9 Reasons German Shepherd Puts Its Ears Back

Even if dogs do bark, they do not only communicate using their voices. They use lots of body language to express how they are feeling, if they want something, or if they feel threatened. And not everything that we think we see and interpret is actually what a dog is communicating. 

Dogs do indeed wag their tails but that’s not the entire message. They use other physical gestures and cues to get their message across. Pet parents need to look at their posture, eyes, mouth, and yes, the ears to fully understand their message.

Ears provide one of the best indications of what your pooch is thinking, and this is particularly true in the case of a German Shepherd.

Reasons German Shepherd Puts Its Ears Back

The German Shepherd

Known for their heroic work with police, firefighters, the military, and search and rescue, German Shepherds are large, muscular, and physically agile dogs. They are highly intelligent, confident, courageous, and loyal canines as well as hard workers.

Capable of reaching impressive speeds when running, they are exceptional in learning, receiving, and expediting commands. This breed is loyal and a steadfast guardian of its owners but can be aloof, not lending themselves to immediate friendships and interaction. 

Why Do German Shepherds Position Their Ears Backward?

Known for their large pointy ears, German Shepherds do quite a bit of communicating with these. They are not simply used for hearing but are a crucial instrument in a German Shepherd’s vocabulary. 

This canine breed will often move their ears backward intentionally to send a clear-cut message usually to another dog.

There are multiple reasons that a German Shepherd may position its ears in a backward position. Some of the most common explanations are:

1. Aggressiveness

The most worrying reason that a German Shepherd moves his or her ears back is as a warning. The ears are pinned back in a flat position against the head and the posture of the dog is rigid with the tail in a rigid position, this is a warning.

Your dog may also bare teeth and growl or snarl. This is typical when the dog feels threatened or irritated. A typical example of a  situation where this may take place is if the dog is eating and is disturbed.

2. Anticipation

Your German Shepherd is most likely very accustomed to receiving your attention and caresses. If your shepherd moves its ears back as you reach toward them, they most likely are expecting to be pet on the head.

In this case, your canine is communicating that it is relaxed and happy for the attention that you are dedicating to your best buddy. By moving its ears backward, your dog is facilitating you petting them.

3. Anxiety

Dogs, like people, experience anxiety. This breed can suffer from separation anxiety, so if you are on your way to work, or leaving for the afternoon or evening, you may notice your shepherd pin its ears back as you put your coat on, grab your keys, or head toward the door.

4. Excitement

Excitement is one of the principal reasons that a German Shepherd will put its ears back. If they begin moving or running because excited, you may notice that the ears have been moved backward. This will be particularly evident if someone has arrived at your door or gate.

They also may exhibit this ear position in the context of excitement if they have perceived that you will be taking them for a walk or engaging them in a preferred activity, like playing fetch or something that they enjoy doing.

Excitement is one of the principal reasons that a German Shepherd will put its ears back

5. Fear

Fear is also a major reason that Shepherds pin their ears back. These dogs are generally a well-balanced breed, but should something or someone frighten them, you may see the ears go back.

In a relaxed environment, the German Shepherd will usually have the ears up in a perky, inquisitive position. If they are scared, you will see the ears move quickly into the backward position.

6. Friendliness

Putting ears backward does not necessarily constitute negative communication. Sometimes when ears are positioned in a backward position, your dog is communicating that it is relaxed and feels unthreatened.

Your German Shepherd is comfortable and open to attention, interaction, and play. This position can be observed when your Shepherd is playing with one or more friendly dogs.

7. Protection

Your German Shepherd may feel the need to protect its ears, especially if you plan on cleaning them or perhaps need to apply eardrops.

Your Shepherd will put its ears back to protect the ear canals from being tampered with. They instinctively do not want foreign objects or fluids inserted into their ears.

8. Submissiveness

Your dog may express submissiveness to another dog or even to you by placing ears backward. If you have a dog pack, the pack leader may inspire this kind of reaction in other pack members as a sign of submissiveness.

They are communicating respect for the pack’s hierarchy and expect the pack leader, which could be you, to handle any situation.

9. Wind

Sometimes the dog’s ears will simply move back because the wind is strong. This will be particularly apparent if you take your Shepherd in the car and it sticks its head out of the window. The same thing may happen if the weather outdoors is particularly windy.

See also: How Can My German Shepherd Burn More Energy? (11 Ideas)

What Else to Look for When the Ears Are Back

If you wish to determine the nature of what your dog is expressing, there are other physical cues to evaluate together with the ear position.

If you note lively tail wagging together with the ears put back, your dog is most likely in a heightened state of excitement.

If instead, your dog has its ears back and the tail between its legs he or she is expressing fear. This may also be accompanied by the dog assuming a cowering posture and a pleading look.

Look for these physical cues when evaluating your dog’s state of mind:

1.) Eyes

When squinting your dog is relaxed and unpreoccupied. Widened eyes with dilated pupils may signal aggression, fear, or extreme stress.

2.) Mouth

If your German Shepherd is panting with the tongue out, not to worry. Excessive panting may indicate stress, as well as drooling.

The lifting of lips and demonstrating teeth generally signifies a warning of aggression. If, however, the dog is squinting and wagging the tail, it can be a sign of submissiveness.

3.) Panting

Dogs pant often because they don’t have sweat glands and cool themselves through panting. If, however, the mouth position is somewhat rigid, your pooch may be communicating stress.

4.) Tail

When the tail is positioned between the legs the dog is exhibiting and communicating. Raising and wagging the tail usually signifies excitement.

5.) Hair

If your dog raises the hair between the shoulders on the back, and this is accompanied by other signs of aggressiveness, your dog is issuing a warning and will potentially attack.

Consider the Timing and Way a German Shepherd Positions Its Ears Back

The timing or moment that your German Shepherd puts its ears back may help you in interpreting the message. If the ears go back when someone arrives at the door or when you pick up its leash, this represents excitement.

If the ears move backward while the dog is eating, chewing on a bone, or favorite toy, it can be a sign of aggression to follow.

A Final Thought

When evaluating what your dog is communicating, always look for other physical clues and consider the context of the animal’s behavior.

If your dog exhibits fear or aggressiveness repeatedly, consider contacting a professional dog trainer to help you and your dog enjoy a happier, more balanced relationship. 

Susan R Elliston

I have over 11 years of experience as a vet working with a wonderful variety of species of innocent and lovely animals. Whilst I still work two days a week for a local practice, I realized that I could help more people by sharing my knowledge and experience with my readers.

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