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Why Do Dogs Tuck Their Ears Back?

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Dogs have a unique way of communicating with us and with each other. While some cues are easy to understand, such as wagging tails or playful barks, others can be more subtle and require a deeper understanding of canine body language. One such cue is when dogs tuck their ears back. This behavior can convey a range of emotions and messages, from fear and anxiety to contentment and submission. In this article, we will explore the reasons why dogs tuck their ears back and how to interpret this body language.

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Understanding Dog Body Language

Dogs rely heavily on non-verbal communication to express their feelings and intentions. By paying attention to their body language, we can gain valuable insights into their emotional state. It’s important to remember that dogs communicate holistically, meaning that we need to consider multiple cues and signals together to accurately interpret their behavior.

Some common cues to look out for include eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, tail position, and, of course, ear position. By observing these cues in conjunction with each other, we can get a better understanding of what our furry friends are trying to tell us.

Reasons Dogs Tuck Their Ears Back

Tucking their ears back is a behavior that dogs exhibit for various reasons. It’s essential to consider the context and other accompanying cues to accurately interpret this body language. Let’s explore some of the common reasons why dogs tuck their ears back:


One of the most well-known reasons for dogs tucking their ears back is fear or nervousness. When a dog feels threatened or uncomfortable, they may instinctively pull their ears back as a way to protect themselves. This behavior is often accompanied by other signs of fear, such as trembling, cowering, or avoiding eye contact.

If you notice your dog tucking their ears back in unfamiliar or stressful situations, it’s important to provide them with reassurance and space. Avoid forcing them into situations that make them uncomfortable and give them time to adjust at their own pace.

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Tucking their ears back can also be a sign of submission in dogs. When a dog feels submissive towards a more dominant individual, they may lower their ears as a way of showing respect and deference. This behavior is often seen when a smaller or less confident dog interacts with a larger or more assertive dog.

In addition to tucking their ears back, submissive dogs may also exhibit other submissive behaviors, such as lowering their body posture, avoiding direct eye contact, and even rolling onto their backs to expose their vulnerable belly. It’s important to create a safe and positive environment for these dogs to help them feel more comfortable and secure.


Contrary to fear and submission, dogs may also tuck their ears back when they are feeling content and relaxed. Some dogs naturally have floppy or droopy ears, so when they are in a relaxed state, their ears may naturally fall back into their natural position. This behavior is often seen in breeds with long, pendulous ears, such as Bloodhounds or Basset Hounds.

When a dog’s ears are back in a relaxed manner, they may also exhibit other signs of contentment, such as a soft facial expression, relaxed body posture, and a gently wagging tail. It’s important to recognize and appreciate these moments of relaxation and contentment in our furry companions.

Pain or Discomfort

In some cases, dogs may tuck their ears back if they are in pain or discomfort. Ear infections, injuries, or other medical conditions can cause dogs to hold their ears back as a protective mechanism. If you notice your dog consistently tucking their ears back, it’s essential to check for any signs of pain or discomfort.

If you suspect that your dog is in pain, it’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Ear infections, for example, require veterinary attention to prevent further complications and ensure your dog’s well-being.


Sometimes, dogs may tuck their ears back simply to better hear something that is happening behind them. This behavior is especially common when a dog is trying to locate a sound or respond to a command or call from their owner. By tucking their ears back, dogs can focus more intently on the auditory stimuli.

If you notice your dog tucking their ears back while listening, it’s a good idea to pause and observe what they are trying to pay attention to. It could be a sound coming from a different direction or a verbal cue that they are trying to respond to.

Decoding Dog Body Language

Understanding why dogs tuck their ears back is just one part of decoding canine body language. It’s essential to consider other cues and signals together to get a holistic understanding of what your dog is trying to communicate. Here are a few tips for decoding dog body language:

  1. Pay attention to the overall body posture: Combine ear position with other cues such as tail position, body posture, and facial expressions to get a more accurate understanding of your dog’s emotional state.
  2. Consider the context: The context in which your dog is exhibiting certain behaviors is crucial for interpretation. For example, if your dog tucks their ears back during a visit to the veterinarian, it’s likely due to fear or anxiety rather than contentment.
  3. Observe patterns and consistency: Take note of your dog’s typical behavior and compare it to their current actions. If your dog suddenly starts tucking their ears back frequently or in specific situations, it may indicate a change in their emotional state or discomfort.
  4. Seek professional guidance if needed: If you’re unsure about your dog’s body language or behavior, don’t hesitate to consult with a professional, such as a veterinarian or a certified dog behaviorist. They can provide valuable insights and guidance tailored to your specific situation.


Decoding dog body language, including the subtle cue of tucking their ears back, can help us better understand our furry friends and strengthen our bond with them. By paying attention to their overall body language and combining it with contextual information, we can gain insights into their emotions, needs, and preferences.

Remember, each dog is unique, and their body language may vary. What’s important is to observe and learn your dog’s individual cues and respond accordingly. By doing so, you can create a safe and supportive environment that promotes their well-being and happiness.

Additional Information:

  • Dogs with erect or pricked ears, such as German Shepherds or Dobermans, may not exhibit the same tucking behavior due to the natural position of their ears.
  • If you notice persistent or concerning changes in your dog’s behavior, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
  • Positive reinforcement training can help build your dog’s confidence and reduce fear or anxiety-related behaviors.

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