Why Do Dogs Lick Each Other’s Ears? Is Something Wrong?

Two large dogs sniff each other's ears
© iStock.com/Mikhail Dmitriev

Written by Austin S.

Updated: October 14, 2022

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Let’s face it; Dogs are adorable with many attributes that make dog owners, friends, family, and even passers-by go aww! But sometimes, they exhibit some quirky and bizarre behaviors. Some of which can be easily understood, and others just make you want to ask why. Like why do dogs lick each other’s ears?

Ear licking is something most dog lovers have undoubtedly noticed when their dog gets with other dogs. This behavior might seem strange at first glance, but it’s completely normal for dogs. Let us explain why that is and give you some tips on what to do if it becomes excessive.

Why Do Dogs Lick Each Other’s Ears?

Dogs lick each other’s ears for quite a few reasons. As an icebreaker of sorts, a means of grooming another canine, a desire to sample tasty earwax or an infected ear, or because they feel curious.

Here you will be able to take a closer peek at each issue and find out when and how you should gently persuade them to focus on something else.

Friendly or Appeasement Behavior

While it would be considered weird for humans to go around licking the ears of people they just met, it’s normal in the canine world. Dogs are social animals, which means the canine world operates under a particular social structure and hierarchy.

As such, ear licking when meeting another dog would fall under appeasement behavior or behavior that shows respect and friendliness. Appeasement behaviors include lifting paws, avoiding eye contact, licking your feet, licking other dogs’ faces, etc.

Friendly licks are usually quick, short, and followed by other submissive body language and postures.

Two long-haired chihuahua puppies

Sometimes, ear sniffing can be an appeasement behavior.

©iStock.com/Tatiana Serebryakova

For the Love of Earwax

To the distaste of most dog owners, it’s common knowledge that dogs tend to dabble in the dark arts– gross stuff. Dogs will eat their own poop, chew their feet, sniff other dogs’ unmentionables, and some other questionable habits.

Ear licking for the sole purpose of enjoying the taste of earwax is one of those gross habits our canine buddies indulge in. Apparently, dogs love salty treats, and like most bodily secretions, earwax is salty.

The ear canal cocktail of salty ear wax mixed with debris and dirt could be why ear licking is irresistible for many dogs.

Infection Indicator

Dogs take gross to new levels as it seems they are particularly interested in infected ears. Infected ears taste, smell, and feel different, and for some weird reasons, they can’t seem to get enough of it.

Canine ears are often plagued with yeast infections that can cause strange smells, which some people have likened to Fritos. And since your dog will most certainly wolf down some Fritos when offered, it makes sense that dogs jump at the opportunity to lick a yeast-infected ear.

Note: Dogs that engage in the ear licking business for taste will lick deeper and more frequently than pups that use it as a sign of appeasement. Hence, if you notice your dog is constantly fishing for grimy treasures in their friend’s ear, it’s safe to assume they are motivated by taste.

Human hands cleaning a dog's ears with a cotton swab

As repulsive as it may seem to us, dogs are attracted to the smell of earwax.

©iStock.com/Barna Tanko

Grooming Technique

Although dogs may mess around with things that would leave you nauseous, they also care about hygiene. Like cats, dogs also groom by licking themselves. However, dogs can’t groom every part of their bodies, such as their ears themselves. And this is where the doggy friend comes in.

Therefore ear licking can be a sign of grooming if your dog is licking the ears of a familiar dog or a close companion. Although enjoying a little grimy snack in the process could serve as an incentive. This makes it a win-win situation for both dogs.

However, despite the altruistic intentions, ear licking will likely result in infections rather than cleaner ears. This is because bacteria tend to thrive in moist environments.

Compulsive Licking

This is rarely the case, but sometimes ear licking could result from obsessive or compulsive licking behavior. This behavior is when dogs incessantly lick themselves or things around your home, like the bedding or floor.

The subject of the licking can sometimes be their canine companions, and more often than not, the ear canal is the target area.

Dogs that lick compulsively will exhibit some other obsessive behaviors like circling and staring at imaginary objects. Again this condition is rare, but if you notice these symptoms, you should contact your veterinarian.

The Next Best Thing

Like ear licking, butt sniffing is also a way dogs say hi to each other. But some dogs are protective of their behind and won’t allow that. Therefore, ear licking becomes the next available option.


As a result of how they’ve evolved in nature, dogs experience their environment using more of their nose and mouths.

A dog’s nose can smell in parts per trillion. To put things in perspective, using an analogy of human vision, at 3000 miles away, a dog will see more than what you’d see at a third of a mile.

This means it’s very easy for their powerful nose to detect the change in odor coming from a buddy’s ear. Their next move oftentimes is to lick, not just because dogs can be gross but because their sense of taste is a way of confirming their curiosity.

Should You Be Concerned About Ear Licking?

Now that you’ve learned some of the various reasons why dogs lick each other’s ears, as a dog owner, you’re probably wondering if it’s safe or not. Well, the answer is yes and no.

A little amount of ear licking is an entirely normal canine behavior and can be likened to handshakes and thumbs-ups between human acquaintances. Also, dogs that are bonded or engage in mutual grooming can take this further with more ear licking.

However, like most things in life, too much of everything is not good. Ear licking becomes problematic when it’s excessive, and the ears are left visibly wet after prolonged licking. Constant moisture in the ear will lead to infection, resulting in more ear licking.

Excessive ear licking could potentially become a two-edged sword. The licker could ingest a plethora of bacteria and even medicine if the ears are being treated.

How to Prevent Excessive Ear Licking

It’s best practice to try and curb or control licking behavior before it becomes a severe problem in the future. Here are a few tips on how to go about that:

Examine for Any  Medical Conditions

Before tackling any behavioral issues, it’s proper to ensure there aren’t any underlying medical conditions responsible for the ear licking. This will save both you and your dog from wasting time and energy, as no amount of behavioral training will help fix a medical condition.

Hence, look for changes in the ear of the dog being licked like wounds and infections. You’ll also want to rule out the possibility of obsessive and compulsive disorders. Seek the aid of a veterinarian to help alleviate any concerns about a medical condition.

A Yorkie waits on an examination table for its ear exam

Before you start behavioral training to stop compulsive ear licking, ask your vet to check for underlying ear conditions.

©iStock.com/Kateryna Kukota

Redirect The Behaviour

With redirecting, you’re basically substituting one bad habit for a good one. It’s like saying to your pup, rather than spending your time in your buddy’s ear, why not play with this instead. 

The alternative you provide should provoke the same excitement they derive from ear licking. Interactive toys and lick mats are quite effective in distracting your dog from licking.

An interactive toy is more effective than ordinary toys since your dog won’t quickly get bored with them. An interactive toy is designed such that your dog has to perform a task first, then get rewarded with treats. This helps keep your dog interested and focused.

A lick mat is like a food puzzle; spread some delicious treats like peanut butter over it, and your pup will take their time to lick it off. Due to all the crooks, cracks, and nooks of the lick mat, it helps distract your dog for a considerable amount of time.

The lick mat’s appeal is that it best mimics ear licking and is also suitable for dogs that don’t enjoy playing with toys.

Note: It’s advisable to give your dog the lick mat or toy before it starts licking, so it doesn’t confuse it as positive reinforcement for the bad behavior. 


When it comes to the canine world, dogs licking each other’s ears is pretty normal. But as a dog owner, you need to pay enough attention to your dog(s) to know when the licking becomes excessive.

When licking becomes excessive you should need to visit a vet to help you devise a plan that curbs the behavior and prevent future complications.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

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