German Shepherds are well known for their large, triangular, and frankly adorable ears.
As dogs primarily communicate through body language, the position of your dog’s ears can tell you a lot about what they’re thinking and feeling, and it’s always worth paying attention to. They are also tied to your dog’s personality. Plus, it’s fun!
The default ear position for German Shepherds is to stand upright, relaxed and comfortable. However, they only achieve this fully at 7–9 months when the puppy’s ears are adorable, oversized, and flapping.
Floppy ears are undesirable in an adult and indicate that the pinna, or cartilage in the ear, hasn’t developed or appropriately hardened. Sometimes this can be corrected via taping the ears, but sometimes, this simply has to be accepted as part of the dog.
The ears of German Shepherds are very expressive, and each position can clue you into their mood and thoughts. Especially when their ears are hanging down, so, let’s take a closer look.
Do Ear Positions Have Meanings
Yes. Ear movements and positions in a German Shepherd each have their own meaning and act as subtle cues, indicating a few different things.
Unlike human ears, dogs have voluntary muscles in the ears and can move them around as needed by their interests and mood. Below are some common GSD ear positions that you should know and how they are related to your dog’s emotions.
Remember, they’re always part of the overall German Shepherd’s body language package, and the position of the tail and state of their body will also help you to interpret their ear positions more accurately.
- Upright and relaxed: This is a good sign and indicates a happy dog. As we’ve already mentioned, standing ears is the default ear position, and indicates a calm dog in a good mood. Relaxed ears mean they are comfortable in their environment.
- Ears back: If the dog feels relaxed and has a wagging tail, this can indicate friendly interest, and is usually more of a “half-back” position. However, ears back is a sign of a very uncomfortable dog. Submissive dogs will also flatten their ears a lot.
- Pricked or forward: Ears forward means something is catching their attention. This is usually just curiosity. However, this ear position can also indicate unease and can escalate to aggression quickly. Use other body clues to help you, especially bared teeth.
- Flip-flopped: Ears pointing in different directions (floppy ears) look adorable, but also tell you something about their mood. It usually means they have two focal points of interest, such as keeping an ear on you while tracking something moving behind them. It’s generally harmless, but be aware that it can lead to surprise actions that you might need to control.
- Flicking: It means that your dog is feeling unsettled. Rapid changes in ear position mean they might be feeling overwhelmed; a lot is going on in their head, and again, you need to pay attention and manage the situation as an owner. It could be that a lot of noise or stimulus is worrying them. They can also flick their ears if flies or bugs are bothering them or if there are other dogs nearby.
Why Do Dogs Put Their Ears Down?
This is a bit of an ambiguous description and can refer to two types of ear movement in German Shepherds.
We’ve spoken a little about how some dogs don’t develop the ear ligaments and cartilage they need for the correct ear position. This leads to naturally “floppy” ears, something the breed shouldn’t have.
If you have a dog with floppy ears, and it can’t be corrected, then it’s natural to see the weak ear lying down in all sorts of situations.
We’ve also looked at how a “relaxed backward” position is a sign of a chill dog that’s not worried by anything around them.
When you see a German Shepherd’s ears flat down against its head, there should be cause for concern. Your dog needs immediate reassurance or problems could follow.
While it’s slightly less problematic in naturally fearful or submissive dogs, it should still be addressed, as they’re telling you about their discomfort.
And if your dog is normally confident, or leans toward aggression, it needs immediate owner attention to reassure the dog, diffuse the situation, and take control.
How to Calm an Anxious Dog?
As a good owner, you need to pay attention to your dog’s body language, and ear movement is likely to be one of the first signs you get. If you’re walking off-leash and see your GSD’s ears move to an attentive or fearful position, clip on that leash and take control!
If your dog gives clear alarm signals, it may warn you of a danger ahead. Before you try to calm them down or break their attention, assess if there’s a real threat, or if they’re just having a little moment.
You may need to break their intense focus. This is one time when treats aren’t helpful, as it incentivizes a potentially problematic issue. Distract them—turn and walk the other way a few paces—or start a new activity.
If their ears go back to “friendly mode”, you can simply reward good behavior. Remember to teach your German Shepherd how to interact positively with other people and dogs.
If you see tight, pinned, and fearful ears that are down in a GSD, it’s time to act. Start by soothing the dog with a calm, controlled voice. Reassure them.
If your dog is naturally aggressive, you need to address this over time through positive reinforcement and dog training. Likewise, you may want to work with positive confidence-building techniques to give a naturally submissive dog more confidence in situations, and good socialization is always helpful for this.
While it might sound useful to have a “submissive” large breed dog, it isn’t really. A confident and friendly dog feels secure. A submissive and fearful one is scared and can act unpredictably.
It’s totally normal if your German Shepherd has its ears down. However, pinned and flat ears are certainly a cause for concern. Should this happen, a responsive and responsible pet owner must immediately act.
In the long-term, you should work on any fear or aggression in your dog and help them channel it in healthier ways. However, in the heat of the moment, you must take control and manage your dog’s behavior, so no one gets hurt.
A German Shepherd’s ears give you many clues about their state of mind, so knowing how to “read” them is certainly beneficial to you.