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German Shepherds Ear Positions Meaning: 4 Examples with Pictures!

Your German Shepherd will communicate with you in many ways, from vocalization, body posture, and even down to ear positions. A dog’s ears speak volumes but have you ever wondered what German Shepherds’ ear positions mean?

A German Shepherd’s ear positions can mean many emotions, such as feeling calm and neutral, relaxed, playful, submissive, alert, anxious, nervous, aggressive, excited, dominant, or frightened. A sudden movement of the ears can also mean the dog communicates a change of state of mind.

For example, the ears will prick when aggressive or curious, whereas friendly intrigue leads the ears to a backward arching position.

Ultimately, your German Shepherd’s ear positions advertise his mood reasonably accurately. Still, each position can mean a few different things, and you have to look at the context before judging why your dog’s ears are in a specific position.

Aside from covering why most German Shepherds have standing ears while occasionally some remain floppy, this article covers how to confirm the following:

  • Your German Shepherd’s ears prick means your dog is alert or aggressive.
  • Your German Shepherd puts back his ears as a social gesture.
  • Your German Shepherd is frightened when he puts his ears down.

Let’s begin!

A young German Shepherd with pricked ears. What Do German Shepherds Ear Positions Mean?
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Why Do German Shepherds Move Their Ears?

Before we get into specific German Shepherd ear positions that indicate different emotions, we must address why dogs move their ears. Unlike human ears, dogs’ ears are controlled by voluntary muscles. In other words, their ear movements aren’t involuntary reactions but instinctual attempts at communication. So, why do German Shepherds move their ears?

German Shepherds move their ears to different positions mainly to indicate interest, submissiveness, or hostility. Several subtle movements indicate more complex emotions, and sometimes various emotions overlap in terms of their corresponding ear position.

You should look at your dog’s ear position alongside other body language and behavior cues in the context of his environment when deciding why he is behaving a certain way. If you go by ear positions alone, you might reach the wrong conclusion as each position has at least two explanations. 

The sections below will look at the general possibilities for each position your dog puts his ears. You will also learn a few other metrics to determine which one of the possibilities is the actual reason behind the dog’s ear movement.

Before that, here’s a quick glimpse of positions:

GSD Ear Positions
GSD Ear Positions

Why Do German Shepherd’s Ears Stand Up?

Since most German Shepherds’ ears are pointy, yet others are floppy, one can get curious about what causes this difference.

German Shepherd’s ears stand up because of strong ear ligaments and genetics. Unlike many dog breeds, a standard German Shepherd past teething has naturally standing ears. This shouldn’t be confused with pricked-up ears, which are prominent stiffening and has more to do with the canine’s mood.

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Why Do German Shepherds Prick Their Ears?

Since German Shepherd Dogs’ ears aren’t generally floppy (aside from exceptions covered later in this post), you can barely notice the movement whenever their ears stand up. Still, it is essential to know why German Shepherds prick their ears.

German Shepherds prick their ears whenever they are alert, interested, excited, or curious about what they’re hearing. Since sudden alertness is sometimes followed by canine aggression, German Shepherds’ ears also prick up when they’re about to attack if they feel threatened.

To know whether your dog is alert or aggressive, you should watch for other signs, such as growling, showing teeth, sniffing, and considering his current environment. Your GSD may simply prick his ears forward and tilt his head if you make a peculiar sound.

Below is my German Shepherd showing her ears in the pricked position. You can see how alert and interested she is. She focuses intently on something in the street, probably another dog passing by!

An alert German Shepherd with pricked ears. Why Do German Shepherds Prick Their Ears?
Willow with pricked ears

When a German Shepherd pricks up his ears and looks around or sniffs, you can conclude that he is alert. You should tighten your grip over his leash (and leash him if he’s not on the leash in the first place). This way, you can make sure he doesn’t become aggressive towards another dog or person unprompted. If the dog is growling or showing his teeth while his ears are pricked up, you should assume he’s in an aggressive state.

Related: How To Read German Shepherd Body Language: 15 Signs Decoded

Please note that German Shepherds aren’t generally aggressive. However, if they are unsocialized, untrained, or previously mistreated, they may show hostility. This is through no fault of the dog, and only humans are to blame, as the dog just does not know how to behave.

Why Do German Shepherds Put Their Ears Back?

Unlike pricked-up ears, this is a more subtle movement and is more noticeable when looking directly at the dog’s ears. If you are attentive to details, you might have seen your dog put his ears back semi-regularly, especially in your presence. There’s a valid reason for this behavior.

German Shepherds put their ears back as a sign of submission or nervousness. However, this ear position doesn’t guarantee these emotions, as your dog can also bring his ears back when feeling social and happy. You should look at the head position and tail for more clues.

If your dog displays submissiveness, his ears will go back, and he will also lower his head. In some instances, the dog puts his tail between his legs, which results in the related figure of speech. If other indicators are absent but your dog’s ears are still pulled back, you can assume he is just in a social mood.

Related: German Shepherd Tail Positions Meaning: 13 Tell-Tail Signs

Below is another photo of Willow, taken moments after the first one. Notice how her ear positions have now changed from the erect position above, and she has put them back. She feels social and happy and enjoys looking out of the window. I guess the interesting dog in question has passed by!

German Shepherd with it's ears back. Why Do German Shepherds Put Their Ears Back?
Willow with her ears back

This is a breath of fresh air if you’re outside and around other dogs! The last thing you want is for your dog to be too nervous about socializing.

Why Do German Shepherds Put Their Ears Down?

Finally, there’s the flat ear position, where the ears will appear tightly pinned back and held tight to the dog’s head. Many people believe this means the dog is sick. This is not entirely true – sickness may coincide with the position but isn’t usually the only cause. So, why do German Shepherds put their ears down?

German Shepherds put their ears down because of fear or anxiety. If your dog is afraid of his environment, another person or animal, or occasionally illness, you will notice his ears flattening and pinned tight to the head. Other signs include cowering, a hunched and rigid body, and whimpering.

Check out this dog in the below photo. His ears are down and pinned flat against his head. He is clearly anxious or afraid and hoping to be adopted.

A German Shepherd with its down and pinned to its head. Why Do German Shepherds Put Their Ears Down?

What to Do When Your Dog Moves His Ears

Now that you know what German Shepherd’s ear positions mean let’s discuss how you should act whenever you notice such sudden shifts. The idea is to make your dog feel safe and ensure he is under control.

What to Do When Your GSD Pricks up His Ears

When your GSD pricks up his ears, you should prioritize this ear position above all others because it can mean your dog may be about to become aggressive towards another person or dog he feels threatened by, especially if he displays other body language referred to above.

Use a Leash

If you take your German Shepherd for a walk and notice his ears perk up even momentarily, you should put him on a leash. You probably already have him on a leash as per dog walking best practices. If that’s the case, make sure you’re holding it tightly, and he can’t feel free to chase or succumb to his prey drive.

Pause and Disrupt

Your GSD might act as an alarm and alert you to something he finds threatening. In some cases, this can be done to protect you and your property. But in other instances, it can simply be a false alarm. You can interrupt your dog by engaging him whenever he pricks up his ears. 

I wouldn’t advise using treats to hack your dog’s alertness, which only incentivizes him to give false alarms. Simply changing the direction of your walk or bringing up a new activity can interrupt your canine’s focus sufficiently.

What to Do When Your GSD Puts His Ears Back

When your German Shepherd puts his ears back, he is either submissive, nervous, or just being friendly. Again, look for other signs, but you’ll soon get to know your own dog’s body language. Pay more attention to him and reward him with the affection and treats he deserves.

This ear position isn’t a cause for concern. The only exception is if your German Shepherd displays this behavior around most strangers and you adopted him to guard your property! If that’s the case, you might need to bring him a sibling who is less of a social butterfly.

What to Do When Your GSD Puts His Ears Down

Whenever your German Shepherd shows fear by flattening his ears and tightly pinning them to his skull, you must make sure you provide him with enough attention and talk to him in a soothing voice to offer reassurance to calm down.

If he behaves this way around a specific path on your walk or before certain activities, you get to decide whether teaching him to get over those fears is worth it.

Willow has a strange fear of the sound of young school children when they’re on the sidewalk. She appears to despise their loud voices and high-pitched screams. She gets extremely anxious and immediately puts her ears down, cowers her body, digs her claws into the ground, and pulls on the leash to get away faster. I now choose to avoid walks around school times!

Why Does My German Shepherd Have Floppy Ears?

If you love German Shepherds and have their classic look in mind, you might be worried about adopting a puppy and realizing that his ears aren’t pointy. Soon you will find yourself asking, “why does my German Shepherd have floppy ears?”

German Shepherds may have floppy ears because the ligaments in their ears aren’t strong enough to make them stand up. The cartilage in puppies’ ears is still delicate, causing them to be floppy, but when puppies are about 5 months old and have finished teething, their ears should stand up.

An adult German Shepherd with floppy ears. Why Does My German Shepherd Have Floppy Ears?

Breed-defining characteristics are influenced by genetic variants, such as the German Shepherd’s pointy ears. When they pass the teething stage, their ears stand up as long as their genetics aren’t mixed, producing different ear structures.

German Shepherds with completely floppy ears are rare, and those with partially floppy ears are more common. But if your dog is past twenty weeks and his ears are still floppy, it is likely because he isn’t purebred. If you use taping or other procedures, take your vet’s advice and never prioritize your dog’s appearance over his well-being.

Related: Why Do German Shepherds Have Pointy Ears?

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are intelligent and expressive, and their ear position will often display their mood. When trying to figure out what your dog is telling you, the key takeaway is that you should always look at his overall body language.


  • 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. Find her on Linkedin!