It’s hard not to notice a dog’s delight when his ears are being rubbed: he leans in to your hand, rolls back his eyes and lets out a long sigh or groan.
So, next to a good belly rub, why do all dogs love having their ears massaged?
Nerves — a whole branch of them — release endorphins that make your dog feel downright relaxed.
Understanding a Dog’s Ears
For years, alternative-health therapists have targeted the ears when practicing acupuncture or acupressure. Why? Because a dog’s ears contain a network of nerve branches that extend to internal organs, sending impulses throughout the body.
This “map of the body” within the ear provides an effective means for alternative-health physicians to perform therapy on a dog’s body, says Dr. Christine Makowski, a Landenberg, Penn., veterinarian.
With that in mind, you might be able to understand that a dog’s ears are very sensitive to touch.
Ecstatic Ear Rubs
Has your dog ever fallen into a trance, or into a light sleep, while having her ear’s rubbed? The nerve impulses sent through the hypothalamus and pituitary glands actually secrete endorphins — the same pain-killing, feel-good hormones humans release during exercise, for example — that make your four-legged companion feel relaxed, mellow and very happy.
When you rub your dog’s ears, she’s essentially getting high on her own hormones, says Dr. Allen Schoen, director of the Center for the Advancement of Veterinary Alternative Therapies.
In addition, Schoen says massaging a dog’s ears meets a basic need for affection and communication from pet owners.
Dogs may be rather selective as to whom may give them the long-awaited pleasure of an ear rub.
Not All Ear Rubs Are Welcome
Just because dogs love a good ear rub doesn’t mean they want everyone to reach down and give it a shot. According to “The Secret Lives of Dogs”, dogs are particular about who rubs their ears. Strangers with outstretched hands may make your dog somewhat nervous.
To understand this reaction, you should recognize that dogs associate the height of their heads (and others’ heads) and any touching to their heads as a dominance issue.
Have you ever noticed a submissive dog tucking his head under another dog’s chin and gently rubbing? Considered to be a sign of respect, the opposite behavior would be one dog deliberately placing his head on top of another dog’s head. Both behaviors are power moves — and dogs will naturally associate a person’s hand resting on their head or rubbing their ears as dominant.
In other words, dogs may be rather selective as to whom may give them the long-awaited pleasure of an ear rub.
Now Hear This
One of the top reasons dogs visit veterinarians each year? Ear infections.
A dog’s ear canals bend and curve sharply, making them prone to ear infections. This can be easily avoided with regular ear cleanings. However, if your dog suddenly shows signs of pain during an ear rub, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. An infection should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
In addition, be careful when massaging the ears of a dog whose ears have been clipped. Some dogs may be sensitive to having their ears handled.
If you enjoyed this story, you may also like reading about the secret language of dogs or why dogs do strange things.
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