Does Rubbing Dogs Ears Calm Them?

There’s nothing quite like seeing a dog’s happy reaction when you start rubbing their ears. As soon as your hand reaches towards those floppy ears, you can see their eyes light up and body relax as they lean into your hand. Ear rubs seem to be pure bliss for dogs. But why do dogs love ear rubs so much? What is it about having their ears rubbed that brings dogs so much joy? In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind dogs’ obsession with ear rubs and provide tips on the proper technique to indulge your pup.

Why Do Dogs Like Ear Rubs?

There are a few main reasons why dogs enjoy having their ears rubbed:

It feels good. The sensation of having their ears gently massaged releases pleasurable endorphins in dogs’ brains, similar to when humans enjoy a back rub or head scratch. The ears contain many nerve endings that make them sensitive, so stimulation provides dogs comfort and satisfaction (Source).

It’s a sign of affection. When owners rub a dog’s ears, it shows caring attention and bonding. Dogs perceive this as a loving gesture. It reinforces the positive relationship between dog and human.

It provides relaxation. The rhythmic motion of ear rubbing has a calming, soothing effect on dogs. Much like a massage, it can lower heart rate and relieve anxiety or stress. This helps dogs feel peaceful and relaxed.

It relieves itching or irritation. For dogs with allergies, ear mites, infections or other ear troubles, a gentle rub can help alleviate itchiness and discomfort. The massage stimulates circulation in the ears as well.

Physical Effects of Ear Rubs

Rubbing a dog’s ears can have soothing physiological effects. The motion of rubbing the ears releases oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” which helps lower heart rate and blood pressure. Oxytocin is associated with bonding, relaxation, and stress reduction in both humans and dogs.

One study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science looked at levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, in dogs before and after interacting with humans. The researchers found cortisol levels decreased significantly after positive physical contact like petting, indicating reduced stress.

The repetitive motion of rubbing a dog’s ears can be calming, similar to massage therapy. The sensation distracts the dog’s mind and relaxes its body. Some dogs may drift off to sleep during longer ear rubs as a result of this calming effect.

Behavioral Effects

Ear rubs can have a calming effect on dogs by releasing feel-good hormones and signals bonding. The motion of having their ears rubbed triggers the release of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”. Oxytocin reduces stress and anxiety levels, creating a calming sensation. According to veterinarians, rubbing a dog’s ears shows them affection and can be very comforting, especially for anxious or excited dogs (Source). The act of rubbing their ears is associated with positive bonding emotions. Dogs will recognize this as a sign of trust and friendship, deepening the bond with their owner.

In addition, the repetitive motion of rubbing their ears can have a soothing, hypnotic effect on dogs. Much like gently stroking a child to sleep, rhythmic ear rubs can calm down dogs that are worked up or anxious. The combination of oxytocin release and the repetitive motion helps relax dogs both physically and mentally. Regular ear rubs are an easy way for owners to help soothe their canine companion when they get overly excited or nervous.

Which Dogs Enjoy it Most?

Certain types of dogs tend to enjoy ear rubs more than others. Puppies, for example, have very sensitive ears and receive a great deal of comfort and relaxation from having their ears gently rubbed and massaged. The skin of a puppy’s ears is quite thin, so they feel rubbing even more intensely. Puppies will often immediately go into a calm, sleepy state when their ears are stroked.

Dogs that are anxious or easily stressed also greatly appreciate the calming effects of an ear rub. The physical sensation helps lower their heart rate, reduce muscle tension, and activate relaxation hormones. Anxious dogs like dachshunds, chihuahuas and terriers will seek out ear rubs when they need comforting. The repetitive motion lulls them into a Zen-like state.

Additionally, dogs with floppy ears that cover the ear canal like basset hounds, cocker spaniels and Labrador retrievers relish having their ears gently massaged. The constant airflow in the ear canal keeps the skin sensitive. An ear rub stimulates all those sensitive nerves in the skin lining their ears for an intensely pleasurable sensation. These dogs will often grunt and groan in satisfaction as their ears are stroked.

Proper Technique

When rubbing your dog’s ears, it’s important to use the proper technique to help your dog relax and enjoy the sensation. Here are some tips on technique:

Focus on the area around the base of the ears and ear flaps. Gently cup your hand around the base and make circular motions with your fingers and thumb. Avoid rubbing the tips of the ears. According to Animal Hearted, massaging the base and ear flaps releases feel-good endorphins.

Apply gentle, even pressure as you rub. Don’t rub too lightly or too hard. Pay attention to your dog’s reaction – if they pull away or seem uncomfortable, lighten up. If they lean into your hand, you can apply a bit more pressure.

Use both hands to massage both ears at once. This symmetrical technique maximizes relaxation. Place one hand on each ear base and make gentle circular motions. According to All Paws Massage, some dogs even prefer one direction of circular rubs over the other.

Other Calming Techniques

In addition to ear rubs, there are several other natural ways to help calm an anxious or stressed dog.

Petting is one of the simplest and most effective techniques. Gentle petting releases oxytocin in dogs, which promotes bonding and feelings of comfort. Focus on petting the dog’s chest, chin, ears and back in long, soothing strokes (1).

Massage can also help relax muscle tension and anxiety. Try gently massaging the dog’s shoulders, neck, legs, paws, ears and belly. Use circular kneading motions along with straight stroking motions (2).

Special wraps or anxiety shirts apply gentle pressure that mimics swaddling an infant. This compression can have a calming effect. There are a variety of products designed specifically for dogs, including ThunderShirts and calming coats (3).

Pheromone diffusers or sprays release synthetic dog appeasing pheromones into the air. These pheromones can help relax and reassure anxious pups in stressful situations like separation, travel or loud noises.

Caution About Overusing

While most dogs enjoy having their ears rubbed, overusing this technique can lead to problems. Some dogs may start demanding constant ear rubs and become insistent about receiving them (Source). This can make them overly dependent on the attention and physical sensation. Excessive ear rubbing can become a crutch for anxious dogs if relied on too often.

Overstimulating a dog’s ears can cause irritation, especially if they have skin allergies or infections. The ears are very sensitive, so vigorous rubbing that’s too rough or frequent can be uncomfortable. It’s best to gauge your individual dog’s reaction and avoid rubbing their ears if they seem bothered by it (Source). Moderation is key when using ear rubs to calm dogs.

When to Avoid Ear Rubs

While most dogs enjoy having their ears rubbed, there are some situations where it’s best to avoid touching their ears altogether:

If your dog has an ear infection or injury, rubbing the ears will likely cause pain and discomfort. Signs of an ear infection include redness, swelling, discharge, odor, and head shaking or scratching. It’s important to get veterinary treatment for the infection before touching the ears.

If your dog shows signs of aggression like growling, snapping, or biting when you touch their ears, avoid rubbing them. Forcing ear rubs can make aggressive behavior worse. Check with your vet to identify potential causes of ear sensitivity like allergies or trauma.

During grooming and dog shows, handlers avoid excessively touching the ears to prevent disrupting the dog’s carefully styled coat. Lightly scratching the chest or under the chin is a better way to provide affection.

Puppies usually enjoy ear rubs. However, touch their ears gently and stop if they seem sensitive or upset. Excessive ear stimulation can be over-arousing for some young dogs.

While most ear rubs are harmless, it’s important to be mindful of your dog’s health and reactions. Avoid rubbing injured, infected or painful ears, and steer clear if your dog seems distressed or shows signs of aggression during ear touches.

Conclusion

In summary, rubbing a dog’s ears can have a calming effect, but it depends on the individual dog. Most dogs enjoy ear rubs because the motion releases feel-good endorphins and the stimulation is soothing. However, some dogs dislike having their ears touched. The best technique is to gently massage the base and outer part of the ears in circular motions. While occasional ear rubs are relaxing, overusing this technique can sensitize the area. It’s also best to avoid rubbing sore or infected ears. When done properly and moderately, an ear rub can be a good way to calm and comfort many dogs.

To answer the original question, yes, rubbing a dog’s ears can have a calming effect for most dogs. However, individual preferences vary so it’s important to observe how each dog reacts. Used appropriately as part of a toolbox of calming techniques, ear rubs can be an effective way to help relax dogs in stressful situations.

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