A dog biting another dog’s ears is quite common, albeit mostly in puppyhood. After all, puppies bite everything, and a flappy bit of cartilage from a mom or littermate is just too inviting.
But as they grow older, dogs biting the ear of one of your other pets may become a bit more of a problem. Worse yet, if they’re nibbling on your neighbor’s prize poodle!
Either way, as we focus more on the importance of our canine’s ear hygiene, we know the risks of excess moisture or damaging sensitive skin in a dog’s ears. This is why ear-cleaning wipes that protect the essential lipid barrier are vital.
Ear biting puts the other dog at risk of losing a chunk of hair and having a bad hair day, and nasty infections such as hotspots. So why do they do it? Let’s look at the main reasons.
Reasons For A Dog Biting Other Dogs’ Ears
Puppies and ear chewing
It is extremely common for young puppies to chew on their siblings’ ears. This is sometimes because of teething but also because puppies explore the world with their mouths. The general term for this is “mouthiness,” which manifests in many different ways.
Puppies may chew on anything nearby, such as your hands, and they will undoubtedly gnaw on any part of another dog they can reach, including the ears. Very excited puppies can get quite tenacious, and chewing may become active biting or nipping.
Behaviorist, James Serpell, calls puppies sucking or chewing each other’s ears (or navels and tails) “social vices” and feels it sometimes happens out of frustration. However, it is very much a simple developmental phase for all puppies.
But what happens when a puppy’s ear-nibbling habit irritates an older dog?
Older dog corrections
In the case of an older dog biting puppy ears, what often happens is what we call a “correction.” When an older dog, particularly an adult female, gets annoyed with an overexuberant young pup, they may nip them around the neck area and occasionally on the ears.
This usually leads to much heartbroken wailing, but in most cases, no harm is done. It’s natural for a senior to tell a young pup to stop that and settle down. As a pet parent, you can keep an eye on this but only intervene if your older dog becomes aggressive or intimidating.
In this case, remove your puppy immediately and get help from a professional, as an aggressive adult can do permanent psychological damage to a puppy. However, do not intervene for a normal correction, as this is your older dog’s way of setting boundaries for the new blood.
But this is not the only reason an older dog may mouth a young dog’s ears.
Grooming and affection
Dogs lick ears as a way of showing love and affection and as part of grooming each other. This is particularly common among females with strong maternal instincts but can happen with any very affectionate dog.
Dog ears telegraph a lot about health, and you will often see dogs and cats sniff each other ears. If they are closely bonded, a dog may spend time licking the inside of the other dog’s ear out, probably cleaning it from parasites like ticks in the ears or infections.
This can advance to a dog chewing lightly on the ear lobe with its front teeth. This is called “cobbing,” a sign of infection.
Biting ears when playing
The most common reason for biting each other’s ears is dog play. You can tell play biting from real aggression by watching the body language. Playing dogs have relaxed bodies; they play bow, chase other, and have relaxed mouths with lolling tongues.
Why do dogs bite each other’s ears when playing?
When dogs play together, they either mimic chasing prey or fighting. In the case of play fighting, grabbing the neck area or the area is all part of the fun. It’s the moment they pretend they have grabbed a vulnerable spot and are “winning the deadly battle.” However, as long as it’s a game, they should not draw blood or hurt each other.
Help! My dog bit my other dog and drew blood!
If your dog bit your other dog hard enough to draw blood, the situation has likely gone beyond play biting into full-blown aggression. Assess the wound for depth.
Apply pressure to any deep bleeing punctures and take your injured dog to the vet to have the wound cleaned, stitched, and to get the appropriate pain medication and antibiotics. If your dog’s ear is bleeding, see our article on what to do for bleeding dog ears.
Why do dogs bite other dogs?
Dogs typically bite other dogs for one of the following reasons:
- Poor socialization
- A genetic inclination toward dog aggression: aggression towards other dogs is common in breeds previously used for dog fighting or similar sports.
- Fearfulness: Dogs fearful or anxious about another dog may bite because they feel threatened.
- Possessiveness or Jealousy over a favorite person, food, or item.
- Pack dynamics: A power struggle among dogs in a multi-dog household.
- Redirected aggression: dogs who are frustrated by aggression at somebody passing but their house may redirect their aggression at the dog nearest them.
How To Stop A Dog From Biting The Ears of Another Dog
If ear biting is becoming a problem, you can take the following steps to deal with it:
- Apply a bitter anti-chew spray to your other dog’s ears. Spray a bit onto a cloth and carefully wipe it onto the ears to avoid getting any in your dog’s eyes.
- Teach your dogs other ways to play. If your dogs enjoy chasing one another, playing, and wrestling, introduce a tug toy and encourage them to play tug instead. Satisfy their urge to chase by having regular sessions of fetch.
- Interrupt overstimulated and overexcited play. It’s a good rule of thumb that dogs never get too excited, no matter what they do. Never allow a good romp to become frenzied, and teach impulse control from a young age. If you see your dogs getting too excited during play, use a loud noise to interrupt them. A whistle or a shaking metal container full of rocks should help. Give them time to calm down by separating them and diverting them into a calmer activity, such as a bit of obedience.
- Supervise older and younger dogs together. If a young dog consistently annoys your older dog, consider placing the pup in daycare during the day, where they engage with more dogs their own age.
- Separate the dogs. In cases of aggression, it’s best to keep the dogs separate the dogs and call in a professional to assess the problem. In many situations, a professional behaviorist can fix the fighting if you catch it early enough.
In some cases, dogs may have to be permanently separated. But never ignore any dog fighting, and hope it goes away. Unaddressed dog aggression usually escalates.
Should I Bite My Dog’s Ears To Show Dominance?
Biting your dog’s ears is a terrible way to show dominance or discipline your dog. Not only is it unhygienic to put a dog’s ears in your mouth, but if you break the skin, you can infect your dog since the human mouth is dirtier than a dog’s.
Besides, acting violently toward your dog only teaches them to distrust you. It does not encourage good behavior or give them a reason to respect you. No pet parent achieves discipline through forceful outbursts.
Instead, you achieve discipline through routine, consistent and clear rules, and plenty of structured activities that require your dog to pay attention.
The notion that dogs have to be dominated is also misleading. Yes, dogs are pack animals, and they benefit from calm leadership. Without clear leadership, they often develop behavior problems related to anxiety or aggression. But the idea of dominance fostered a generation of pet owners who confused leadership with force, bullying, intimidation, and aggressive actions, such as biting a dog’s ear.
A pet parent who is a true leader to their dog always acts calmly, shows self-control, and leads by creating a foundation of trust with their dog. They do not do this with force but by establishing clear rules and reinforcing training from the day they get their dog.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is my dog biting other dogs’ legs?
Dogs may bite another dog’s legs during a fight, particularly if one dog lifts their front leg to roll over and show submission. Herding breeds tend to nip at other dogs’ heels during play to “herd ” them. Finally, smaller dogs may bite larger dogs’ legs either during play or when aggressive, as they may only be able to reach the legs.
What Does It Mean When A Dog Bites Another Dog’s Neck?
How severely a dog bites another dog’s neck determines what it means. Dogs will often nip each other’s necks during play. An older dog will often give a younger dog a more severe nip on the neck as a correction for bad behavior.
However, dogs in a high state of aggression will bite the neck to either force the other dog to submit or kill their opponent. This is because the neck is perhaps the most vulnerable part of the dog’s anatomy.
Dogs bite each other’s ears for various reasons, most harmless. A playful bite is a normal part of rough-housing for young and old dogs. Dogs may also groom each other and take to nibbling on the ear flaps. In extreme cases, the ears may be a target in a fight.
If ear biting during play damages the other’s ears, the best thing to do is to put a safe and effective anti-chew spray on their ears to discourage the behavior.
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.