Your dog is showing affection, showing their acceptance of you as a member of their pack, showing submission, and gathering information based on your taste and scent. It may also be self-soothing, stressed or bored. If you are sweaty, you will taste salty, which it likes.
In this article, I’ll look at the reasons why your dog is nibbling your ear – some are of no concern, but some are more serious – as well as whether nibbling your ear is a harmless habit or one you should discourage.
They Are Showing Affection for You
Physically interacting with you through touch, nuzzling or licking increases levels of the dog’s hormone oxytocin (and yours too, if you feel a warm affection for the dog.)
Oxytocin in dogs and humans is a bonding hormone, and is stimulated and released in mother and puppy dogs by the mother’s grooming, licking, and nuzzling the puppies.
In a household, a dog may show affection in this way to you, other family members, and to other pets such as dogs or cats (if they allow it.)
They Accept You as A Pack Member
Dogs build bonds of affection within their pack, and nibbling on an ear and nuzzling, or licking ears is behavior they would do with other pack members in the wild. This is a way of connecting to show affection and solidarity.
They Are Showing Submission
Some observations indicate that more submissive dogs show more nibbling, nuzzling, and licking behaviors. So nibbling your ear may imply that the dog recognizes and accepts you as the pack leader.
They Are Gathering Information About You
With their exceptional powers of smell and taste, your dog finds you to be a source of interesting information, especially if you’ve been outside the home.
Your dog may be smelling the places you’ve been or the scents of the food you had to eat. Your sweat could even taste different depending on whether you’ve been stressed or not. Nibbling and nuzzling could just be the dog’s way of asking how your day was.
They Are Grooming You
Some dogs, particularly if they have a maternal instinct, may be grooming you by nibbling your ear. It was common among wild dogs for family members to groom hard-to-reach places like the ear.
Several types of animals, such as monkeys, perform this group grooming behavior in the wild. Your domestic dog may be carrying on the tradition.
You Taste Nice
A key component of human sweat is salt, and most dogs like salt, so your ear might taste nice to your dog. And whether or not you are salty, you will taste like you, which is a soothing and familiar taste to your dog.
The Dog Is Self-Soothing or Stressed
Dogs can use nibbling or licking as a way to self-soothe. If the nibbling is moderate, this is not usually a problem. But if the nibbling becomes an entrenched, repetitive behavior, it could indicate that the dog is stressed.
They are using nibbling as a way to try to feel better. But since it doesn’t solve the problem, the nibbling is repeated. This can then become a problem in itself, for example, if the nibbling is becoming annoying for you (or for another pet, if they are nibbling another pet’s ear.)
Observe your dog’s behavior and emotions, and consider whether there have been changes in the household that may have caused stress, or whether the dog has been getting less quality time with you than usual.
What You Can Do
If you think the nibbling is repetitive and may be occurring because of anxiety, it would be good to consult a vet for an overall health check and a discussion about the anxiety.
Also, think about what your individual dog finds soothing, and implement more of that into the household routine.
Some dogs will love to cuddle up to you on the couch and be petted. Other dogs might be soothed by adding an extra walk into your day.
They may be the type of dog that needs a vigorous play session to work out their nervous energy and be able to settle down peacefully.
Each dog will have individual needs, and you are likely to know their needs best and what works to soothe and reassure them.
If you are leaving your dog for long periods, such as to work, consider arranging for someone else to visit and play with them or take them on a walk.
A neighbor, friend, or dog walker could do this. Even a couple of times a week could make a big difference in soothing and settling your dog’s behavior.
The Dog Is Bored
Dogs who are bored will easily turn to bad or weird habits. If your dog is nibbling your ear a lot, and it’s annoying, it may be a way of asking for more positive attention from you.
Try Some Training
If they need more to occupy their minds, consider doing a little training every day.
The Kennel Club USA states that it’s good for any dog to go over basic commands, and you can then add simple tricks, such as rolling over, shaking a paw, or giving you a hug.
Most dogs benefit from the mental stimulation and discipline of training, and in general, your dog will love to please you.
It’s also fun, and will build the bond between you. You can involve other family members in training as well.
Refresh Your Walks
Walks and excursions are an essential daily need for dogs. They need a change of scene and the stimulation of the sights and scents of the world outside.
You likely have favorite places where you walk your dog. Consider taking them to some new places, perhaps a few minutes drive away, that will offer your dog a new set of experiences.
Shake up Your Play
Also, perhaps your dog would benefit from changing the games you play with them. Try a tug-o-war with a rope or train them to catch and bring back a frisbee if you usually throw a ball.
Make Them a Dog Friend
Having another dog as a friend is also a great enrichment activity.
A “doggy play date” with another dog a few times a week will provide another meaningful relationship in your dog’s world. It will add to their fun in life and their sense of security.
If My Dog Nibbles My Ear, Are There Health Risks?
There can be health risks to allowing a dog to nibble your ear or the ear of another pet.
Ear infections are easy to pick up because both human ears and dog ears can be damp places where yeast and other bacteria can grow.
Should I Discourage My Dog from Nibbling My Ear?
It is an individual decision. You may find it adorable and accept it as part of the way your dog shows their affection for you.
Or you may not enjoy it, and you may have concerns about the health risks.
How to Discourage a Dog from Nibbling Your Ear
Like training a dog to stop any behavior, you must be firm and consistent.
Use the command Stop or No, and move the dog’s muzzle gently away. Then distract or redirect the dog into better behavior.