Why Do Dogs Flip Their Ears Inside Out? 10 Reasons You Should Know

Zack Keithy, our author, is a certified veterinarian technician (UC Blue Ash) for over 6 years (contact him here). The articles written here are based on his expertise and experience, combined with a review by our expert vet reviewers including Dr M. Tarantino. Learn more about us here.

You’ve probably seen a dog flip his or her ears inside out. This can make you wonder why it happens and what it means. It is a common question and one that has a few answers.

So why do dogs flip their ears inside out? Why are dog ears flipped back?

Dogs have a remarkable ability to communicate through body language. Flipping their ears back or forward, or pinning them back against the head, is a gesture that can mean many things—from “I’m happy” to “I’m scared of you” or even “I want to play.”

In this post, let’s talk a closer look at each of them and decipher what our dogs are telling us!

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Reasons Why Dogs Flip Their Ears Inside Out

10 Reasons Why Dogs Flip Their Ears Inside Out

1. They are anxious or nervous

Dogs have very expressive faces and body language, and flipping their ears inside out is one way they show us that they are feeling anxious or nervous.

Dogs may also shake their tails or lower their heads when they are feeling anxious.

If you notice this behavior in your dog, it is important to try and figure out what has caused it so that you can help him feel more comfortable.

Are there other dogs around that are threatening it? Is he being reprimanded?

Taking these out of the equation will make your dog feel better.

Doggy says, consider reading this too: Overgrown Dew Claws in Dogs

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2. They are feeling sad

Dogs will also flip their ears inside out when they are feeling sad.

You may notice this behavior if your dog gets left at home while you go out for a long period, or if he is taken to the vet and misses his human family members, maybe it is going through a period of grief.

If you suspect this is the case, be sure to shower it with lots of love and attention to help it through this rough patch.

Doggy says, you might like this too: Dog Bobbing Head Around Food Bowl [Explained]

3. They are giving a warning

Dogs will also flip their ears inside out when they are feeling threatened.

This is a very important warning sign to watch for, especially if you have an aggressive dog or one that is prone to biting.

At the same time, you should also watch out for other signs such as growling and snarling, and a change in body language.

If your dog has his ears flipped inside out when someone comes over, be sure to keep them on a leash so they cannot get close enough to bite them.

If left unchecked, this behavior could turn into aggression and even biting at some point.

4. They are fearful

dogs flip their ears back when feeling fear

Fearful dogs frequently have their ears pulled back.

This is especially true when combined with other emotional-related facial and body signals such as a hunched and stiff back or having their tail between their legs.

Other signs to look out for includes lowered body posture, lowered tail, panting, yawning, lip-licking, avoidance of eye contact, and attempts to hide, escape, or retreat.

It’s important to note that each dog expresses fear differently, and they may only exhibit a subset of these symptoms.

Some dogs also exhibit body trembling, a furrowed brow, and whale eye (exposing the white part of its eye).

Doggy says, consider reading this too: Why Does My Dog Lick and Hump Me? 7 Solutions

5. They have an injury

Your dog’s ears may be pulled back to show that it is in pain or has been hurt. It does this because it fears being further injured—protecting itself from future harm.

A common case is when a dog scratches their ear too hard.

I mean, which dog doesn’t enjoy a good old scratch, but doing it too vigorously will end up rupturing the blood vessels in its ears, resulting in it being swollen and puffy as it fills with blood.

This can be quite uncomfortable and will require a visit to the vet.

6. They sense danger

Dogs might pull back their ears as a form of defense as well.

It serves as a safety net in tense or dangerous circumstances where they do this to limit the possible points of contact for an attacker.

When preparing to fight, dogs frequently pin their ears firmly to the head to keep their ears safe from harm by keeping them out of the way of any nearby teeth.

This would be used in conjunction with other body language as a warning message, such as snarling, barking, lunging at its target, and flashing its teeth.

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7. They are feeling relaxed and contented

Since some dogs’ ears are not naturally pointed, it makes sense that when they feel at ease, their ears would be laid back in that manner.

You can reasonably assume that your dog is content if they have a relaxed body, hold its tail high, and has just finished a pleasurable activity.

8. They are trying to listen better

your dog might be trying to hear better when it flips its ears back

A dog might pull its ears back occasionally just to hear what’s going on better.

They can focus their hearing differently than humans because they move their ears rather than their heads.

When they are focused on a sound, they will turn their ears in that direction or, if the sound is coming from behind them, they will turn their ears away.

The dog will be alert and focused when it hears something.

With tails hanging down in a natural position, they will remain still and try to concentrate on the sound.

9. They are curious to get close to someone/something

Your dog may approach with their ears folded back if they are inquisitive about another living thing, such as a person or another animal.

In this act, they are trying to appear as though they mean no harm.

I think most of us have seen this before: They want to go close, but they are hesitant since they don’t know what might happen next.

In such a situation, you will often see that they have a very curious look on their faces as they make their slow approach, sniffing and exploring,

10. They are in courtship

Your male dog might have his ears folded back if he is in the middle of a courtship ritual with another dog.

This is a sign to show that he is interested in mating and wants to let his potential partner know that he is available.

When two dogs come together in this way, they will often start by circling each other while making eye contact.

Then they may begin to sniff each other’s hindquarters as well as their faces.

All part of the courting game, my friend.

Doggy says, read this too: Dog Will Only Walk With Both of Us/One Person? How to Solve This?

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Does Your Dog Turn Its Ears Inside Out and Shake Its Head and Bark?

One particular dog behavior that you do not want to see is your dog barking and shaking its head with its ears turned out.

This often signifies a problem with its ears, most likely an infection.

If you notice this behavior, you should consider sending your dog to the vet for further checks.

What Do to if Your Dog Keeps Folding Its Ears Back?

In most cases, your dog flipping its ears inside out is nothing too serious and is a normal part of dog behavior.

As long as you pay close attention to the accompanying signs and nothing is amiss, you can usually rest easy.

That said, keep an eye out for the following conditions, which warrant a trip to the vet right away.

Check for aural hematoma

This is a blood clot that forms inside the ear canal and can be quite painful.

It’s usually caused by blunt trauma or an object being stuck in your dog’s ear, but it can also happen as a result of tumors, skin diseases such as seborrhea, and infection.

Watch out for the ear flaps being filled with liquid, excessive scratching, and tilting of its head sideways.

A ear hematoma is sometimes also described to look like a cauliflower.

Watch for abnormal behavior

If your dog is acting strangely, it could be a sign of deeper problems.

Keep an eye out for any changes in behavior as well as how often your pet is scratching and shaking its head.

If it seems to be doing so more than usual, take it to the vet.

Watch for signs of pain or discomfort.

When dogs are in pain, they tend to show their discomfort through body language and behavior.

Your dog’s hearing is one of its biggest assets, so if you find that he or she behaves strangely or seems unresponsive to certain sounds, it could be due to a damaged ear.

For example, if your dog looks like he’s not paying attention when you call him and then walks away without responding, this could be an indication of deafness.

Your vet will be able to help diagnose this.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does it hurt dogs to fold their ears back?

No, it does not hurt dogs to fold their ears back. It is a natural reflex that all dogs have and one that they sometimes use as a defense mechanism among many other reasons.

Can dogs hear better when their ears are inside out?

Yes, it would seem so. Ears are designed to gather sounds, and when they are inside out, they are able to do so in a more effective way.

Is it bad to flip dogs’ ears inside out?

No, it is not a good idea to flip a dog’s ears inside out. Doing so can cause pain and discomfort to your dog and can even lead to injury to inner ear structures, which can cause hearing loss and balance issues. Your dog doing it on its own is totally different, so don’t try it yourself.

Do dogs like their ears inside out?

No, dogs do not typically like their ears inside out. It can be quite uncomfortable and even painful for them. It can also lead to issues such as infections or hematomas, which is why it’s always best to return the ear to its natural position.

In Conclusion: Why Do Dogs Flip Their Ears Inside Out?

There are many reasons why your dog’s ears are flipped inside out, and in fact, they can behave in many other ways too such as pricking, flapping them back and forth, laying them flat against the head, etc.

All of these are natural behaviors that dogs exhibit due to their instincts and in order to communicate with other dogs or even humans.

It is important for dog owners to understand this so that they can identify what is causing their pet’s ears to do so and then correct it if necessary.

Browse around to learn more about other dog behavior such as why dogs spit out food they put in their mouths, why dogs attack tires, why your puppy is lunging at your face, and more!

You’ve made it to the end, but I hope it’s not the end of our journey. We want to hear your voice! Share your thoughts, problems, suggestions, or anything related to your dog in the comments section. And don’t forget to join our newsletter today too.

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Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hey, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) for a good 6 years before moving on to greener pastures. Right now, I am still heavily involved in dog parenting duties, and it is my desire to share all our knowledge with fellow dog owners out there! Connect with me on LinkedIn, or read more about Canine Care Central!

2 Comments

  1. My dog is a 16 yes. old and one day her 1 ear was turned inside out and now it stays that way. No injury, no infection, no lumps, no other animals. What could be wrong?

    • Hey Holly, I think it will be pretty hard to make an assessment without looking at your girl. I’ve actually experienced something similar with my yorkie where her ears can no longer stand suddenly. My approach is that if it does not cause her any distress, I would leave it be (of course after checking for any clots, lumps, etc). If you are still uncertain and concerned, I recommend you bring her to a vet for a check. Alternatively, I turn to JustAnswer, a platform where vets can give you advice too. You are also able to submit photos and videoes. In that way, you do not have to head out (or maybe if your local vet is too pricey). Hope this helps!

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