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Why does my dog put his ears back when he sees me?

There are a few potential reasons why your dog may put his ears back when he sees you:

He’s showing submission

When a dog pins his ears back against his head, it’s often a sign that he’s showing submission, deference, or respect. Ears back can be one way a dog communicates that he recognizes you as the leader in his “pack.” It’s his version of saying “hello, you’re in charge!” This behavior may be especially pronounced if your dog tends to be on the timid side.

He’s feeling anxious or fearful

While ear-pinning can signal submission, it can also be a sign of anxiety, uncertainty, or fear. Some dogs pin their ears back when they are feeling nervous or apprehensive about something. It’s similar to how some people frown when they are worried or uneasy. If your dog pins his ears but seems hesitant to approach, he may be feeling unsure in that moment.

He’s reacting to your body language

Dogs are excellent readers of human body language. If you appear tense, stressed, or angry when you encounter your dog, he may react by pinning his ears back. Your own tense posture can make him feel anxious, causing him to flatten his ears. Make sure your body language is relaxed and happy when greeting your pup.

He’s anticipating punishment

If your dog has been punished in the past for certain behaviors, he may pin his ears preemptively when he sees you. This appeasement gesture is him communicating “please don’t be mad at me.” If you use punishment-based training, a dog may learn to associate you with potential correction. Make sure all encounters with your dog are positive to build trust.

He feels ill

A dog who is feeling under the weather may pin his ears when he sees you as a non-verbal cue that he’s not feeling his best. Illness, injury, aches, and pains can all cause a dog to flatten his ears. It’s a vulnerable posture that communicates he’s not up for interaction. Check with your vet if this ear position accompanies lethargy or loss of appetite.

Tips for encouraging erect ears

Here are some tips if you want to encourage your dog to keep his ears forward more often when he sees you:

  • Use upbeat, enthusiastic body language and a happy tone of voice when greeting him.
  • Reward him with praise and treats for keeping his ears erect.
  • Avoid punishment-based training methods that may cause anxiety.
  • Make sure he’s healthy and not in any pain.
  • Gently massage his ears and provide ear scratches.
  • Consider whether anything in the environment is causing fear.

With time and positive association, a dog can gain confidence and stop pinning his ears back excessively. But keep in mind, brief ear-pinning upon greeting you is very normal canine behavior. It simply means your dog respects you and is saying hello!


When a dog pins his ears back against his head when he sees you, it typically signals deference, anxiety, or fear. Common reasons include showing submission, reacting to your body language, anticipating punishment, or feeling unwell. With positive reinforcement and confidence building, a dog can learn to keep his ears erect more consistently. But some ear-pinning, especially during greetings, remains normal canine communication. Understanding the nuances of your dog’s ear poses provides insight into what he’s thinking and feeling.