Why Do Dogs Love Having their Ears Rubbed?

March 26, 2015

By Langley Cornwell

One of our rescue dogs is skittish and fearful. We are always on the lookout for ways to help this dog relax and take it easy. We’ve done all kinds of behavioral work and tried multiple training techniques. The good news is that he seems to making progress. Even so, there is plenty of work that still needs to be done.

The other evening after he finished eating his favorite grain free dog food – CANIDAE PURE Elements with Lamb – he was lying on the sofa next to me and I began rubbing his ears. He snuggled closer and I began to feel all of the tension slowly leaving his body; it was if someone had stuck a tiny pin in a ball and the air was seeping out gradually. I know all the tricks for putting our cat into this state of relaxed euphoria, but I’d never been able to get this dog to fully let go until that moment. With a big grin on his goofy, loveable face, he fell into a happy trance.

It turns out that rubbing a dog’s ears is a natural sedative, almost like a tranquilizer.

Nerve Centers

The ears of a dog are one of three nerve centers on his body. The other nerve centers are between his toes and the center of his belly; all of these places are extremely sensitive to the touch. The benefit of knowing where these nerve centers are is that you know where to rub your dog to instigate relaxation. And it’s more than simple relaxation. When you stroke your dog’s ears, the sensation he feels goes further than just the ears themselves. The intense pleasure he feels extends deep into his body.

It works like this: the ears of a dog contain nerve freeways that spread all the way to his internal organs. So by rubbing his ears you are making him feel good from the inside out and back again. In fact, people who conduct canine acupuncture and acupressure oftentimes focus on a dog’s ears exclusively. Applying pressure to the ears activates these nerve impulses to directly stimulate specific organs in the body. Much like reflexology and the human feet, there is a complete map of the canine body on their ears.

The Science

Apparently it’s not at all uncommon for a dog to slip happily into a state of bliss when his ears are being rubbed. A rubbing, stroking motion stimulates the pituitary and hypothalamus glands which releases endorphins. The secretion of these feel-good, pain-killing hormones makes a dog feel relaxed to the point of blissfulness. Essentially, you are naturally tranquilizing your dog.

The Added Benefit

Dogs crave attention and affection from their owners, so a good ear-rubbing session is also an excellent bonding exercise. But all this is not only good for the dog; it’s good for the person doing the rubbing. Experts have discovered that humans derive many of the identical benefits that their canine companions do while they are enjoying each other’s touch. It seems that rubbing your dog’s ears triggers a similar endorphin response in humans, which helps us relax and even lowers our blood pressure.

Ears of All Shapes and Sizes

This phenomenon is not breed specific – almost all dogs respond with deep pleasure when they have their ears rubbed. So if you’ve got a cute little Papillion with wing shaped ears, a slow moving basset hound with big floppy ears, a stately German shepherd with sharp peaked ears or a sweet Golden retriever with soft, furry ears, give them a rub and see what happens. A good ear-rubbing session is the perfect win-win scenario. The whole exercise is good for the dog and good for the human.

Have you ever used ear-rubbing as a natural sedative? Did it relax your dog?

Photos by Langley Cornwell

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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  1. Kaylynn says:

    If you massage behind their ears they love

  2. Erin says:

    I work in pit bull fostering and I use this with every dog that has come through my home. They all get nightly sessions of ear rubs, full body massage, and if they allow it, toe massages. It all works to calm the dog and to build trust.

  3. It should also be noted that another aspect of this bio-feedback response in dogs, particularly relating to being rubbed directly BEHIND the ears, lies in the fact that dog skulls are so constructed that there is no bony skull surface directly behind the eye orbits. Massive muscle and nerve pathways plunge directly into the dog’s CNS (Central Nervous System) behind the eye orbit and are therefore doubly sensitive to pleasing stroking motions. Next time you have a chance, take a look at a typical dog skull (say, that of a Siberian Husky) and you’ll see what I refer to. Wolves, due to the similarity of their skull structure, are also sensitive in an identical way to dogs in this respect but you would want to think long and hard before trying a field experiment like that with an unfamiliar wolf! 🙂

  4. DoggyDaddy says:

    Tried the ear massage described above. It did relax my dog, and I am relaxed as well. Maybe I’m as wonderful as my dog thinks I am!

  5. My Bernedoodle really loves it when I rub his ears and belly. In fact, I feel that when I rub his ears, he goes high on it lol.
    I think it is just like a head massage we humans take.

  6. Chloe says:

    My dog loves to be rubbed behing the ears her body weghit is all on my uand her favorite spot to he rubbed or scratched

  7. i did this and i did not think this would work because my dog is very well whats the word does not react strongly to most things as soon as i started rubbing she went bananas i LOVE LOVE LOVE this method definetly reccomend this

  8. Ann says:

    My Shih tzu gives me that same look!! Haha! I

  9. Maureen says:

    So true!

  10. Jessi says:

    My jack Russell immediately yawns and closes her eyes when I rub the top of her head between her ears and loves her forehead and face rubbed. Also she loves her mid belly and all 4 arm pits rubbed! She’s so sweet and appreciative ♡

  11. Shauna says:

    My Shih-Tzu mix absolutely loves getting his ears scratched. His whole body relaxes and he collapses into it. When I stop he’ll look at me like, “why’d you stop?”

  12. Stacey Weber says:

    Whenever my Redbone Coonhound gets excited and isn’t allowed to indulge himself (like when someone comes to our house and he wants to jump), he slams his head against my leg to demand an ear rub.

  13. john says:

    I never rubbed my chuhuahuas ears I think i will suprise him. I scratch him around there or his belly. I noticed he gets in a weird state where he gets still and looks nearly asleep. I though i would see if something called a doggy trance existed, it does. Dogs can get in a meditative relaxed state just like humans. I know nothing is wrong cause if i stop scratching he jerks up like why did you stop?

  14. Mike says:

    I’ve always known to rub a dog’s ears; my 5lb toy Poodle absolutely loves it. She melts away and closes her eyes, you can tell she’s in a little state of bliss. Of course, she loves her tummy rubbed too, but as someone also stated, she’s obsessed with having her “armpits” rubbed. Specifically her back legs, in the crevice that the leg meets the tummy. Try that everyone! She puts her leg out to open it up for me while I do it, and whatever she’s doing, as soon as I start, she stands/sits still until I’m done.

    1. travis thomas says:

      Geez Mike the way you worded the back armpit petting for your dog sounded very, well, strange lol….

  15. Paul says:

    Our Labrador and one of our dalmations have always enjoyed a good ear rub and will both moan almost like the dog equivalent of a cats purring. And like the article says, you can feel any tension in them melt away. Our other dalmation, who generally seems more relaxed anyway, isn’t so bothered, he far prefers to be laid out on his back for a gentle tummy rub, and will happily then drop off to sleep for ages.

  16. Another thing that will relax my dog’s is I rub underneath their armpits and it puts him to sleep try it they love it

    1. Casey says:

      It smells great too!

  17. Michelle Youngblood says:

    I rub all (4) of my fur babies ears and they just get so relaxed that before I know it they are sleeping .

  18. Gracy Toy-Schultz says:

    Probably feels good as getting a back massage or a foot massage, type of massage where you’re like “please don’t stop”

  19. Carol says:

    I tried doing this to my rat terrier after I heard about the affects rubbing dogs ears. He absolutely loves it!