dogs lick earsPet One of the most interesting parts of dog ownership is discovering your dog’s unique personality, his or her quirks, habits, and funny behaviors. For many dogs, ear licking is among the cute, and sometimes annoying, ways they interact with us and other family pets.

As it turns out, there are a few biologically based reasons why some dogs lick ears.  By exploring the evolutionary and behavioral influences behind your dog’s propensity for ear licking, you may discover why your dog engages in this behavior and what (if anything) you can do about it.

Why Do Dogs Lick Ears?

Ear licking, like most other canine behaviors, usually relates to a dog’s role as a pack animal. The constantly changing social structure of a pack requires dogs to be good communicators, and this instinct doesn’t go away just because a dog lives with humans. When your dog licks your ears or the ears of another household pet, it may be because:

  • He or she loves you! Dogs lick ears as a sign of affection, especially if they are rewarded with affection on your end.
  • Ear licking is a grooming ritual among dog pack members, so this may just be a natural, built-in behavior for many dogs. Often times, two dogs living in the same household will engage in mutual grooming and some dogs will even groom the family cat.
  • Ear licking can also be a sign of submission to humans or other household pets. Your dog’s ear licking can be a way for him or her to communicate that you are in charge.

Beyond Love

It’s nice to think that our dogs are slurping our ears out of pure love, but that’s not always the case. Like many dog behaviors, sometimes the reasons why dogs lick ears are slightly confusing, or downright gross

  • That smell – You may think you diligently clean your ears, but to your dog’s refined sense of smell, your auditory canals are rich with appealing odors.
  • That taste – Although it seems incredibly unappetizing to us, the bitter, slightly salty taste of earwax is an acquired taste of many canines.
  • Ear problems – The odor of the ear canal changes subtly in the presence of an infection or other problem, and your dog may pick up on this. If your pooch develops a sudden interest in licking the ears of another family pet, it may be time to have them both checked out by your veterinarian.
  • Boredom – In some cases, ear licking may simply mean that your dog needs a little more mental stimulation in his or her life. Make sure your best pal is getting plenty of daily exercise and attention, and be sure to provide enriching toys and activities.

How Many Licks Is Too Many?

In general, ear licking is a normal expression of your dog’s need to explore the world with his or her mouth. If you are (understandably) annoyed by your dog’s ear licking, distract him or her with interactive toys, exercise, or affection.

A dog’s saliva does contain bacteria that can be harmful to humans, so it’s always a good idea to redirect the behavior when the ears being licked are yours.

Occasionally, ear licking and other instinctual behaviors may reach a compulsive level, and your pet may need to be evaluated by your veterinarian.

If your dog is licking another pet’s ears excessively, please contact the staff at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center. We can evaluate both pets for potential health problems and make behavioral suggestions as needed.