Many dogs like having their ears touched, although it would be important to point out that this is not a general rule of thumb. Some dogs cringe when their ears are touched and don't want any hands near them. Others are total suckers for ear rubs and would love having theirs ear rubbed all day.
If your dog loves having his ears touched, you may be wondering why he moans and groans and closes his eyes with a delighted expression on his face. What's so special about those ears? Turns out, a dog's ears are heavily innervated, and therefore, extra sensitive to touch.
A Matter of Nerves
A little lesson in dog anatomy can provide an insight into dog ears and why dogs like to have their ears rubbed. Dog ears are composed by three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
The middle ear is composed by the dog's eardrum and several small bones (ossicles) which are known to pick up vibrations that stimulate certain nerves responsible for relaying messages to the brain.
The inner ear allows hearing and balance. It is is composed by the cochlea (which contains nerves that allow hearing) the vestibule (which contains special receptors for balance) and the semicircular canals (which contain small stones known as otoliths which move with gravity and relay messages through nerves to the brain).
The outer ear comprises the visible part of the dog's ear along with the ear canal that leads to the eardrum. The main function of the other ear is to collect sound. The part of the ear that is covered with skin and fur and that dogs love rubbed is known as the "pinna" or "auricle."
Interestingly, according to American Kennel Club Gazette, "the ears of a dog contain one of the highest concentrations of nerve endings in its entire body."
''The only other places that are nearly as sensitive are their bellies, and the nooks between their toes," points out veterinarian Dr. Christine Makowski in the book "The Secret Lives of Dogs."
With lots of nerve endings in the ears, it therefore makes sense why dogs like to have their ears rubbed!
"Dogs probably like their ears rubbed because neurologically speaking, gentle massage in these areas are relaxing. The vagus nerve serves a large part of the midportion of the ear, and stimulating this nerve is calming because it controls vegetative, restorative functions. This calming effect also counteracts the fight and flight response associated with the sympathetic nervous system. ~ Marty Becker, D.V.M., Gina Spadafori
Did you know? Dogs boast a variety of ear shapes. Many dog breeds have floppy ears, while others have naturally erect ears and some other dog breeds have their ears cropped. There are many interesting ear shapes in dogs!
A Calming Effect
If your dog is closing his eyes and almost falling asleep when you rub his ears, you aren't imagining things. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the ears offer an entire map of all of the acupuncture points found in the entire body.
This discovery is thanks to Dr. Paul Nogier who revealed that every point on the ear corresponds to a well defined part of the body. It is thanks to this discovery that auriculotherapy, also known as ear acupuncture, is practiced nowadays by several thousands of medical doctors.
Indeed, it's not a coincidence that nowadays acupuncture and acupressure practitioners focus a whole lot on putting pressure on the ears. Pressure on the ears sends nerve impulses right through the body.
What does this mean for the dog owner? It means that by rubbing your dog's ears, you can actually stimulate all of the organs in the body. And the good news is that you do not need to be an expert in the field – all you need to do is give your dog a nice ear massage.
At worse, at a minimum, you can console yourself knowing that by petting your dog and massaging those ears, your dog will likely reap the benefits of all those feel-good hormones known as endorphins which help your dog relax. And these benefits apparently aren't limited to your dog!
Other Factors at Play
Let's face it: from a dog's perspective, scratching the ears is not a walk in the park. First, in order for dogs to scratch their ears, they must sit, bring their rear leg forward and with their paw strategically placed nearby the itchy area, they must move their leg in a rhythmic motion.
When we watch our dogs scratch their ears, we can detect the effort. Many times, the dog has to adjust his leg in order to reach the right area. If the dog has long nails, the dog needs to also be careful not to injure the delicate skin. Some dogs whimper or yelp in pain, if they aren't too careful.
With us humans being dexterous and having a more delicate touch, our dogs are likely grateful for the ear scratches, and on top of that, they likely enjoy the bonus of receiving our affection and attention.
Now That You Know...
So if your dog loves having his ears rubbed, go ahead and give your dog a nice ear massage. The benefits are twofold, affecting both yourself and your dog.
"Your touch relaxes the animal and releases feel-good endorphins in you, reducing your heart rate." points out Arden Moore.
How should you massage your dog's ears? Here are a few tips. Don't pull your dog's ears, but rather pick up each ear and gently apply some slow friction strokes, suggest Joan Budilovsky and Eve Adamson, inthe book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Massage."
But what if your dog doesn't like to have his ears touched? If your dog used to love having his ears rubbed but now suddenly, out of the blue, dreads it, this should raise a red flag. Perhaps, it's time to see the vet.
Dogs, unlike humans, have ear canals that make several sharp turns. While in humans the ear canal is pretty much straight, in dogs it's shaped like the letter "L" which predisposed them to annoying and very painful ear infections.
If your dog, on the other hand, never liked having his ears touched, then it might be a good idea to just respect that and pet him in the areas he has demonstrated to to appreciate having touched in the past.
With puppies, you may want them to get accustomed to having their ears touched from an early age. This is important, especially considering the chances that one day you may need to medicate your dog's ears or place ear drops in them. Good puppy classes provide guidance to dog owners on how to habituate puppies to being handled.
This is especially true for dogs breeds who have their ears cropped. While the procedure is done under general anesthesia when the puppies are just a few weeks old, recovery times may be tough at times especially considering that ear cropping often coincides with a puppy's fear period.
It's certainly not a horrible experience, but it's true that it may have an impact in a sensitive pup and lead to a reluctance to having its ears touched.