Why Do German Shepherds Put Their Ears Back?

Categorized as Training and Behavior
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As an owner of a German Shepherd, you may have noticed your loyal companion putting their ears back in certain situations. With their trademark pointy ears that stand tall when alert, seeing them pin those ears back can raise questions about what message they are trying to convey. This common behavior actually relates to some key aspects of canine communication that is good for any GSD owner to understand.

Here’s a quick answer: German Shepherds commonly pin back their ears for a variety of reasons. Most often, ears go back due to the dog experiencing excitement, submission to their owner, anticipation of affection, anxiety, fear, or as protection from uncomfortable wind or foreign objects nearing their face or ears. Interpreting ear positioning along with other body language cues helps decipher the specific cause in different contexts. Overall, back ears are generally nothing to be concerned about.

Reasons for Ear Position Changes

There are a few main reasons you may notice your German Shepherd putting their ears back or “pinning” them against their head:

  • Excitement – A romp in the dog park or arrival of a favorite human companion bringing pure joy makes your dog’s ears go back.
  • Anticipation of Affection – Leaning their head into your approaching hand as you go to deliver a good head rub.
  • Submission – Respecting you as the leader, they relax their dominant body language.
  • Fear or Anxiety – Unexpected loud noises or separation can make them feel uneasy.
  • Protection from Wind or Foreign Objects – Guarding their vulnerable ear canals from discomfort.

So in different contexts, back ears can mean different things. Looking at other body language cues like tail wagging, facial expressions and posture will give you more clues.

Why Excitement Causes Ears Back

Those gorgeous big bat-like ears are one of the features that make the German Shepherd breed so recognizable. But when overcome with excitement from something that thrills them, like bounding after a tennis ball or when you return home, your dog may pin those ears back against their head without even realizing it.

Muscle RelaxationExtreme excitement causes muscles to relax all over their bodies. Relaxed ear muscles let those big pointy ears fold back.
Enhanced AerodynamicsWith their athleticism and love of running full speed, ears back likely helps them cut through the air more smoothly.

This is completely normal and just shows how ecstatic they are in the moment! Ears back paired with jumping, barking or running in circles is pure joy. So enjoy seeing your best friend filled with glee even if it means sacrificing those stand-up ears temporarily.

Why Anticipation of Affection Causes Ears Back

Dogs love receiving affection from their favorite humans. When you reach your hand out to give your German Shepherd a pat on the head or rub behind their soft fuzzy ears, they instinctively know what is coming. They may pin back their ears in eager anticipation of this show of love.

By putting their ears down and leaning their head in closer, they are also making it easier for you to access their head without their pointy upright ears being in the way. It’s an open invitation for you to give them all the good scratches! So if you see back ears along with your dog nudging their head toward you, they are likely just showing they are ready and waiting for your affection.

Preparing for ContactBack ears gets those high pointy ears out of the way for easier head rubbing access.
Body Language CueInviting you to deliver the affection they crave by positioning head closer to you.

So feel confident petting away knowing their back ears demonstrate enjoyment of your loving touch!

Why Submission Causes Ears Back

Dog packs operate with an established hierarchy and clear leader. As German Shepherds have been bred specifically for their intelligence, loyalty and readiness to work, they have a strong instinct to follow the directives of their pack leader – YOU! By pinning their ears back around you rather than standing tall in a dominant posture, they are communicating acquiescence and trust in your authority.

Respect of LeadershipShowing they accept you as “top dog” and relax their body language accordingly.
Bond of TrustConfidence you will guide the pack (your family) allows them to feel at ease putting their guard down.

So occasional ear pinning is actually a GREAT thing as it strengthens your role as pack leader. Just be sure to reinforce positive behaviors with praise, play and treats to encourage this continued respect!

Why Fear or Anxiety Causes Ears Back

German Shepherds are typically very courageous, loyal dogs who will go to great lengths to guard and protect their human families. But it is important to remember they still have feelings! Unexpected events or circumstances can give rise to fear and anxiety that may show in physical ways.

Instinctual ReactionQuick changes in environment can set off alarm bells related to assessing potential threats.
Lacking ConfidenceAbsence of their human pack members or introduction of unfamiliar situation gives uncertainty.

So whether it is an approaching stranger getting too close, loud and strange noises like fireworks or a storm, or simply being left home alone – these things can easily make your German Shepherd uneasy. Pinning their ears back is one way this inner turmoil displays itself outwardly. Looking for additional signs like cowering, shaking, whining or pacing can confirm anxiety as the cause.

While their protective personality should help them bounce back quickly, some sensitive dogs are prone to separation anxiety and fearful reactions. Helping them build confidence, keeping experiences positive and providing affection especially during difficult times will aid their coping abilities. Occasional back ears due to surprises are nothing to fret over. But consistent fear, trauma or disproportionate reactions may benefit from guidance of dog behavioralist.

Why Wind and Foreign Objects Cause Ears Back

Those big impressive ears can also sometimes be a nuisance! The large surface area combined with upright positioning makes German Shepherd ears vulnerable to wind and inserted items.

When riding with their head out the car window or on a blustery day, flapping ears allow loud whistling wind straight into their ear canal. This can be quite irritating! Pinning back ears provides protection. It may also relate to awakened prey drive instincts from the sensed sound and motion.

Similarly, when an unknown hand or foreign object moves toward their face and ears, they turn their ears down and away reflexively. Just as blinking protects human eyes, this ear positioning shelters their ear canal from uncomfortable intrusion. It’s an instinctual self-protection response.

Avoid Wind DiscomfortPowerful gusts directly hitting their sensitive ears can hurt, so they shield them against their head.
Prevent Foreign ContaminationThings getting stuck inside ears can lead to infection, so keeping debris out is crucial.

So occasional ear pinning in windy play or when inspecting your dog’s ears is perfectly normal. If it happens repeatedly and seems to distress your pet frequently, a vet visit may be in order to check for conditions like yeast infections or embedded grass.

Interpreting the Reasons Behind Ears Back

Hopefully this gives you greater understanding about the most common reasons your German Shepherd may pin their ears back. Just remember that while back ears can indicate feelings like anxiety, it often simply shows a relaxed, trusting dog filled with sheer excitement and joy to have you as their special human companion!

Observe what other body language signals accompany the ear positioning to better interpret their root cause. But in most day-to-day situations playing, working, cuddling or just hanging out as your faithful friend – those cute back ears are really nothing to worry over!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are my German Shepherd’s back ears something to worry about?

In most normal day-to-day situations, back ears are no cause for concern and simply indicate relaxed or happy moods from excitement, affection, submission or protection from wind. Consistently back ears paired with fearful body language or trauma reactions may need addressing.

Is ear infection the reason my German Shepherd puts their ears down?

While ear infections can be relatively common in dogs with floppy ears that trap moisture, German Shepherds do not generally deal with this issue often due to their upright ears allowing better airflow. Certainly inspect their ears and visit your vet if you see discharge, redness, scratching or head shaking which could indicate infection. But otherwise back ears likely relate to behavioral rather than medical reasons.

Should I tape my German Shepherd’s ears to make them stand up straighter?

Their ears may frequently pinned back when young until the cartilage firms up enough to help them stand tall, often around 5-7 months old. Avoid attempting amateur taping as this could hurt more than help ear strength! Only upon guidance of your veterinarian in rare cases of very soft ears is taping potentially recommended. Otherwise, be patient for those fabulous pointy ears to pop up with maturity by around one year old at the latest.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.