In the rich tapestry of canine body language, a dog’s ears play a pivotal role, offering insights into their emotional state and intentions. As a dog behaviourist with years of experience, I have observed and interpreted these subtle cues to better understand and communicate with our four-legged friends. The act of a dog putting its ears back can convey a variety of emotions, ranging from fear and submission to affection and relaxation. It’s crucial for dog owners and enthusiasts to grasp the nuances of this behaviour to foster a deeper bond with their canine companions.

A Sign of Emotion

When a dog pulls its ears back, it’s primarily communicating its feelings. This can be a reaction to various situations, reflecting emotions such as anxiety, fear, submission, or even positive feelings like contentment and affection. Interpreting the context and accompanying body language is key to understanding what your dog is trying to tell you.

Fear and Anxiety

Ears that are flattened against the head often indicate fear or anxiety. In situations perceived as threatening, dogs might tuck their ears close to their skull. This behaviour serves as a non-verbal signal to other dogs or humans that they are not a threat, aiming to diffuse potential confrontation. It’s essential to approach dogs showing signs of fear or anxiety with caution and empathy, providing them with space and comfort.


Submissive ears are similar to those shown in fear, but the context and additional body language cues will differ. A submissive dog, while also having its ears back, might lower its body, avoid direct eye contact, or wag its tail low or between its legs. This posture communicates the dog’s acknowledgment of another dog’s or a human’s dominance, effectively saying, “I’m not a threat.”

Affection and Relaxation

Not all instances of a dog putting its ears back are negative. In moments of relaxation or when seeking affection, dogs might also pull their ears back slightly, accompanied by a wagging tail and a relaxed posture. This gesture can signal contentment and trust towards their human companions. It’s a dog’s way of expressing love and comfort in your presence.

The Importance of Context

Understanding why a dog puts its ears back requires interpreting the context and other body language cues. Factors such as the environment, the presence of unfamiliar people or animals, and the dog’s overall posture and facial expressions contribute to a comprehensive understanding of its emotional state.

Enhancing Human-Canine Relationships

Recognizing and responding appropriately to the reasons behind a dog putting its ears back can significantly enhance the relationship between dogs and their owners. It allows for a more empathetic and responsive interaction, where humans can adjust their behaviour to make their canine companions feel safe, understood, and loved.

By paying attention to these subtle cues, dog owners can foster a nurturing and mutually respectful bond with their pets. Understanding the complexity of canine communication is a rewarding journey, enhancing our appreciation for these remarkable animals and their way of expressing emotions and intentions without words.

In conclusion, the act of a dog putting its ears back is a multifaceted signal within canine body language. By observing and learning to interpret these cues, dog lovers can gain deeper insights into their pets’ emotional worlds, leading to stronger, more empathetic relationships with their beloved companions.