We have seen a drastic increase in the number of people reaching out and asking questions based around questions like “Why does my dog lick my ears?” over the last few months, so much so that we have actually decided to dedicate a full article to it to try and answer this question for any of our readers with a dog that loves to lick their ears. Although there are a number of different reasons that your dog may end up licking your ears, they are all harmless and there is no need to worry with some of the reasons actually being pretty cute.
Depending on your situation, you can often train the behaviour of licking your ears out of your dog with a little patience if your dog has built up the habit. On the flipside of this though, some of the reasons that your dog will lick your ears are temporary and once the reason has gone, your dog should stop the behaviour and go back to its normal routine without issue or the need to try and train the behaviour out of your dog.
Because You Taste Or Smell Good
Although this may be up for some debate, in our opinion, the number one reason that your dog may end up licking your ears is largely due to you either tasting or smelling good. Humans have scent and oil glands on our ears as well as in various locations around them. These oils can taste good to some dogs and make them want to lick your ears, on top of this, humans also have a large number of sweat glands on their ears too. If you let the sweat dry, the salt can often stay on your ears and attract your dogs attention due to the sodium in the sweat providing a nice taste to many dogs.
Now, you may be thinking that this is a quick and easy fix and you will simply bath or shower twice a day but it really is not that simple. Not only do most peoples oil glands produce the oils they recreate all day long, many of the modern soaps and shower gels have foods such as coconut or other fruits in them. This can also attract your dogs attention too putting you between a rock and a hard place when it comes to countering the behaviour.
Although there are some anti-lick creams on the market that are scentless to humans but taste vile to dogs, we feel that their effectiveness is definitely over hyped with many of them usually being nothing more than a waste of time and money. In our opinion, one of the quickest and easiest ways to prevent this behaviour is to switch your shower gel to a one that is citrus based. The vast majority of dogs do not like the sharp smell and taste of citrus based fruits so this simple step can often be enough to stop your dog from licking your ears due to your smell or taste.
Because They Love You
Although this one may sound a little obvious, one of the main reasons that your dog will lick your ears is due to the fact that licking is one of the primary reasons that your dog can show affection to you. The vast majority of dog owners tend to have a great bond with their dogs that just keeps on getting stronger with the more time you spend together over the years. Due to most dogs associating their owner with being a provider of food and treats, they often love you but have a limited number of ways that they are able to display it to you.
This is where the licking comes in, although the ears are a common spot that your dog may lick, other common places can also include your arms, feet, legs, and hands. Although many dog owners are fine with their dog licking their ears if it wants to, some do see it as an undesired behavior and would prefer it if their dog did not lick their ears even if it is only to show affection. With regular training methods and consistency you can usually train the behavior out of your dog quickly and actions as simple as saying “No!” in a loud authoritative voice, standing up, and turning away from your dog has been known to work.
To Groom You
Due to dogs largely being pack animals they still have many of their traditional instincts in them and grooming other members of their pack is a very strong instinct that many dogs will let shine through. With domestication, most dogs will see their human family as their pack in modern society and feel the urge to groom you at times when their instincts kick in. Licking is the main way that dogs groom each other and as we touched on earlier in the article, they can often lick different parts of your body when grooming including your ears.
Due to some dogs being the only pet in the household, their interaction and experiences with other dogs can be limited meaning that they may not understand the grooming process. Something as simple as a little pat or some attention once they start licking your ears to try and groom you can enforce the habit and let your dog think that this is an acceptable behavior. As we mentioned earlier, if this is not the desired habit in your dog then you can usually stop the habit from forming by loudly saying “No!” and placing your dog away from you or you looking away from your dog to disassociate the pack link with the behavior.
That said though, with the instinct in some dog breeds being so strong, some dogs may simply replace the grooming you habit with grooming their beds or a carpet by licking that instead. This is definitely one of the more tricky reasons that a dog may groom you and may need some more slightly advanced techniques to discourage the behaviour.
To Show You Respect
Just like we mentioned above, at heart, dogs are pack animals and each pack has its own hierarchy of leadership with subordinates having to show submission or respect to the dominant members of the pack. Many dog breeds have had their more aggressive traits bred out of them over the generations meaning that they are instantly submission and will see you as their alpha and leader of the pack. Due to their instinct to show you respect and display that they intend you no harm or are not a threat to you, licking can be used on a regular basis.
As we touched on though, this will depend more on the breed that you have as although many god breeds such as herding and guarding breeds will almost always submit to their owner being the pack leader, they often don’t feel the requirement to show their submission by licking their owners. This is often one of the more difficult reasons that your dog may lick your ears to train out of your dog as it is largely based on instinct and their submission and their feeling to express that they see you as their leader or alpha.
Although we have seen a large number of reports on various ways that dog owners have said they have used to discourage this behaviour. Many of it can be coincidental and we are unaware of any long term study that offers any real solid advice on the actions you should be taking and due to this, don’t feel comfortable reporting on any recommended training to discourage the behaviour. One thing that we would recommend is to not rely on a method that requires you to assert dominance as you may accidentally reinforce the behaviour and make your dog want to lick your ears more.
Due To A Wound
This is one of the common reasons that your dog may randomly start to lick your ears, sometimes you may not even be aware that you have a small cut or wound on your ear but your dog’s powerful nose will likely be able to smell the blood or scab and its instinct to lick it better will kick in. Thankfully, if this is the reason that your dog has decided to start licking your ears then it is likley only temporary and will stop once the wound has healed. It is important that you show no positive encouragement for the behaviour while the wound persists though to minimise the chances of a habit forming.
Although it is up for debate, it would seem that most dogs’ saliva contains powerful enzymes that are able to damage the cell walls on potential infectious bacteria. There are scientific studies that has shown that dogs’ saliva contains Lactoferrin that is a powerful antibacterial and anti-viral compound. It is believed that your dog’s instinct to lick a wound will have developed over the years due to licking a wound resulting in it not getting as bad and then cemented into their behavior over hundreds of years.
Although only in tiny amounts, one study has also suggested that the saliva of some dog breeds contains Opiorphin that can be a point pain reliever in much higher doses for humans. Due to the much smaller size of many dog breeds, this may be enough to stop the pain of a wound on them and have helped to cement the licking of a wound into dogs that remain today.
Out Of Sheer Boredom
Although it is rare, some dogs may end up licking your ears out of nothing more than boredom. That said though, it is very rare for a dog to do something out of boredom like this where it has no previous experience of being rewarded. If your dog has licked your ears previously only for your to interact with your dog then it is likely that this had developed a positive feedback loop of licking your ears equating to play time.
Thankfully, this type of habit is relatively easy to break by simply removing the reward response so if your dog does start to randomly lick your ear, pay it no attention and leave it to lick to its heart’s content. It is very likely that without the positive response that the habit relies on to be actioned that your dog will wander off within a week and find something new to entertain itself with.
Should I Be Concerned By The Licking?
We see so many people reaching out with questions about their dog licking them wondering if they should be concerned. In our opinion, there is no need to worry or be concerned and as we have covered above, there are a number of reasons where licking has been cemented into your dogs instinct for a number of different reasons and is totally normal. Although the licking of your ears can be annoying, the majority of the common reasons that dogs do it can be counters with it trained out of your dog quickly and easily.