Dogs lick your ears because the activity is in some way reinforcing to them. Reinforcing, in this case means, that the behavior is prone to strengthening and repeating.
So if your dog has turned ear licking into his favorite hobby, you can rest assured that he must find some value in engaging in this behavior.
What kind of value though? What causes dogs to become so fascinated with licking our ears? Discover some possible causes for this behavior.
An Instinctive Behavior
Licking is an instinctive behavior in dogs that is reminiscent of early puppyhood.
Licking behaviors are something puppies learn about just seconds after birth. Mother dog licks her puppies to remove birth fluids and her vigorous licks encourages them to breath.
Mother dog also licks her puppies to stimulate them to eliminate until they are older and capable of eliminating on their own.
As the puppies raised in the wild grow, and are weaned from mother's milk, they will instinctively lick around the mother's mouth in hopes of her regurgitating.
Licking therefore is a dog's natural behavior, something that was inculcated in them from an early age.
It's therefore not surprising if dogs are naturally inclined to licking people's mouths or more generally, licking people's faces, and not to mention, their ears!
An Appeasement Gesture
Licking behaviors in dogs may also be used as an appeasement gesture.
In other words, dogs are trying to communicate that they mean no harm.
While puppies lick their mothers to elicit regurgitation, as adults, they may use licking when they're nervous about something, in a sort of "don't hurt me" strategy, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Borns-Weil in an article for Tufts University.
A Quest For Attention
Many dogs love being at the center of attention, and what better way to get your attention than licking at your ears?
If you respond to such licking by lovingly petting your dog and sweet talking, you'll have positively reinforced the ear-licking behavior with your attention.
Even if you remark "yuck!" or push your dog away though, that may qualify as attention nonetheless.
For an attention-seeking dog, even negative attention is far better than no attention at all, so they'll take that as a form of interaction!
A Matter of Social Grooming
This form of grooming pulls at every dog owners' heartstrings. Social grooming consists of dogs having other doggy friends who are willing to exchange some grooming.
Dogs may be therefore lying side-by-side when one dog may start gentling nibbling one dog, and the other may exchange the favor in a cute grooming session involving mostly the ears, eyes and mouth area.
"These behaviors are done by individuals closely associated to each other," points out board-certified veterinarian Dr. Bonnie Beaver in the book "Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers."
So there may be chances, that, when your dog is within your ears' reach, he may feel compelled into engaging in some social grooming with you.
An Interesting Body Part
On a less heartwarming note, dogs may lick our ears because they find it to be an interesting body part.
From our dog's perspective, our ears are a source of interesting smells. No matter how clean you think your ears are, your dog will always be able to sense some odor and that odor may attract them.
Although we may find this gross, dogs may be particularly attracted to the smell of ear wax and they may even lick our ears in an attempt to remove some!
Not to mention, dogs like the taste of salt from our skin.
However, such deep cleaning can cause trouble considering that ear licking creates extra moisture in the ear canal, which is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Is Ear Licking a Sign of Love or Affection?
Whether dog are truly capable of feeling love in the way humans do, has been under debate, but we have more and more proof of dogs showing signs of adoring us.
Research has found that all types of chemical goodness take place in those doggy brains when they’re around us.
We know that both dogs and people release the love hormone oxytocin upon interacting in a similar fashion as it happen to new moms with their babies.
Further studies have found that dogs display a secure base effect similar to that found in children. Basically, dogs use their owners as a secure base when interacting with the environment.
This comes to prove that many of the behaviors dogs engage in when around us may be a pure expression of affection, deep bonding and trust.
How to Stop a Dog From Licking Your Ears?
As seen, dogs are highly social creatures and will often try to lick you. Sometimes it’s appeasement, sometimes it’s affection and sometimes it’s just the dog interested in certain smells.
Just because your dog is attracted to your ears though, doesn't mean you are forced to be subjected to daily tongue-in-ear inspections!
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to discourage this behavior. Let's take a look at some options.
Get Up/Move Away
In order to lick our ears, our dogs must be at our level, and therefore, they're likely on the couch or we are sitting on the floor with them.
As soon as you notice an intent, therefore move away or get up to prevent your dog from engaging in the behavior.
Train the Leave It Cue
The leave it cue basically tells your dog to stop whatever he is thinking about doing.
To be effective, you must give it at the first signs you notice an intent to lick your ear.
The leave it cue will come handy in a vast array of other situations such as telling your dog to leave a dropped food item or something that is on the ground or even to leave cats or squirrels alone!
Train An Alternate Behavior
You can also train an alternate behavior to engage your dog and ask him to perform it as soon as you notice his intent to lick.
For example, you can train him to go grab a toy or to sit so that you can toss him a ball.
Giving your dog an interactive food puzzle can also work as a distraction. This will prevent your dog from licking your ear and will force him to focus on something else rather than concentrating on your ear.
You should also offer plenty of interactive play and exercise for your dog. With more stuff to do, his mind will drift away from the ear-licking behavior.