Any dog owner will tell you, dogs can have some quirky behaviors. Things like obsessively devouring socks, trancing under curtains and houseplants, compulsively barking at reflections and light, and yes, even licking your ears. Though ear licking can be a seemingly strange behavior, it's a relatively benign behavior for your dog to develop.
Why Does Your Dog Lick Your Ears?
Dogs can become infatuated with ear licking for a variety of reasons. All dogs, whether they are a hairless Chinese crested or a stocky Neapolitan mastiff, are descended from wolves, which are pack animals. Wild animals that live in packs or family units often have complex social structures and just as complex social behaviors to reflect that structure. Oftentimes
grooming one another is one of these behaviors that helps give the unit structure.
Grooming Hard to Reach Areas
We've all had that itch we just can't quite scratch. While humans can take care of that hard-to-reach spot with a mass-produced back-scratcher, animals can't. For pack animals or those that live in family units, this is where grooming behavior can come in handy. Almost in a literal "you scratch my back and I scratch yours" exchange, animals in family- or pack-structures will groom other animals in areas that otherwise may be difficult to reach. While our ears aren't particularly difficult of an area to reach, your dog may lick your ears as a way to thank you for all the ear scritches you bestow upon them.
Submission and Respect
In wolves, dogs, and other canid species, grooming can be a sign of submissive respect. A wolf of a lower social rank may groom a wolf of a higher rank as a way to show that animal that they submit to their rank and authority in the pack. Your dog may lick your ears as a way to show that they respect you as a valued and high-ranking member of their family unit. This is especially likely to be the case if you see other classic submissive behaviors, such as crouching down low, exposing their soft belly, and tucking their tail.
A Sense of Comfort and Security
Dogs will also groom one another as a way to communicate that they are feeling contented, safe, and that they care for whomever they are grooming. When you dog licks your ears they may just be trying to tell you that they love you and are comfortable when you are around. You can know your dog is licking your ears for this reason if they have a soft face (that is, no tense muscles along the brow line or the muzzle) and relaxed body positioning.
We all know that dogs explore their environment with their noses. It's why they make such great search and rescue animals. What some folks don't realize, though, is that dogs also explore with their mouths. Tasting their world can give them information they may not get from a simple sniff. This is just one reason why puppies like to chew on your furniture, shoes, and even electrical cords. If your dog is infatuated with licking your ears they may just be trying to glean some information about where you've been or what you've been doing.
They Like the Taste
It's no secret—dogs like to eat some foul things. This can include things like earwax. As gross as it may sound, some dogs just like the taste and the saltiness of earwax. Your dog may like to lick your ears regardless of how clean they may actually be, because, for them, it's delicious.
A Sign of an Underlying Problem
One final reason your dog may suddenly become obsessed with ears is an underlying medical issue. This is more likely to be the case if you see your dog has started licking the ears of other animals in your home, rather than licking your human ears, but it's still something to be aware of. If another pet in your home gets an ear infection, the smell of their ears can change. Your dog can pick up on this change in smell, which can lead to them investigating the offending odor. It can also stimulate them to lick the ears of the other animal in the same way that your dog will want to lick their own wounds.
For something that's oftentimes relegated to a simple behavioral quirk, there are countless reasons you dog may want to lick your ears. Usually, though, ear licking is simply that: a behavioral quirk.