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The simple fact is that our dogs can be quite gross.
Most of us try not to think about this when we cuddle up next to them after a long day but without our supervision, most dogs will happily eat, lick or chew just about anything they can come across. It’s easy to understand licking food items or floors that may have had food spilled on them but some habits are not so easy to understand.
Like licking the ears of other dogs.
What’s actually going on here? Why do some dogs lick other dogs’ ears?
Dogs may lick another dog’s ear to say hello and let them know that they’re friendly. They may also do it as part of a grooming and bonding process or simply because they enjoy the taste of earwax. Some dogs may be more likely to lick ears when they’re bored.
That’s the quick answer but let’s dive a little deeper into this weird canine behavior with everything you need to know about why dogs lick canine ears.
Reason 1: Licking Ears Can Be A Friendly Greeting And An Appeasement Behavior
In the human world, licking the ears of someone you just met would not go well.
But in the canine world, it can be a great way to not only say hello but also let the other dog know that you come in peace!
Traditional behavior theory about dogs and wolves suggested that dominance was a critical part of their everyday life. This idea found its way into behavior training too but has since been debunked. As social animals, there is certainly a social structure or hierarchy to the canine world but it’s not all about being the top dog or alpha pack leader.
Ear licking when meeting a new dog would fall into the traditional category of submissive behavior but is probably better described as an appeasement behavior or a behavior that signals friendliness and respect to other dogs.
Appeasement behavior includes things like avoiding eye contact, licking other dogs’ eyes or faces, lifting paws, showing submissive smiles, and of course licking ears along with many other behaviors.
Licks that are part of a friendly greeting or appeasement behavior are usually short, quick, and accompanied by other more submissive postures and body language. This video does a great job showing what these licks look like and these are the type of ear licks you’d expect when your dog meets a new canine friend at the park:
Many owners may be worried that their dog is trying to start a fight by walking right up and licking the ear of a strange dog and while that would be a great way to stir up trouble in the human world it has quite the opposite effect when it comes to canines!
Reason 2: Dogs Like The Taste…And Infected Ears Taste Better
Our first explanation sounds almost cute and a dog that quickly licks the ear is similar to a quick peck on the cheek in the human world.
Well, cute is now officially over and gross is in.
That’s becausemany dogs enjoy the taste of ear wax and other gunk that makes its way into a dog’s ear canal. Even better if there’s a mild infection, especially a yeast infection since this will only double the grossness and triple the appeal.
But what’s so appealing about ear wax and stinky smells?
First, there’s the aspect of salt and most bodily secretions are at least a little salty. Salt is a big deal and not only can dogs taste salt but just like most living creatures they also crave it as a basic and essential nutrient. Studies have found that even insects crave salt and it’s one of the most valuable resources that an animal could find in the wild.
However, ear wax isn’t all about salt, and according to some particularly curious journalists, human ear wax tastes quite bitter. I’m sorry to say that I’m not quite committed enough to taste a dog’s ear wax so we’ll have to assume that it’s also somewhat bitter which is another category of taste that dogs can experience.
While bitter isn’t something that we’d normally be interested in, the novelty of it seems to be appealing for dogs and it’s likely the combination of natural tastes mixed with dirt and debris that creates the perfect (and disgusting) ear canal cocktail.
As if all that wasn’t gross enough, it seems that dogs are particularly interested in infected ears which would certainly have a different taste, smell, and even texture. Dogs with floppy ears are particularly prone to ear infections which can cause the discharge of pus. Yeast infections are also common in canine ears and can cause some very strange smells and many folks suggest that they smell like Fritos.
I can guarantee you that if you put some Fritos in front of your dog they will happily chow down so despite being extremely gross it should be no surprise that dogs can’t resist licking a yeast-infected ear.
Dogs that lick ears for the taste of it may constantly try to get to their canine companion’s ear. They’ll also lick muchdeeper than pups that are using the behavior as a friendly greeting. So if your dog looks like they’re treating their friend’s ear like a jar of peanut butter, it’s safe to say that they’re probably motivated by taste.
Reason 3: To Help Out With Grooming
Now that we have the grossest explanation out of the way, let’s turn back to an explanation that’s closely tied to cute and friendly pack behavior!
Even though dogs don’t have the reputation for grooming that our cats have, they still need to lick themselves to stay clean. Cats have also mastered the graceful use of their paw to groom their face, eyes, and ears while dogs…just haven’t.
That means they could use a little help when it comes to cleaning their ears and some dogs are more than happy to help. Sure, they may be more interested in the taste of some ear wax rather than some form of canine altruism but the result is the same.
It’s also likely that the dog that’s getting their ears licked will be happy for the attention. Just as dogs love some human help with allthe hard-to-reach spots, many dogs will enjoy the feeling of having their ears licked.
Despite the possibility of good intentions, ear licking is more likely to result in infections instead of cleaner ears. Bacteria and yeast grow best in environments with some moisture and the constant licking from another dog can add the needed moisture to spur an infection.
Grooming is likely to be a part of the ear licking explanation if dogs are licking the ear of their close companions or familiar dogs. Especially if it occurs during downtime when dogs are lounging or relaxing.
Reason 4: Bond Building And Companionship
Closely related to grooming, dogs may lick each other’s face, eyes and ears are part of bond-building and a sign of companionship.
Puppies are licked by their mom as soon as they’re born and they will continue to be licked by their mother well into their adolescent stage. Additionally, puppies will lick their mom’s mouth in order to request food. It’s a little gross but you can read more about that behavior here.
But the takeaway here is that licking is one of the earliest positive experiences a dog will have and for most dogs, it will be a sign of closeness and familiarity. Of course, there’s nothing special about the ear when it comes to bonding but some dogs may decide to both build the bond and enjoy the taste and smell of the ear canal at the same time.
Licking that’s related to bonding will not just be limited to the ears and include other parts of their canine companion as well.
Reason 5: Ear Licking Dogs Could Be Bored And Curious
There’s an old saying that a tired dog is a happy dog and in the human world, idle hands are a well-known cause of problems.
Boredom that leads into some natural curiosity could be all it takes for dogs to start exploring their canine friend’s ears with a few sniffs then a few licks.
Even more so if there’s any kind of infection present which will only make the ear even more interesting and novel. That may sound gross, but when you think of the world through your dog’s eyes it doesn’t seem so crazy. Your dog’s nose is so powerful that it’s going to be hard for them to just ignore a sudden change in smell that comes with an infection or even a little extra moisture mixing with ear wax.
The folks at Nova explain that a dog’s nose is as much as 100,000 times more powerful than our own. For a little perspective on what that really means, they explain that “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”
So of course your dog will smell any change in their canine companion’s ears and the natural next step is to lick. Notjust because our dogs can be gross but because the mouth is one of the most important aspects of how dogs interact with and explore their world.
Reason 6: Compulsive or Obsessive Licking
In rare cases, ear licking could be part of compulsive or obsessive licking behavior. More often, dogs will lick themselves or things around the house like the floor or bedding but it could turn into licking their canine roommate too. The ear can be a favorite location because the dog receiving the licking may enjoy it and we’ve already established the appeal of earwax…at least for dogs.
Dogs that are compulsively licking may show other signs of obsessive behavior like circling, licking other items, and even looking up at objects that aren’t there. However, these conditions are somewhat rare but if you suspect your dog may be suffering from obsessive or compulsive licking behavior then you should contact your veterinarian.
Should You Worry?
A little ear licking is completely normal canine behavior and the canine equivalent of a handshake or head nod between new acquaintances. A bit more ear licking is also normal for dogs that are bonded and mutual grooming is a common sign of companionship across the animal companion.
But there is a point when ear licking crosses a line and becomes too much.
When dogs seem obsessed with licking ears or ears are left visibly wet after so much licking then it becomes a problem. Not only could it be a sign of a bigger issue but if left unchecked the moisture from licking could lead to an ear infection which could actually encourage more ear licking. This could even create a positive feedback loop of ear licking.
Not only could ear licking make the infections worse, but it also means that the dog doing the licking could ingest a long list of different bacterias and potentially medicine if the ears are under treatment.
Of course, it takes time to get to that point but when ear licking seems to happen more often it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian.
How To Stop Ear Licking Behavior
Whether ear licking has become a problem or not, you may want to try to curb the behavior and prevent it from becoming an issue in the future.
So what can you do?
Let’s break down the steps to follow.
Step 1: Rule Out Any Medical Concerns
It’s common practice to look for any medical concernsbeforetrying to tackle a behavior problem.
After all, if dogs are suffering from a medical condition then no amount of behavior training will help and it’s no different here. Look for an ear infection, wound, or any other change to the ear of the dog that’s being licked.
You’ll also want to rule out obsessive or compulsive disorders in the dog that’s doing the licking. Your veterinarian can help with both.
Step 2:Redirect The Behavior
Once medical concerns are ruled out, you’ll want to give your dog something else to do besides licking ears. This is called redirecting the behavior and it’s like saying to your dog “You can’t do that, but you cando this.”
Whatever you provide as an alternative should be similar and my favorite choice is the Licki Mat which is somewhere between a toy and a food puzzle. You can spread something tasty all over the Licki Mat and dogs will spend their time slowly licking it off.
Because of all the cracks, crooks, and nooks, it can end up taking some dogs quite a long time and it has many of the same appeal that licking an ear does. It’s also one of the better options for dogs that don’t usually like toys since food will motivate most pups to start licking. You can read reviews and check today’s price for my favorite Licki Mat variation on Amazon by clicking here.
Whatever you pick as an alternative, consider what your dog likes doing the most and try to find toys that match their style. Whether it’s toys that cater to digging or just anything interactive, find something that’smore interesting than licking ears.
Ear licking could also be a sign of boredom and while a new toy can help relieve some of that, you’ll also want to make sure your dog is getting the appropriate amount of exercise and interactive play.
Step 3: Teach The “Leave It” Command
In many cases, just trying to redirect the behavior will be enough to stop the licking.
But to further enforce the behavior you can teach your dog the “Leave It” command to let them know that dog ears are off-limits. This command is also extremely helpful in day-to-day life so it’s worth teaching your pup even after the ear licking problem has been solved.
This video does a great job showing you how to teach the leave it command with just a few pieces of kibble:
Does Gender Matter When It Comes To Ear Licking?
Do the explanations above still hold up across all canine genders?
In other words, is the reason why female dogs lick the ears the same as it would be for male dogs?
Female dogs lick ears for all the same reasons as male dogs including a way of saying hello, grooming, bonding, and just for the taste of ear wax. Female dogs that have had a litter of puppies would have vigorously licked their puppies for several months but that doesn’t mean they’d lick more often.
Others may argue that female dogs are more likely to ear lick as a sign of submissiveness but as we’ve already explained dominance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and there’s no correlation between specific genders and leadership within the canine pack.
So even though it may seem like dogs of a specific gender lick more often than others,I haven’t found any concrete evidence that female or male dogs lick more than other genders.
Ear licking is one of the many weird ways that dogs communicate and interact with each other.
When you realize it’s like a little canine handshake or peck on the cheek you may start to see it in a different light and this behavior can be quite cute.
But if instead your dog is motivated by the taste of ear wax or the smell of infection, then suddenly this behavior doesn’t seem so cute at all. While ear licking can be normal canine behavior, it can also get out of hand and even lead to ear infections if left unchecked.
What do you think? What reason best explains your dog’s love of licking ears?
Why Do Dogs Lick Other Dogs' Ears? - (6 Reasons Explained)? ›
Whywould a dog lick other dogs' ears? It turns out there are many reasons for this behavior. Some use it as a greeting, while others want to show affection and bond with their companions. It could also be part of their grooming regimen, a sign of compulsive disorder, idleness, or love for earwax.Why is my dog licking my others dogs ears? ›
When two dogs are on friendly terms as part of the same family, they become very comfortable grooming each other. Licking each other's ears is just one way to show that. What's more, it can ward off ear mites, but too much licking can cause irritation and possibly an ear infection.What does it mean when dogs lick each others eyes and ears? ›
Dogs might lick each other when they are trying to appease the other or show signs of submission. It could be a case of mutual grooming. Some dogs have more ocular discharge and/or tear production than others.What does it mean when a dog grooms another dog? ›
Think of this as the doggy equivalent of social kissing. Dogs who are already friends will also trade smooches. Two strongly bonded canine pals will lick and groom each other. They give each other “dog kisses” in displays of affection and friendship.What are dogs doing when they lick each other? ›
Affection and bonding
Dogs sometimes lick just to show affection. This is true when they lick us, as well as when they lick other dogs. Licking also helps dogs relax and bond.
Most puppies are born with the tendency to want to lick older dogs' mouths. It is rarely used for inducing regurgitation in dogs – most frequently it is an appeasement signal. A young puppy might for example lick an older dog's mouth when he comes in from outside or enters a room the puppy is in.Why does my dog always lick my other dogs private area? ›
Is It Normal for Dogs to Lick Each Other's Privates? Yes, it is normal for dogs to lick each other's privates. Every animal has their social dynamics, it's simply its way of saying hello. Just like humans giving handshakes and hugs, the dogs also adopt licking as their form of exchanging pleasantries.Is it OK for dogs to lick each others ears? ›
If your dogs are licking each other's ears, know that this is completely normal. They do this as a sign of love, respect, or even to show that they miss each other or are excited to see each other. Sometimes, it may be a sign of something a bit serious.Why does my dog lick me and stare? ›
Licking is a natural and instinctive behaviour to dogs. For them it's a way of grooming, bonding, and expressing themselves. Your dog may lick you to say they love you, to get your attention, to help soothe themselves if they're stressed, to show empathy or because you taste good to them!Why does my dog put his mouth around my other dogs head? ›
The function of this behavior is to confirm a relationship rather than to settle a dispute. The more self-confident individual will muzzle grab a more insecure opponent and thus assert its social position. The more insecure individual does not resist the muzzle grab.
Do dogs lick to show dominance? ›
Yes, Licking Is A Sign Of Dominance
Dogs can attempt to show dominance towards a dog or human by aggressively licking them. This is a determined, deliberate act, and is uninvited or inappropriate for the situation. This type of dog licking indicate an assertion of dominance and control.
Your dog licks you to show they care, to get attention, to understand you better and because they enjoy it. However, the reason they may prefer your feet could be because they're bursting with scent information that tells them a lot about you, where you've been and what you've been doing.Why does my dog keep sniffing my private area? ›
Key takeaway. Dogs sniff people's crotches because of the sweat glands, also known as apocrine glands, that are located there. Sniffing these glands gives a dog information about a person such as their age, sex, mood, and mating probability.Do dogs grieve each other? ›
When a dog loses a companion, two- or four-legged, he grieves and reacts to the changes in his life. Dogs alter their behavior when they mourn, much like people do: They may become depressed and listless. They may have a decreased appetite and decline to play.Why do dogs lick instead of kiss? ›
A dog who licks you is showing you that they love you, so it's no surprise many people call them "dog kisses". It's a natural action for dogs — a way for them to express how they feel about you. Charlotte adds: "It's important that you don't force a dog to give you 'kisses or cuddles'.Why won't my dog stop licking my other dog's ears? ›
The ears are a place that can get pretty dirty, and dogs are unable to groom them on their own. If you see a dog licking ears, whether they belong to another dog, a cat, or even you, he or she is saying two things: I am comfortable with you and accept you as part of my pack. I respect and love you.How do you know if my dogs like each other? ›
They like to snuggle up close to one another and fall asleep
"If they are sleeping with each other and snuggled up together — really truly making contact with each other — then that's an obvious sign that there's true affection between the animals," Nelson explained.
Dogs' mouths will sometimes chatter after they've licked something – it's usually just an impulsive reaction and nothing to worry about! Remember dogs' sense of taste and smell is much stronger than ours and sometimes this results in chattering teeth.Why do dogs smell each others butts? ›
"Because the odor is unique to every dog, two dogs can quickly determine if they have met before." Dogs sniff rear ends as a form of greeting and obtain vital information from the anal secretions.Why do dogs eat grass? ›
Dogs need roughage in their diets and grass is a good source of fiber. A lack of roughage affects the dog's ability to digest food and pass stool, so grass may actually help their bodily functions run more smoothly.
Why is my female dog obsessed with my boyfriend? ›
Often, this is simply a case of access, or lack of it. If one person spends more time at home with the dog, naturally the dog will want to see and spend time with the other partner, too. When the absent partner rewards that behavior by handing out treats upon return, reinforcement and hardwiring occurs.Should I let my dog lick my other dogs ear infection? ›
A dog continuously licking another dog's ears can give the other dog serious ear problems. It can result in soreness on the lobe or worse, an infection in the dog's ear canal.What does it mean when a dog gently bites your hand? ›
“If your pet is play-biting (or pulling at you for attention), then he'll do it because he's having fun with you, and it's a sign of affection,” explains Dr. Nelson. “He will look happy, bite gently, and may even be lying down.” If you see these 11 behaviors, your dog might need obedience training.
Experts in dog behavior believe that, in general, dogs do not like being embraced. However, every dog has a unique personality. Some may dislike hugs more strongly than others, and some may actually adore them. The closest thing our furry family members do to a hug is something referred to as 'standing over'.What does it mean when your dog follows you everywhere? ›
If your dog follows you everywhere then it's a sign that they trust and love you and that you make them feel safe. Following you very closely can be a sign that they're bored, they want something, they're feeling scared or are just being nosy.Where do you pinch a dog to stop biting? ›
The best bet for curing for puppy biting is to place your hand in front of their mouth. When they bite, pinch the jowls lightly until they stop. Usually, he'll take the bait again. When he does, I'll pinch the jowls again but with a little more pressure this time.What does it mean when a dog nudges another dog with his nose? ›
Why does my dog nudge other dogs? Dogs don't only nudge their humans — they'll sometimes use their noses to show submission or dominance to other dogs. If your pup puts his nose up to another dog, rubs his face or licks his nose, he's trying to show the other dog respect.Should I hold my dog's mouth shut when he bites? ›
Here are some behaviors to avoid when your puppy starts biting: Don't hold your puppy's mouth closed when they nip at you. This method can send the wrong message to some developing pups.How do you tell if your dog respects you? ›
Reed says, “When a dog respects you, they will respect your space, listen and respond when you ask them to do something.” This also means they aren't constantly pestering you for attention. Respectful behaviors include: Coming when called (and not jumping up on you) Relaxing when you are otherwise occupied.Why do dogs lean on you? ›
They Lean on You
When you're sitting on the couch and your dog leans his body weight against your legs, he's showing his affection. Of all the cozy spots for your dog in the house, there's no place more comforting than right next to you. Pressing his weight against you reassures him as he rests or takes a nap.
What your dog is trying to warn about when they lick their paws? ›
Repeatedly licking their paws can be a sign that they are stressed or anxious, or could suggest that they are in pain, feeling nauseous, uncomfortable or itchy."Can a dog tell if you are sad? ›
Dogs are sensitive to human emotions. And it doesn't take much for them to pick up on your sadness—they can sense it in you, and tell the truth, even in other dogs. They are able to tell when people are feeling sad by reading their body language and facial expressions.What Can dogs drink beside water? ›
- Unsweetened Coconut Water. Unsweetened coconut water is safe for our canine friends to drink on occasion. ...
- Unsalted Bone Broth. Unsalted bone broth is another safe liquid option for our canine companions. ...
- Some Vegetable Or Fruit Juices. ...
- Unsweetened Nut Milk.
Dog's eyes can produce tears, but insofar as we are capable of knowing, they don't seem to be producing emotional tears. They most certainly are capable of expressing emotion, and they typically will express sadness by whimpering or whining or hiding their face. They just don't cry when they're sad.Why do dogs sniff your cooch? ›
It picks up on body odors and pheromones, which are invisible chemicals animals release as a way of communicating with one another. "Dogs sniff other dogs' rear ends and human crotches because sweat glands there release pheromones and scents that give canines information," Gerken says.Can a male dog sense when a woman is on her period? ›
Due to your pup's keen sense of smell, your dog definitely knows when your lady hormones are acting up. To put it bluntly, because of your dog's acute sense of smell, your pooch certainly knows when you're on your period, when you're having hormone imbalances, and when your female hormones are doing anything different.Can dogs see in the dark? ›
Obviously, his stronger sense of smell is useful, but it's also because dogs can see movement and light in the dark, and other low-light situations, better than humans. They are assisted by the high number of light-sensitive rods within the retina of their eyes. Rods collect dim light, supporting better night vision.Can dogs sense their own death? ›
When it comes to the possibility of their own death, they are at least aware that they are not feeling well or are sick. They can also sense our levels of stress and know that something is wrong. However, canine companions are not as self-assessing as humans about death.How long is a dogs memory? ›
"Dogs forget an event within two minutes," reported National Geographic, citing a 2014 study performed on various animals from rats to bees. Other animals have long-term memories, such as dolphins, but dogs don't seem to have a long-term memory that lasts much beyond those two minutes.
It's not unusual for dogs to grieve the loss of a person they've bonded with who is no longer present. While they might not understand the full extent of human absence, dogs do understand the emotional feeling of missing someone who's no longer a part of their daily lives.
Do dogs know we love them? ›
Yes, your dog knows how much you love him! Dogs and humans have a very special relationship, where dogs have hijacked the human oxytocin bonding pathway normally reserved for our babies. When you stare at your dog, both your oxytocin levels go up, the same as when you pet them and play with them.What does it mean when a dog yawns? ›
In the language of dogs, the yawn is often used as a calming signal. It's a way of saying, I've had enough and my patience is running out. For example, in a training session, your dog may yawn to deal with frustration and to give himself a mental break.Why do dogs like belly rubs? ›
This calming sensation triggers a specific reaction in their brain that responds to hair follicle stimulation. Dogs, like humans, also release endorphins and oxytocin through methods of touch, so rubbing a dog's belly can help with bonding and affection. Ultimately, dogs like belly rubs because they feel good!What are symptoms of ear mites in dogs? ›
Ear mites live in the ear canal and on the surrounding skin. Signs of ear mites in dogs include scratching around the ears, head and neck, skin irritation, head shaking, the presence of an ear discharge that is dark and waxy (resembling coffee grounds) and an unpleasant odour from the ears.What are symptoms of ear infection in dogs? ›
- Scratching or Pawing at the Ear. ...
- Head Tilt and Shaking. ...
- Loss of Balance. ...
- Strong Odor from the Ear. ...
- Swelling and Redness of the Ear. ...
- Oozing from the Ear. ...
- Contact us about dog ear infections.
Whatever's behind it, licking feet is pretty normal behaviour for dogs. Licking someone's foot is a bit far-out for most of us humans, but for our hounds, it can be an important bonding ritual, a calming exercise, and it might even be tasty.What kills ear mites? ›
“There are many topical, oral, and systemic agents,” Dr. Miller notes, “and most—such as ivermectin—are highly effective. Even one old-time remedy—baby oil—can do the job. A few drops put into an affected ear several times a day for a month or so will usually smother the mites.”What do mites look like on dogs? ›
What do mites look like on a dog's skin? Mites look like small spider-like creatures, with are estimated to only be 1/4 to 1/3 millimeters long. To the naked eye, they may look like tiny black dots on the skin, so you can only really see them under a microscope.What kills mites on dogs? ›
NexGard® and NexGard SPECTRA®are highly effective options to treat mites on dogs. They treat and control Sarcoptes mites, Demodex mites and ear mites.Can I use hydrogen peroxide for my dog's ear infection? ›
We do not recommend the use of alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean your dog's ears. These products can cause inflammation of the ear canal and further exacerbate infections.
What foods cause ear infections in dogs? ›
Sugar feeds the yeast that is naturally present in the dog's body, so when a dog consumes too much sugar, yeast overgrowth occurs in the body and around the ear folds or in the canal, causing infection.What is the most common dog to get ear infection? ›
The top five worst affected breeds include Basset Hound, Chinese Shar Pei, Labradoodle, Beagle and Golden Retriever. Poodle and spaniel types of dogs overall were at greater risk of ear infection. Dogs with long and hanging ear flaps had a much higher risk of ear infection compared with dogs with pointy ears.