Have you ever wondered why do dogs lick each other’s ears? Dogs are well known for their quirky behavior and some pet owners just accept this as something else to love about their canine friends. But for other dog owners, ear licking is a little puzzling and the questions start to mount up. Is ear licking safe? Is it possible for there to be too much licking?
So, if you have noticed your dog licking other dogs’ ears, or even licking your ears, read on to find out everything you need to know about this canine behavior.
Why do Dogs Like Licking Ears and Faces?
There are some very valid reasons why dogs lick other dogs’ ears. If we consider the way in which your dog’s ancestors lived and how wild dogs live, it is easy to see where the behavior comes from. It’s mainly to do with communication but let’s break that down and consider it in more detail.
Dogs Lick Ears to Communicate
Dogs lick each other’s body parts to communicate. They can’t say ‘Hey’ to each other when they meet on the street so they do it in different ways. The key to understanding dog behavior is to look at their body language. As pack animals, licking is a prominent method of communication in the canine world. Compared to butt-sniffing, which is another common method of dog communication, licking ears is really not that embarrassing!
Mom dogs lick the ears of their puppies from the moment they are born so this is learned behavior and instinctual. Puppies learn to lick other dogs’ ears as part of learning how to live as pack animals.
Submissive Dog Licking
For dogs, pack life is all about hierarchy. There is a clear pecking order and dogs can exhibit all sorts of bizarre behaviors to try to show that they are higher in the hierarchy than other dogs. A dog’s licking, mounting, and playing behavior are all about showing who is dominant and who is submissive.
Dogs communicate that they are the dominant dog by licking the other dog’s ears. In turn, the more submissive dog will stand still and allow their ears to be licked. The submissive dog will also have their tail down and a kind of crazy grin on their face. Rolling onto their back is another sure sign of submission. If you have more than one dog, you may have noticed this at home. It can also happen when your pooch comes across other dogs on the sidewalk.
Dog’s Ears and Grooming
Two dogs that feel completely comfortable with each other’s company will often indulge in some mutual grooming. This includes having a good lick of the other’s ears. As well as being a nice thing to do, it also serves a hygienic purpose. It is almost impossible for a dog to remove ear mites and dirt from its own ears. So, if your furry friend is willing to do it for you, it’s a bonus.
Pet lovers who have more than one dog do have to monitor this situation though. Enthusiastic mutual grooming can become excessive licking in some dogs. This may drive one dog crazy and may cause a sore spot on the skin.
Dogs Love the Taste of Ear Wax!
As disgusting as this may seem to you, it is true that dogs love ear wax! So, when a dog licks ears, an added bonus is that they get to taste the wax. The fact that it came from another dog’s ears does not seem to bother them. Apparently, ear wax tastes quite salty.
Dogs Lick Each Other’s Ears Because it is Soothing
Most dogs suffer from anxiety at some point in their life and try different things to make themselves feel better. If you have two dogs, one may try licking the other dog’s ear to relieve anxiety. As long as the other dog does not mind and the behavior is short-lived, this is not a problem. However, if you notice obsessive licking behavior it can be a sign of ongoing anxiety. You should seek veterinary advice to help you get to the root of it.
Why Do Dogs Clean Other Dogs’ Ears?
The very simple answer is because a dog finds it hard to do so themselves. The proud Mom dog starts it off by licking her pup’s ears from the moment they are born. Once they are old enough to start licking, the pups will lick each other. It’s an added bonus that many dogs find it enjoyable and that ear wax is tasty.
Of course these days, dogs have their human family to clean their ears for them. Both dogs and cats should have their ears cleaned as part of the grooming process. You need to be very gentle with a dog’s ears and use a damp cloth or a special ear cleaning solution.
When is Dog Licking Ears a Bad Thing?
Most of the time, this behavior is perfectly natural and safe and is nothing for a dog owner to worry about. However, sometimes it can indicate that the dog that is getting its ear licked by the other dog has an ear infection.
Because dogs have such an amazing sense of smell, they can pick up tiny molecules in the air that indicate that there is an infection. They may detect this before there are any other signs that something is wrong. So, if one dog suddenly starts excessively licking another dog’s ears, you should keep checking for signs of an ear infection. These include head shaking, discharge, redness, and possibly a foul odor. This needs to be checked out right away by a vet.
Should You Let Your Dogs Lick Each Other’s Ears?
Most of the time, the answer to this is yes. It is a perfectly natural behavior and will do no harm. Your dog is simply acting instinctively, as they would when they lived in a pack. However, there are some circumstances where it can indicate a problem and you need to intervene. These are:
- Excessive licking. If one of your dogs is an excessive licker and it is clearly getting on the other dog’s nerves, it needs to be brought under control. Try getting an interactive toy to distract the dog’s attention or speak to an expert who can provide veterinary advice on the issue.
- Hot spots. Dogs can obsessively lick an area of skin on their own body or on another dog. This can set up a ‘hot spot’ of chronic irritation. Eventually, the area can become very inflamed and even infected. If this happens, the licking needs to stop.
- Anxiety. If you suspect that the licking is part of a generalized anxiety condition, you will need to get to the root cause of the anxiety first. Then the licking should resolve in time.
- Ear infections. Keep an eye out for signs of an ear infection. Dogs can detect these a long time before you can!
How to Stop a Dog from Licking Other Dogs Ears
If it has become obvious that you need to intervene and stop your dog from licking the ears of another dog, here are the three best methods to try.
Give the Dog Something Else to Lick
Some dog breeds just love to lick and there is very little that you can do about it! If you have a Labrador Retriever, a Golden Retriever, or a Poodle, this could be an issue for you. These guys are never happier than when they are licking something. So, get them something else to lick! A silicone lick pad with peanut butter or natural yogurt on it is always a hit with dogs!
Distract Your Dog’s Attention
Show your dog that there are loads of other things in life that are more fun! Interactive toys, chew toys, lots of walks, and games with you are all great sources of distraction. You will soon learn to spot when the licking is about to start and that is when you step in.
Most dog behaviors can be altered with appropriate training. Your aim is to divert your dog’s attention from licking and on to you. Start with the basics such as sit, stay, and down, and then move on to something a little more challenging. A dog that is mentally as well as physically stimulated is not so likely to indulge in obsessive behavior.
- Amanda Simonson, DVM, How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Dog Ear Infections – Pet MD