Dog ears come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter what your dog’s ears look like, they’re probably as cute as a button! Their ears are one of their top means of communication, allowing them to let you know how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking through a variety of positions and movements. At the same time, your dog’s ears have two very important functions: hearing and balance. Dogs’ ears are a fascinating part of canine anatomy, and there are probably a lot of things that you never knew about this part of your pup’s anatomy.
The 11 Facts About Your Dog’s Ears
1. Dogs Communicate With Their Ears
As mentioned above, dogs use their ears to communicate. In fact, their ears are one of their best means of communication. Their ears can give you insight into how your dog is feeling, which gives you an opportunity to get your dog out of uncomfortable situations or support happy interactions. Dog ears reflect more than just emotions. They can also indicate if your dog is sick, not feeling well, or in pain.
Dogs rely on their ears for communication so much that there are some indications that dogs with significantly cropped ears may have some mild deficits in interactions with other dogs and humans.
2. Dog Ears Can Move in Many Different Ways
In order to communicate with their ears, they need to be able to move them in many different ways. To enable this ability, dogs have more than a dozen muscles in and around the ears to control their movement. In fact, they have around 18 muscles that control the ears. These muscles allow the ears to stand, lay flat, twist and swivel, and more, and the ears can be moved independently from each other, so each of your dog’s ears may be doing something completely different from the other.
Consider the amount of movement you have with your own ears. While some people can wiggle their ears or shift them slightly, we have far fewer muscles that interact with our ears than dogs do. The muscles that dogs have for their ears allow this part of their body to do amazing things.
3. Dog Ears Support Balance
Whether you realize it or not, your ears are an extremely important part of your body’s ability to balance. Inner ear problems can lead to dizziness and unsteadiness, and the same is true for dogs. Dogs’ inner ears are essential for their balance, so problems like severe ear infections, polyps, and tumors can lead to balance issues.
Vestibular disease is a condition that leads to a dog struggling with balance. This condition has many causes, such as middle or inner ear infections (otitis interna), trauma, polyps, and tumors. One specific form of this condition is called geriatric (or old dog) vestibular disease and occurs more commonly in older dogs. In some cases, people may confuse this condition with a stroke or other severe neurological problem because it can lead to head tilting, dizziness, stumbling, vomiting, and circling. The good news is that dogs usually improve within one or two weeks and only require supportive treatment throughout. The other types of vestibular disease are usually treatable as long as the underlying disease is addressed. In some cases, though, a dog may retain some mild wobbliness or a head tilt permanently.
4. Dogs Hear Better Than Humans
Dogs don’t just have a slightly better sense of hearing than humans. In fact, they can hear sounds that are up to 4 times farther away than humans can, to the point that some dogs can even hear things like pests in the walls of a home or animals in tunnels underground.
This increased hearing ability does mean that some sounds may bother your dog more than they bother you. It’s important to provide ear protection for your dog if they’re going to be somewhere with loud noises, like a concert or fireworks show. Ear protection made to fit on a dog’s ears will work better than putting on a pair of human ear protection headsets. Although dogs have a great sense of hearing, they can’t hear as well as cats can.
5. Dogs Hear Higher Pitches Than Humans
Dogs’ great sense of hearing means they can also hear a much wider range of sounds than humans. While humans can hear sounds between 64 –23,000 Hz, dogs have a hearing range between 67–45,000 Hz.
This is why dog whistles work so effectively but aren’t audible to human ears. Dog whistles function at a higher frequency than human ears can hear. This is also why high-frequency animal deterrents are a great option for keeping stray dogs out of your yard without harming them.
6. Dogs Have Oddly-Shaped Ear Canals
If you’ve ever stuck a cotton swab in your ear, against the advice of every doctor you’ve ever seen, then you know that humans have ear canals that are relatively straight. Dogs, on the other hand, have an L-shaped ear canal. Therefore, it may seem like inserting things into the ear would damage human, but not dog, eardrums. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
In reality, this ear canal shape makes it easier for dogs to get foreign bodies (most commonly grass seeds) and ear infections than humans because it is more difficult for the “self-cleaning” function of the ears to work effectively. It can also make it difficult for a dog’s inner ear structures to be examined.
7. Head Tilting Means Your Dog is Paying Attention
There are few things cuter than a dog cocking its head when it hears a certain sound. Nobody is completely sure why dogs do this, but it’s believed that head tilting may be related to increased attention. This is likely why your dog tilts its head when you say the name of a familiar toy or object. Interestingly, the side of the head tilt does not seem to depend on the location of the sound source, and the direction of the tilt should be considered an individual trait.
8. Puppies Are Born Deaf
If you’ve ever seen newborn puppies, then you know that they’re born with their ears closed. What you may not have realized is that their ears aren’t fully developed at birth, to the point that puppies are born deaf.
Not only are their ears closed, but their eyes are also closed. This allows the sensitive eye and ear structures to continue to develop without risking damage from the environment. This deafness does quickly go away as the puppies grow, though. By around 2 weeks of age, a puppy’s ears and eyes will be open and functioning.
9. Rubbing a Dog’s Ears Can Support Relaxation
We’ve all found ourselves gently rubbing our dog’s ears. Spending time with a dog is proven to support relaxation in humans, and there’s something exceptionally soothing about rubbing a dog’s ears. Believe it or not, dogs are also relaxed by having their ears rubbed, and not just because it feels good.
Ear rubbing can stimulate a nerve in the ears that helps calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system that supports fight-or-flight responses. If you and your dog want to unwind after a long day, spend a little time gently rubbing their ears so both of you can find a little bit of relaxation.
10. Ear Infections Are Extremely Common
The shape of their ear canals increases the risk of ear infections in dogs. These infections can be caused by bacteria, parasites, or fungi, and while most ear infections are treatable, some dogs may suffer from recurrent or medication-resistant ear infections. Ear infections are so common in dogs that they’re often cited as the top reason dog owners take their dogs to the vet outside of routine wellness care.
The L-shaped ear canal can cause things that slip through to get stuck deep in the ear, requiring invasive procedures to remove and treat.
11. There Are Lots of Dog Ear Shapes
You may have more than one dog, and it’s very likely that there are at least slight differences in the appearance of your dogs’ ears, even if they’re the same breed. There are around twelve different ear shapes that dog ears come in.
Pricked, semi-pricked, blunt, and bat ears are all common ear shapes, but they’re far from the only shapes you may spot dog ears in. Not only do dog ears naturally come in a variety of shapes, but the size can also vary significantly between individual dogs and specific breeds. There are also a variety of shapes that you may see cropped dog ears appear to be.
Your dog’s ears are functional and fascinating sensory organs that are extremely important to your dog’s ability to communicate and interact with the world around them. Help keep your dog’s ears healthy by not putting anything in them except under the direction of a veterinarian, and make sure to get your dog checked out if you notice a lot of ear scratching, head shaking, or unusual head tilting. Most ear problems are mild and treatable, but some can be severe and complicated to remedy.