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7 Reasons Why Golden Retrievers Put Their Ears Back

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

“I wish I could talk to my Golden Retriever,” said one of my neighbors. “Well, you can. He just won’t understand you,” I replied. Jokes aside, humans and dogs can understand each other a lot more than people think. That’s evident from how your dog can pick up on your mood and how you can tell when your dog is happy. 

However, some slight body language changes or quirks still escape most dog owners. One of the most common questions, often posed by Golden Retriever owners, is, why is my dog putting his ears back?

Golden Retrievers put their ears back to communicate friendliness, contentment, or submission, all to be taken positively. An extremely pulled-back ear position can indicate fear or anxiousness, in which case you need to calm, distract, and reassure your dog.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about Golden Retrievers’ ear positions and their meanings. You will also learn how to tell when the pulled-back position means something other than a friendly gesture.

Among other things, you will find out the nuances of why Golden Retrievers put their ears back, including the following reasons:

  • Friendliness 
  • Sorrow
  • Fear
  • Submission
  • Anxiety
  • Appeasement/Courting
  • Perceived Danger

Some dogs, like my German Shepherd, have pointy ears, while others have floppy ears. Goldens’ ears are floppy for a good reason.

Let’s explore why.

Why Do Golden Retrievers Put Their Ears Back? A Golden Retriever with its ears back.

Why Are Golden Retrievers Ears So Floppy?

Golden Retrievers’ ears are floppy because Goldens were bred to have floppy ears. Floppy ears improve scent-locking and help dogs hunt and retrieve better. As their drop ears cover the entrance to the ear canal, they block out some peripheral sounds making it easier to focus on the smells ahead.

Working Retrievers also needed their ear canals protected from the elements, such as wind and rain. Additionally, their ear canal required shielding from water and field debris. So, they have adapted to their environment as they’ve evolved.

Golden Retrievers’ floppy ears have a few advantages and disadvantages that even out. There has been no serious attempt at breeding out this trait from the Goldens, so it can be assumed that it is a net positive.

The advantages of floppy ears in Golden Retrievers include the following:

  • Scent trapping – Floppy ears prevent scent particles from escaping, allowing dogs to lock on to the scent for longer. This helps dogs hunt better.
  • Keeping water out when swimming – Golden Retrievers are great swimmers, and their floppy ears keep the water out whenever they go too low while swimming.
  • Appearing friendly – According to the TSA, dogs with floppy ears seem friendlier than those with pointed ears. This means the extent to which Goldens are popular because of their friendly appearance is partly owed to their floppy ears.
Golden Retriever Ears. Why Are Golden Retrievers Ears So Floppy?

The disadvantages of floppy ears are:

  • A frequent need for grooming – When your dog has floppy ears, he needs to have his ears cleaned out fairly regularly. Floppy ears trap dirt and moisture, which can build up over time.
  • The possibility of ear infections – Moisture-trapping can result in ear infections, especially if the ear fur isn’t adequately trimmed and the dog’s ears are not cleaned. This possibility can be minimized with regular cleaning and proper grooming.

So now you know why Goldens have floppy ears, let’s find out why they put their ears back in the next section.

Why Do Golden Retrievers Put Their Ears Back?

Understanding the meaning of your Golden Retriever’s ear position can sometimes be tricky, especially when your dog’s ears are pulled back or positioned against the head.

Golden Retrievers put their ears back to signal contentment and friendliness. However, pulled-back ears don’t always communicate friendship. Sometimes, they can also denote a fearful attitude.

In this section, I want to focus on the seven possible meanings of the ‘ears back’ position. However, when understanding Golden Retriever ear position meanings, it’s essential to read other canine body language signs and consider the surrounding environment.

Watch This Video To Learn More About Your Dog’s Body Language…

Nonetheless, with context clues and the extent to which the ears are drawn back, you will be able to find out why your Golden Retriever’s ears are back.

1. Friendliness (Slightly Pulled Back Ears)

Slightly pulled-back ears denote friendliness, which explains why Golden Retrievers put their ears back often. They are among the friendliest dog breed, after all. Slightly pulled-back ears also signal contentment and that your pup is relaxed and chilled out.

To confirm that you’re on the right track, look for a relaxed body, a high waggy tail, and a soft gaze.

Happy Golden Retriever Chewing a Ball. Ears Slightly Back.

2. Sorrow (Ears Back But In A Low Position)

When your dog’s ears are pulled down more than pulled back, and he has sad body language, he is likely sad. Golden Retrievers’ sadness is usually evident from their facial expressions and slouching.

If your Golden’s general posture isn’t slumped and his ears are not hanging lower than usual, then he isn’t sad. Getting a baseline is important because some dogs have naturally droopy ears.

3. Fear (Pulled Back Extremely)

If the ears are pulled back, and your dog is cowering, he is afraid. This is accompanied by a somewhat apparent shift in stimuli or environment. Fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud sound sources can cause this body language shift. 

If your Golden is genuinely afraid of the loud sounds in your area, try NaturVet Quiet Moments from Amazon. I like these natural calming aid chews as they are veterinarian formulated. They promote relaxation and reduce fear in stressful situations.

4. Anxiety (Accompanied By Tense Body Language)

If your Golden seems to have a lot of tension, especially in his limbs, and his ears are pulled back, he might be anxious. The problem with this possibility is that it might not have an obvious source. 

Sometimes, a dog can get anxious because of internal changes. If your Golden Retriever is going through puberty, a female in heat, or has health problems, they might be worried about what is going on internally. Tense body language almost always correlates with anxiety.

5. Submission (Slight Pull-Back)

The more politically correct term for this is “friendliness.” Most often, a slightly pulled-back ear position indicates submission. When two dogs greet each other, one maintains his ears’ position while the other shifts his back showing he is “afraid.” 

This isn’t a reflection of actual fear but is just an appeasing behavior signaling that the dog isn’t “brave” enough to pick a fight. Only when your dog’s ears are pulled back significantly can you tell that he is terrified.

6. Perceived Danger (Pulled Back With Aggressive Posture)

Aggressive Golden Retriever

If a dog puts back his ears but doesn’t cower, he is in a position where he should be afraid but is instead likely to attack. Golden Retrievers are unlikely to adopt this stance, so you don’t have to worry about it. Still, remember that any situation where a dog can be afraid is also one where he can become aggressive.

You should read other signs of fear aggression such as raised hackles, a hard stare, growling, lunging, licking of the lips, a verticle tail, or the tail arching over the back.

7. Flirting (When Interacting With The Other Sex)

Dogs, much like human males, try to use friendliness to get something more than just friendship from their female counterparts. Where putting back ears is a sign of friendliness among dogs, it can also show appeasement for the sake of sex when it is between dogs of different genders. When a male dog puts his ears back, he is courting the female.

So those are all the possible ways to interpret a Golden putting his ears back. But despite having floppy ears, Goldens can actually put their ears in various positions. Each can communicate something different about your dog’s mood or emotional state. So, let’s look at what Golden Retriever ear positions signal.

Young Golden Retriever Playing

Golden Retriever Ear Positions Meaning

Golden Retrievers can put their ears in pulled-back, slightly forward, hanging low, and pulled-up positions because their ears are floppy. While having a smaller range of motion than pointy-eared dogs, Goldens can still communicate a lot with their ears alone.

Here is what each of the Golden Retrievers’ ear positions means:

  • Hanging low – This means that your Golden is actually feeling low. Low-hanging ears should be compared to the baseline droop because of the natural flop in Goldens’ ears. When a Golden feels sad, his ears droop a good inch lower than his happy state and over half an inch lower than his neutral state. They hang low enough for you to be able to tell from far, so no close inspection is required.
  • Pulled up – This happens when your Golden Retriever is happy. Because this ear position is accompanied by obviously happy tail-wagging, dog owners don’t even need to look at their canines’ ears to know they are happy. But if you were to figure out your dog’s happiness level by ears alone, you would need to pay a little more attention. Goldens don’t pull their ears up too much, but the base of their ears does shift visibly by half an inch, while the tip of their ears might not move as obviously. Regardless, this position represents a happy dog.
  • Pulled back – Pulled back ears indicate submission, appeasement, and friendliness. It isn’t a cause for concern unless it is compounded by drooping ears or cowering. Only when the dog has overall negative body language can one assume that pulled-back ears indicate fear or anxiety.
  • Slightly forward – In guard dogs, forward-pointing ears communicate alertness and threat perception. In Goldens, a slight shift forward in the ear base indicates curiosity. Golden Retrievers are curious beings, and they like to explore. That said, this ear shift is so slight that you’ll most likely miss it, so look for more signs of curiosity, like upright posture, forward-facing stance, and focused movement.

“You can probably tell that the ear positions aren’t the best indicator of a Golden Retriever’s mood because they are too floppy to have a clear contrast between pulled-up and pulled-down positions. Fortunately, Golden Retriever’s body language is easy to read.”

World of Dogz

Final Thoughts

Golden Retrievers put their ears back slightly to show you that you are dominant and they don’t plan to ever attack you. It is a sign of friendliness at the mildest and one of submission in most extreme cases. If it is accompanied by cowering, your dog is afraid. And if it is accompanied by tense body language, your dog is anxious.

In most cases, though, the pulled-back position is just a friendly ear stance that is normal for friendly breeds like Golden Retrievers.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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