Have you ever had your dog nibble your ear and wondered why they do this? This seemingly affectionate gesture can range from gentle nibbling to full-on playful bites. So, what exactly drives dogs to engage in this adorable yet perplexing behavior?
Dogs come strapped with all kinds of odd behaviors, some making you wish ear nibbling is all you had to deal with, including eating. So, if your dog likes to nibble on your ear during cuddles, it’s best to add dog mouthwash to their water for a minty fresh breath and oral hygiene.
You may have all kinds of concerns relating to your dog licking and nibbling your ear. For instance, is it safe, and can it cause infection? This article consults the Evolution of Canine Social Behavior for everything you need to know, including nine reasons dogs nibble ears and what to do about it.
So, Why Does My Dog Nibble My Ears?
Dogs nibble their human’s ears mainly to show love and affection to the ones they bond most with. Other reasons for nibbling your ears include grooming, attention-seeking, learned behavior, boredom, playfulness, cobbing, and curiosity.
But first, we must look at the difference between nibbling, mouthing, and biting in dogs.
Nibbling (cobbing) vs. Mouthing vs. Biting
Gentle nibbling by a dog using the front teeth is also called cobbing ( like nibbling on a corn cob). The action is also called the pibble nibble, and many dogs use this technique to scratch an itch or as a gentle way of grooming. Conversely, mouthing refers to a chewing action. Puppies like to mouth anything in reach as this is how they learn about the world, much like how babies put everything in their mouths.
Unlike mouthing, where your dog barely exerts pressure on you with their teeth and jaws, biting often causes discomfort or injury. Biting uses pressure from the teeth, as seen from the notorious biters, the teething puppies.
10 Common Reasons Your Dog Nibbles Your Ears
Canines have quirky and hilarious ways of showing affection to their favorite humans, whether it’s cute ways like sleeping between your legs or mildly traumatizing ways like humping you and everyone else that fascinates them.
Also, canines have some questionable tastes, so it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the taste and smell of earwax lure them. You can see their unusual preferences in flavor and smells in their love for dirty socks and other stinky stuff.
Many dog behaviors we see are embedded in your dog from the time they were wolves. This explains why dogs do things to their favorite humans to show affection, pack bonding, or submission that they typically do with other dogs.
You have probably guessed that dogs don’t lick and nibble your ears to be your canine earbud. These nine common reasons for dog ear nibbling give you more insight into this canine behavior.
1. To Show affection to loved ones
Dogs are social creatures capable of immense love, especially to the people they form deep bonds with. Research shows that dogs love and need their humans, just like humans do; it’s a symbiotic relationship.
Most if not all the time, your dog shows you love by nibbling your ear. They engage in behaviors like licking your feet and your nose also to show love and affection to their owners.
2. Grooming You
Dogs evolutionarily groom each other, especially on places like ears, face, and back where the other cannot reach. While their intention to nibble your ear isn’t to clean your wax, the action mimics what they do to each other.
Dogs who have a close bond will often lick each other’s ears, and they’ll often do it to their feline friends too. This instinctual behavior is most common in dogs with a strong maternal instinct that takes ear cleaning very seriously.
It is possible that licking and nibbling on ears is a way that dogs both bond and clean ears, helping to prevent ear infections (otitis). In fact, dog saliva can kill the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli), one of the bacteria that often causes ear infections in dogs. So licking the ear area may be a natural way to prevent otitis. A dog’s instinct to clean the ears of their pack members can be pretty strong; just see the video below of a dog cleaning a pig’s ears:
Licking ears can transfer to nibbling, which may be a kind of canine massage (like giving you a gentle scratch) or even an attempt to remove parasites.
3. To Get Your Attention
Canines love their owner’s attention; some breeds crave attention more than others. Your dog’s nibbling may be a way to distract you from your work to focus on them instead. Dogs may attempt to capture our focus and engage in interactive playtime by gently nibbling on our ears.
4. Learned Behavior (Sensory Stimulation)
Puppies learn cobbing and nibbling from their mothers and discover that nibbling causes a pleasant sensation. Your pup will therefore nibble on you to invoke the same pleasurable sensations nibbling triggers in them.
They also nibble on your ears to get a whiff of pheromones from your skin, making them feel closer to you. Canines have a sensory organ for detecting odors at the roof of their mouths, called Jacobson’s organ for detecting pheromones.
5. Dogs May Love or Smell The Taste of Ear Wax
Dogs get much information from anything our body excretes, including ear wax. The scent of ear wax can get them interested in our ears, causing them to want to lick or nibble the area.
6. Social Bonding and Playfulness
In the wild and at home, dogs mostly groom, lick, and nibble on close dogs that are part of their pack. They carry on this pack mentality to their dog-human relationships and engage in bonding behaviors seen among pack members.
Dogs are social animals and use play as a means of interaction and bonding. Nibbling on ears can be seen as an extension of their playful nature. Just as puppies engage in playful biting with their littermates, adult dogs may exhibit similar behavior with their human companions. By nibbling our ears, dogs express their desire to engage in play and establish a bond with us.
7. Appeasement Behavior
Behaviors like ear nibbling and licking happen among dogs to show submission to the more dominant canine. Puppies love to lick adult dogs’ mouths to show they are submissive and make friends. This often transfers to dogs licking your nose and perhaps licking or nibbling on your ears.
8. Boredom, Anxiety, and Stress
Nibbling on the ears can also be a form of stress relief for dogs. Similar to how humans engage in self-soothing behaviors, such as nail-biting or hair twirling, dogs may find comfort in nibbling on our ears. This behavior can provide a sense of relaxation and alleviate anxiety in certain situations. However, it’s essential to distinguish between gentle nibbling and more aggressive biting, as the latter may indicate discomfort or fear.
They may also playfully nibble on your ears to invite you to play with them because they are bored. This playful ear nibbling often occurs after you’ve left your dog for some time without some kind of entertainment and mental or physical activity.
9. Mimicking Maternal Behavior
Mother dogs naturally lick their puppies’ ears to clean them and to cement their bond. This can transfer to a female dog who has a strong interest in cleaning and maintaining your ear hygiene too.
10. Exploration and Curiosity in Puppies
Puppies use their mouths to explore the world around them, much like how humans use their hands. Nibbling on our ears could be a manifestation of their natural curiosity. Dogs rely on their sense of taste and touch to gather information about their environment.
When they nibble on our ears, puppies might be exploring different textures, scents, or even the taste of our skin and hair. It serves as a way for them to gather sensory input and understand their surroundings better.
When is Your Dog Nibbling Your Ear a Problem?
Moderate dog nibbling of your ears is harmless and improves your bonding experience with your dog. However, boundaries are essential, so discourage nibbling if it makes you uncomfortable. Nibbling is also a problem when it happens continuously and becomes an obsession.
Other signs occurring with the cobbing, like panting, whimpering, and restlessness, may suggest that it’s a problem. These signs typically show that your dog’s ear nibbling is due to anxiety or stress.
Is it Safe for Your Dog to Nibble Your Ear?
Dogs nibbling your ear is typically safe so long as they are not biting or showing any signs of stress like tense faces, ears pinned back, or other signs that may lead to injury or an accident. However, studies suggest that people with ear infections and issues like purulent otorrhoea should avoid having their ears licked and nibbled by dogs.
This is because the pathogens present in a dog’s saliva, while vastly different from ours, may react with your body negatively with a weakened immune system. Also, don’t let your dog lick or nibble you if you have a compromised immune system.
How to Stop Your Dog From Nibbling Your Ear
1. Train cues such as “stop it” and reward them when they stop nibbling your ear.
2. Consult an animal behaviorist to help your dog if you believe the nibbling is due to stress or anxiety.
3. Take your dog for more walks to avoid ear nibbling due to boredom and attention seeking.
4. Distract your dog with a toy.
However, be cautious with this tip because you may unintentionally reward attention-seeking behavior.
5. Give your dog something else to nibble, like a chew toy.
6. Spend quality time with your pup to avoid feeling like they must engage in attention-seeking behavior.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is My Dog Licking My Nose?
Your dog licking your nose is an appeasement behavior meant to show that it means no harm and wants to be friends. They also engage in the behavior to seek attention and release energy from playfulness.
Why Do Dogs Bite Each Other’s Ears?
Dogs biting each other’s ears is a normal part of canine play and socializing. They don’t hurt each other because the ear bits are gentle and playful, although certain dogs are uncomfortable with the action. Keep in mind dogs often bite each other’s ears in a fight as well and can cause significant damage.
Why Does My Dog Nibble on Me With Front Teeth?
Dogs nibbling on you with their front teeth is called cobbing; they do it to show love and affection. This is the same technique dogs use to scratch an itch and to groom other dogs, as it doesn’t cause discomfort.
Dogs nibble on their owner’s ears mainly to show love to those they’ve bonded with the most. Other reasons for nibbling include curiosity, grooming, submissive behavior, and boredom. Dog nibbling is normal canine behavior that typically isn’t anything to worry about unless your dog does it obsessively.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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