Close this search box.

German Shepherds Ear Positions Meaning (With Pictures)

Last Updated: February 3, 2024

German Shepherds are known for their expressive nature, and one of the key ways they communicate is through their ear positions.

Understanding the meaning behind these varied ear positions can provide deep insights into your dog’s thoughts and emotions. Have you ever pondered what your German Shepherd’s ear movements signify?

A German Shepherd’s ear position 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.

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.

This blog post is dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of German Shepherd ear positions, offering a window into their minds. From alertness to relaxation, each position holds a story, and we’re here to help you understand this unique aspect of your canine companion’s non-verbal communication.

Let’s begin!

A young German Shepherd with pricked ears.

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 regarding their corresponding ear position.

You should look at your dog’s ear position alongside other body language and behavior cues in his environment when deciding why he behaves 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 the positions:

An infographic explaining different positions of ears in GSD
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 German Shepherd past teething has naturally standing ears. This shouldn’t be confused with pricked-up ears, which are prominent stiffening and have more to do with the canine’s mood.

Pricked Ears Explained

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 determine whether your dog is alert or aggressive, watch for other signs, such as growling, showing teeth, sniffing, and considering his current environment. Your GSD may 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.
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 ensure 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: Decoding Your German Shepherd’s Body Language

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

Below is another photo of Willow, taken moments after the first one. Notice how her ear positions have 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!

GSD with it's 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 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 photo below. 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 ears down and pinned to its head.

Ears Up – How to Respond

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.

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.

1. 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 per dog walking best practices. Ensure you’re holding it tightly, and he can’t feel free to chase or succumb to his prey drive.

2. 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.

Ears Back – How to Respond

When your German Shepherd puts his ears back, he is either submissive, nervous or just 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.

Ears Down – How to Respond

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 schoolchildren when they’re on the sidewalk. She doesn’t like their loud voices and high-pitched screams. She gets anxious and immediately puts her ears down, cowers her body, digs her claws into the ground, and pulls on the leash.

I now choose to avoid walks around school times!

Why Your German Shepherd Has 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 ask, “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.

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?


Does a relaxed position of the ears indicate anything specific in German Shepherds?

A relaxed position of the ears in German Shepherds typically indicates a calm and content state of mind. It can also suggest that the dog feels comfortable in its environment and is not anticipating any imminent danger or threat.

Can the position of a German Shepherd’s ears indicate aggression or fear? 

German Shepherds are known for their expressive ears, which can provide valuable insight into their mood and intentions. When a dog’s ears are erect and facing forward, it usually signifies attentiveness, confidence, and a readiness to engage. However, when the dog’s ears are laid back and flattened against its head, it can indicate fear, anxiety, or submission.

How can I tell if my German Shepherd’s ears are in a neutral position?

To determine if a German Shepherd’s ears are neutral, observe if they are standing erect, neither tipped forward nor pinned back. Additionally, their ear muscles should appear relaxed, without any signs of tension or stiffness. 

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are intelligent and expressive, and their ear position often displays 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. 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.

Leave a Comment

Image for Newsletter Signup

Rehabilitate. Repeat.

Get the best in dog rescue news, care, and health tips, and be a part of the rescue dog revolution.