we better understand individual positions and movements.” 

Additionally, some ear-related movements – such as head tilting, head shaking, and ear scratching – may indicate an underlying medical condition, such as an ear infection, mites, or polyps, adds Dr. Butzer. In these cases, a prompt visit to your veterinarian is in order. 

The bottom line? Just like your dog, your dog’s ears are extraordinary! “Tune in” to your dog’s ear positions to understand what they’re telling you. And consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog’s ears or their health. Hear, hear!