What Does It Mean When My Dogs Ears Are Back?

Dogs are social and emotional creatures, much like people. Often times, dogs communicate their feelings quite clearly through their body language, but as non-canines, it takes a bit of translation for us to understand what they’re trying to say.

One point of confusion is that dog body language has to be looked at holistically. One example of this is when dogs pull their ears back. Depending on the rest of their body language, this can mean a variety of emotional states.

Dog ears show quite a bit of emotion. If the ears are up and facing frontward, then that means they’re alert and engaged with what’s going on around them.

If they’re pulled back slightly, it likely means they’re in a friendly state of mind and are feeling playful. Ears pulled all the way back could signal fear or impending aggression. Ears down could mean sadness or relaxation.

Dog ears can signal all sorts of emotions from fear to relaxation to wanting to signal a female dog, all of which we’ll cover in this post.

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Like we said, dogs are emotional creatures and when they’re sad, they’ll let their ears down. They might do this if their favorite person left the room, if they were denied a toy, and so on. This could be temporary (in the case of a toy) or longer lasting, in the case of a person or dog friend who moved away.

This may be accompanied with lower energy body language overall.

dog with its ears pulled back slightly

Scared or Anxious

If the dog is fearful of the situation they’re in, they’ll completely pull their ears back. This can be in cohesion to another type of body language that they’re displaying.

They’ll exhibit other fear-related behaviors, such as panting, a low body posture, avoiding eye contact, and pulling the corners of the lips back.

anxious dog with ears back


When a dog is feeling relaxed, their ears will be in a neutral location, not pulled back but also not on alert. Along with an open mouth (maybe their tongue sticking out) and overall relaxed posture, this means they’re happy and comfortable.

relaxed dog with ears down

A dog in this state might want to play next, or might want affection from you. In either case, they’re at ease and their body language reflects that.

In Danger

When your dog feels that they are in danger, they will pin their ears back. This behavior might precede growling, barking or biting, and their body will be stiff, since they’re at full alert to the danger.

dog with tail down and ears back, barking

Interested in Female Dogs

If your dog is showing attraction towards a nearby lady dog, they’ll also pull their ears back. However, unlike other emotions on this list (which come with stiff or fearful body language), dogs in this state will likely show excitement in the form of a grin with their tongue drooping out of their mouth.

They can also start to jump about, and might also chatter their teeth. If your dog presents a lot of these behavior then you can assume that they are attracted to something.


In conclusion, dogs’ ears can express a lot of different things! Different dog ear positions mean different things, and since there are many emotions they might be expressing, the behavior needs to be taken in consideration with the rest of their body language.

Paying attention to what your dog is “saying” can be helpful for both of you. You can better address tense emotions before they become an issue, and your dog will be easier to handle and appreciate you taking care of them.

PuppyLists is written by Kat, who has owned, trained, volunteered with, and loved dogs for nearly three decades. When she isn't writing or researching, she's out adventuring with her 15 year old Lab mix.