Why Do Dogs Lick Other Dog’s Ears?

Dogs have their little quirks, which are sometimes funny, sometimes cute, and sometimes straight-up gross. It’s important to understand what their behaviors mean, so you can understand how your dog is communicating. 

In this article, we’re focusing on why dogs lick other dog’s ears. While dogs love to show affection, and licking can be a sign of this, it could also signal submissive behavior or obsessive behavior.

Let’s dive into the article and look at the reasons why dogs seem to lick other canine’s ears. 

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Innate Behavior  

It’s important to remember that while we domesticated dogs, they used to be wild, pack animals. This means they will still genetically exhibit behaviors that reflect that pack-like mentality. Think of it as a ‘dog’s coding’. It’s how they communicated in the past, and some behaviors reflect how they communicate now. 

Licking their fellow pack members was a sign of greeting. This was especially so during a pack reunion, and it was a way dogs could communicate their presence with each other.

Think about seeing one of your friends, or family members after going on a holiday. Often, people hug or shake hands. Dog’s can’t do this, but they can lick each other’s ears. It’s a similar behavior, exhibited in a different action.

Although dogs are domesticated, they still are pack animals, and therefore will still frequently exhibit behavior that reflects this. 

Grooming 

The only access a dog has to its ear is through scratching with a back leg. While this can be effective if they just need to scratch the area, it’s not effective if they have an ear full of earwax

When dogs lick each other’s ears, it allows them to ‘freshen’ the area. They understand that it feels good, so they return the favor. This is just basic grooming, and while it is an act of affection, it also releases endorphins in the dog’s brain. So, it feels good to help your buddy out by grooming them. 

Keep in mind that dogs have excellent nasal abilities. Their sense of smell far surpasses our abilities. In fact, the part of the brain which is responsible for analyzing smell is forty times greater than ours. It’s an important part of a dog’s life, and it is crucial in their navigation of the world.

A dog’s earwax has a very distinctive smell, and while it’s not a fragrance we would want in a candle — dogs love it. 

So, when a dog licks another canine’s ear it’s communicative, it feels good, it grooms them, and they love the smell. That’s some handy genetics!

Puppy Love 

When our canines were puppies, their mother would lick them constantly. It was a way of the mother showing affection, grooming, and bathing her babies. The puppy then learns that this is an affectionate behavior, and so starts to exhibit this behavior.

As long as the behavior isn’t compulsive, or excessive, it’s just your dog showing love to its canine buddies. 

Submissive Behavior 

Another reason your dog might be licking other dogs’ ears, is because they’re exhibiting submissive behavior. In each pack, there is an established alpha dog. If your dog understands that another dog is the alpha, it’s going to show behaviors to reflect this. It’s another way of saying, ‘I respect you’ and ‘I’m dedicated to our pack’. 

If you’re unsure if your dog is acting submissively, there are some other submissive behaviors to look out for. For example, when around a certain dog (the alpha dog), does your dog avoid direct eye contact? Do they lay on their belly? Do they wag their tail, low and in a fast motion? 

If so, this could be an act of submission. This isn’t something to be overly concerned about, but you should be aware of the dynamic in your pack, to avoid any fights or unhealthy behavior. There is always one alpha dog in a pack, who is pretty much the ‘boss’ of the group. 

Obsessive Behavior 

One reason your dog might be licking other dogs’ ears is that they have developed obsessive behavior. 

It can be hard to discern whether your dog is committing an act of love, or an act of obsession. However, there are some telltale signs.

For instance, does your dog excessively lick another dog’s ear in a frenzy? Does your dog continue to do this action, straight after the other dog barked, or snarled at them? 

If your pooch is exhibiting some obsessive signs, it’s time to intervene. It can end up causing dog fights if one dog has put up their boundaries, and the other keeps crossing it.

Also, if a dog is excessively getting their dog licked, it’s going to make the ear overly moist. This is dangerous, and it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. This can result in a nasty ear infection.

What’s more, if your dog won’t stop licking their friend’s ear, even when infected — the ear infection will likely get worse for their canine friend.

To prevent this, call your dog over when he starts excessively licking. It’s okay for one, or two licks, but intervene before they obsessively lick. You can redirect them to a different activity so that they think about something else.

It’ll also help them learn that licking is only okay in small amounts, preventing the behavior. 

While on the subject of ear infections, if you notice that your dog is licking the other dog’s ears more frequently, and this behavior is out of the blue, it could be a signal that something is wrong.

As dogs have wonderful nasal abilities, they might be noticing a change in smell, and are attracted to it. The change in smell could be the result of an infection inside the ear canal.

So, don’t assume that it’s always an act of obsessive behavior. It could be the result of an underlying problem. 

Summary 

To summarize, there are multiple reasons why your dog is drawn to licking other dog’s ears. If it’s licking in moderation, it could be your dog communicating with their canine friend, or showing them affection. It could be a loving act of grooming, learned through interactions with their mother. 

However, if it’s excessive licking, your dog may have or might be developing a compulsive behavior. It’s best to check in with your dog trainer in this instance, so you can put in steps right for your dog’s breed and temperament. We, of course, have given you a basic prevention method, but each dog is unique.

Also, be sure to check in with the other dog, to ensure there’s not an undiagnosed ear infection

PuppyLists is written by J., 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 14 year old Lab mix.