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Dogs have a tendency to uniquely express themselves, their love, and their wants and needs through peculiar and quirky behaviors. These behaviors can range from lovable and silly to downright odd and off-putting- like nibbling our ears.
So, what drives dogs to nibble on our ears?
In most cases, your dog may simply be trying to express love and affection. It could also be that they’re trying to groom you and are exhibiting submission or respect. More simply, they could also just simply like the taste or may still be engaging in puppy behavior, especially if they’re younger.
While that’s just the quick answer, we’ll help you figure out which explanation makes the most sense for your dog.
Reason 1: Your Dog is Expressing Love, Affection, and Playfulness
If your dog is making a habit out of nibbling on your ears, it may just be their way of trying to express love and affection. We know that dogs like to sniff us when we get home, and we know that they like to lick our faces to express their love, affection, and adoration.
The same principle applies here. Your dog could simply be nibbling on your ear to show you how much they love and appreciate you!
Your dog could also be nibbling on your ear to try to get you to engage in play. When dogs are puppies, they learn that being physical is a way to get others to play with them. Nibbling on your ears could be a sign that your dog is trying to get you to play with them!
Dogs are emotional, intelligent creatures. Even though they’re incredibly driven by their instincts, their love languages include affection, playfulness, and the occasional treats. Dogs will often lick, sniff, and nibble on each other to express their adoration for one another. This is one reason why they might be nibbling on your ear!
Reason 2: Your Dog Might Like the Taste or Smell of Your Ears
This might be a given, but dogs are known to enjoy licking and nibbling on things that we, as humans, will never understand. This can include your ears.
As humans, we secrete a lot of salt in our sweat, and our earwax might pose a particularly interesting scent to our dogs. While the thought of our dogs trying to nibble our ears for a taste of salt or earwax might be disgusting to us, a dog only has 1,7000 taste buds. Comparatively, a human has 9,000 taste buds.
While dogs can taste sweet, salty, sour, and bitter things, they can’t taste salt as well as we can, due to the sheer difference in the number of taste buds. While dogs are naturally classified as omnivores, they’ve evolved to eat a lot of meat, which is naturally rich in salt, since their wolf ancestors (and cousins) have a diet that is composed of about 80 percent meat consumption.
So, while you may not understand that your dog might just simply love the taste or smell of your sweat or earwax, their biology and genetic history are evidence of their preference for somewhat odd preferences – including nibbling on your ears!
Reason 3: Grooming & Submission
Another reason your dog may be nibbling on your ears is that they’re attempting to both groom you and submit to you. As we know, dogs are social creatures, largely due to their ancestry of running in packs as wolves.
While there are some big differences between the social structure of wolves and dogs in the home, it’s still common for dogs to show respect and deference for important members of their pack.
One of the main ways that dogs express their respect for others is through grooming. Dogs will often lick the face of a more socially important dog as a sign of appeasement and adding in some ear nibbles just isn’t that far off. Ear nibbling can also be a practical part of the appeasement process since it can include nibbling away any potential irritants, like bugs or leaves.
You can see this cute canine showing respect (and some love) in this video:
Reason 4: They’re Exhibiting Puppy Behavior
If you’ve ever had a puppy or played with one, then you know just how mouthy they can be. In their first few months of life, puppies play with others by ‘play biting’ or jaw sparring. They can also play by nibbling on you or other animals in the household. This can include nibbling on your ears.
Puppies learn how to play with their mouths which ultimately teaches them boundaries. In their first eight weeks, mouth play is formative in their behavioral development. This is where their mother and their littermates will teach them healthy boundaries, like not to bite too hard or when it’s time to stop.
If your puppy, for some reason, was separated from the litter early or in rare circumstances, was the sole puppy in a litter, then they may be mouthier than other puppies their age. Even if they were separated right at eight weeks, puppies are still just naturally more mouthy than adults or seniors. After all, they’re still growing and it’s usually more fun to nibble than cuddle!
Rest assured, if your pup is still relatively young, nibbling on your ear may just be their way of exploring you and getting to know you better. Be sure to establish boundaries if you notice them nibbling too much or too hard to correct unwanted behavior. As a pup, there are so many new sights, smells, sensations, and sounds – which can include your ears!
Reason 5: They’re Stressed or Anxious
Obsessive nibbling can be a telltale sign if a dog is stressed or anxious. Since dogs are emotional creatures, they feel and experience stress and anxiety, just like we do. This can manifest in different ways, like nibbling at their paws or even more obscurely, your ears.
Much like people fidget with their hair or fingers when they’re stressed or anxious lick or nibble things, themselves, or others to express their mental discomfort. If your dog is obsessively nibbling on your ear, it could be their way of trying to comfort themselves or even their attempt at getting you to help them.
Try to identify any sources of stress in your dog’s life. After all, many of the things that give us stress and anxiety impact our dogs in similar ways. Factors like moving, a change in schedules or routines, loss of a loved one, or separation anxiety can all prompt nibbling.
If it becomes excessive, be sure to reach out to your vet to rule out any possible medical issues. If a dog is in pain, they may resort to compulsive behaviors, like nibbling. Be sure to monitor them for any other signs of pain, like difficulty eating or drinking, excessive sleep, or symptoms of illness.
Should You Worry About Your Dog Nibbling On Your Ears?
Usually, a dog nibbling on your ears from time to time isn’t cause for concern. However, if your dog begins nibbling at everything, including themselves and random objects, then it may be time to take some actionable steps to get to the root cause of their behavior.
If your dog isn’t just nibbling at your ears, it could be a sign of a medical issue, like allergies, dry skin, parasites, neurological disorders, or widespread pain. If you notice your dog engaging in any other concerning behaviors or exhibiting alarming signs of illness, consult a veterinarian right away.
How to Correct Unwanted Nibbling Behavior
If your dog’s nibbling is becoming bothersome to you or others, it’s better to intervene sooner than later. It’s important not to completely deter them from their naturally curious behaviors, because sniffing, nibbling, and licking are how dogs have fun!
So rather than just trying to prevent or eliminate the behavior, you want to redirect the behavior. In other words, if your dog wants to nibble then you’re going to let them nibble- just not on your ear! Instead, you’ll redirect the nibbling behavior to a toy or other acceptable item. This video does a great job explaining the process:
If you’re aiming to correct your dog’s unwanted nibbling behavior, start by reinforcing good behavior with treats or other high-value items, like their favorite toy. For example, if your dog begins nibbling at your ear, correct them with a stern but gentle ‘no.’ If your dog complies, be sure to encourage their good behavior with enthusiastic language and a preferred reward.
Enrichment is also very important if you’r aiming to correct unwanted behavior. Make sure your dog has adequate exercise and nutrition daily. Additionally, be sure to provide them with a fun and engaging environment, filled with toys and scents to keep them busy (and out of your ears)!
All in all, dog behaviors are very layered. After all, they are complex, intelligent, and emotional creatures. This is what makes them man’s best friend!
Just like we don’t understand why dogs sniff each other’s rears or nibble at our ears, they might not understand why we talk on the phone or watch television. Certain behaviors are very specific from species to species.
What may be strange to us might make perfect sense to them. No matter what our dogs do, they’re definitely never boring. That’s why we love them so much!