Romantics love whispering endearments in their lovers’ ears.
But when your dog leans in close, they’re not about to compare thee to a summer’s day. They just want a nibble or two of your ear.
It’s strange and rather amusing behavior. But you want to understand it and, if possible, stop it.
If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Read on to discover:
- 7 reasons why your dog nibbles your ears.
- What makes this specific body part the target.
- If it’s just a normal phase they’re going through.
- 3 useful tips to help you get them to kick this habit.
- And more…
Why does my dog nibble my ears?
Your dog nibbles your ears to indicate they’re comfortable with you and accept you. They also do it when they’re teething, excited, or just being playful. They could also be exhibiting their wild instincts of grooming. Or they’re curious about your ear and its smell tells them something is off.
7 reasons why your dog nibbles your ears
#1: They’re comfortable with you
Your dog nibbling your ears is an indicator that they’re comfortable with you. Trust me. If they weren’t, they’d go for a different body part. And they’d do more than just nibble on it.
You may have a new pup who’s just gotten used to you. And being comfortable goes hand in hand with acceptance. Your glaring lack of hair and inability to lay on your side and provide milk is okay.
They’ve accepted you. You’re now mom or dad. And you’re now a family. Nibbling your ears is their way of signing off on the adoption papers.
A study suggests that nibbling is a behavior seen in “highly reactive and emotionally sensitive dogs.” Puppies certainly fit that description.
But wait. There’s more.
It’s commonly claimed on the Internet that nibbling is a show of submission. These researchers disagree.
It has nothing to do with status, dominance, or submissiveness. It’s simply just a reflection of “highly positive emotions.” A dog may feel these towards another dog, animal, or human – you.
#2: They’re grooming you
Grooming is no easy task when you have four legs and no thumbs. You need family and friends to have your back – and ears.
As a social tool, it’s known as allogrooming. And it’s most notable in primates. But it’s also seen in other animal groups. And it can even happen between members of different species.
For instance, a pet dog and a pet cat of the same household will take turns grooming each other. And the pet dog could attempt the same on their
pet human fur parent.
Your dog may be exhibiting this behavior by nibbling your ears. That’s not to imply they think you’re dirty.
Let’s not forget that grooming isn’t only “cleaning.” It’s a way of forming or reinforcing social bonds too.
So by nibbling your ears, your dog could just be trying to strengthen their ties with you.
But, yes. They could also be trying to clean you.
Check out also: 13 Weird Reasons Why Your Dog Grooms You (+ What It Means)
#3: They’re excited
This is more likely to happen with puppies. Especially ones that just recently became attached to you. They’re now entirely dependent on you for everything.
Making sure the water bowl doesn’t go empty. Filling the food bowl with kibble at a precise time. Mopping the pee. Cleaning the poop off the carpet. Giving belly rubs.
That kind of thing. You’re the perfect hooman for the job.
Your excitable little ball of fur knows your value. And they want to spend every waking or sleeping moment with you. That’s obviously not possible, though.
There’ll be times of separation throughout the day. So it’s a joyous occasion when you walk through the door. Even if you just stepped out to get the newspaper. It’s a momentous homecoming.
The excitement of this reunion has them licking your face. And sometimes, they veer to the side for a little nibble at that thing sticking out the side of your head.
#4: They’re being playful
No doubt you have an idea of the way dogs play with other dogs. There’s a lot of mouthing and nibbling involved.
But playing with dogs is one thing. Playing with hoomans should be another.
Maybe your pup hasn’t learned that distinction yet. And so, unfortunately for you, your ears fall victim to this playful nibbling.
Research shows that the importance of socializing a puppy cannot be overstated. It’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road. A properly socialized puppy is far less likely to develop behavioral problems later in life.
Not convinced yet?
Okay. Imagine a massive dog with a much stronger bite force going for your ear.
I bet the thought of that has persuaded you to set a puppy playdate. And for the soonest time possible too. You’ll be thankful you did.
It’s by playing with each other that puppies begin to associate biting with pain. And they learn bite inhibition in their little judo matches.
They’ll eventually figure out that biting will hurt their fur parent. So they’ll tone down their bite force. Or do away with biting altogether.
Then you can wiggle your earlobes with glee. But it’s probably best you don’t. That might reignite your dog’s interest in them.
#5: They’re teething
Let’s not make any excuses for them. Dogs will nibble and chew at anything.
You signed up for a subscription. And you got them that box with those fancy toys that one trainer on YouTube endorsed. But they prefer furniture and shoes instead.
Or just anything else at all, really. Whatever you’ve designated as unacceptable for their teeth. Those are the best toys ever.
And it’s beginning to seem like everything will make it into their mouth at some point. Including various parts of your body. Indeed your poor ears have unwittingly paid a visit there.
But this behavior can become worse when your dog is teething.
A puppy has as many as 28 baby teeth by 2 weeks old. These begin to fall out by their 3rd or 4th month. Then they’re replaced with 42 adult teeth.
This teething period lasts until they’re 6 months old. And it’s a painful phase. They’ll experience a lot of soreness and discomfort in their gums.
It’s why they nibble and chew a lot. They find it soothing. And your ear could be a means to achieve some degree of relief.
#6: They’re curious
Your dog nibbles your ears out of curiosity.
My friend’s German Shepherd, Valkyrie, likes to sleep nestled above her head.
When she was a younger pup, Valkyrie entertained herself by “grazing” on her fur mom’s hair.
“She did what?”
Dogs have certain quirks and behaviors. What isn’t tolerable for some is perfectly fine with others.
This grazing happened regularly before bedtime. But it was a little different one night.
Valkyrie was going about it as usual. Then she made a discovery – my friend’s ear.
There was a pause.
An electric moment.
I imagine it was the same energy when Archimedes stepped into his bath and noticed the water level rose. Or when Marie Curie walked into her lab and saw that she had successfully isolated radium.
Like every great mind that went before her, Valkyrie was consumed by curiosity. She tried to paw away the hair. She wanted a better view of this strange artifact she had stumbled upon.
Self-respecting scientists replicate their findings. And she’s no different.
She now seizes every opportunity she gets. And she explores the ears of every household member unfortunate enough to get within range of scientific investigation.
You might also be interested in: Why Does My Dog Get In My Face? 9 Reasons + 6 Tips
#7: They smell something
One of the most remarkable things about dogs is their ability to detect diseases in humans. We all know about diabetes, cancer, and COVID-19.
But there could be more.
And according to one fur dad’s testimony, dogs can pick up on ear infections too.
He wondered why his dog seemed to develop an obsession with his ear. They would often nibble, sniff, and lick it.
It turned out that he had an ear infection. He didn’t know it then. But his dog already did.
If your dog doesn’t normally show interest in your ear but suddenly does, you might want to consider this.
How do I stop my dog from nibbling my ears? 3 tips
#1: Distract them
Run interference. Prevent the situation from happening in the first place. That’s the most important thing you can do.
When you notice your dog has locked in on your ears, get up. Don’t give them the chance to get close enough for a little nibble.
Put yourself out of reach. Then distract them.
A rolling ball or dangling tug rope will make them forget their primary target. It’s probably why dogs are limited to sniffers and never make it as assassins.
#2: Firmly stop them
If you were caught off guard and your dog caught a bit of your ear, stop them.
Firmly say, “No!” and move away. Make it abundantly clear that this behavior is unacceptable. And be consistent.
Some people don’t want to get up from the couch. “A little nibbling every now and then is harmless,” they say. “As long as no earlobes are taken off.”
But consistency is vital. And it applies to every aspect of dog training.
So you don’t want your dog nibbling on your ear. Then respond to the situation the same way each time. They’ll eventually understand.
But it will take much longer if you’re hot and cold about it.
#3: Redirect and reinforce
This third step follows up on both tips #1 and #2.
Whether you foiled your dog’s attempts or not, redirect them. Show them something more interesting than earlobes.
We emphasize positive reinforcement time and again. That’s because it’s highly effective. And it’s wholesome too.
Dogs normally want attention. And according to Adrienne Farricelli, “even negative attention is better than nothing at all!”
So scolding them or acting out in anger won’t solve anything. Instead, play with them. That in itself will already be a reward. You don’t need to break out the treats. Although, it wouldn’t hurt either if you do.
Some fun and games will address their excitement, playfulness, and need for attention. If they’re teething, using a chew toy would be a great option.
Satisfy these needs whenever they come for your ears. Be consistent. And in time, they’ll burst into song whenever they see those flaps on either side of your head.
“I’m like a shooting star. I’ve come so far. I can’t go back to where I used to be.”
Frequently asked questions:
Why does my dog nibble my nose and ears?
Your dog nibbles your nose and ears because they stand out. Literally.
Those specific parts on your head protrude. They’re the most likely to catch their attention.
Nibbling is common amongst dogs. They often nibble on each other at playtime.
But they’re sensible enough to know what’s harmful and what isn’t.
That’s why they’ll go for your nose or earlobes. But thankfully, your eyeballs are not on the agenda.
What does nibbling on the ear mean?
Nibbling on the ear is a dog’s way of showing acceptance and affection. It has nothing to do with dominance or submission.
A common reason given is that the dog is trying to exert dominance by nibbling your ear. Or they’re trying to display submission by the same act. There are many who make this claim. But scientific research says otherwise.
Nibbling has no bearing on status within the group. It merely functions in the creation and reinforcement of emotional bonds between animals
Why does my dog lick then nibble me?
Your dog licks then nibble you because they’re being affectionate with you. As individual actions, licking and nibbling can have different meanings attached to each. But a mutual one is a display of affection.
What could be happening here is a double dose of endearment. You could liken it to kissing and hugging. Individually, they’re both expressions of fondness. But together, they mean even more.