Many people think of their dog as a member of their own family with just as much of a need for time, affection, and consideration as anyone else. While our canine companions definitely deserve to take up space in our lives like the people about whom we care, they do navigate the world in a much different way than we do.
Relying mostly on their sense of smell and their mouths to explore and understand their surroundings, licking is a tool that many dogs use to communicate with others. In fact, dogs lick themselves, other dogs, and humans for a number of reasons ranging from playful affection to cleaning disease-ridden areas.
Why dogs lick
Dogs rely on the use of their mouth for a number of things, from eating to marking to setting boundaries with other dogs, animals, and humans. If you've spent any amount of time with dogs, you're likely familiar with their tendencies to use their tongues to groom themselves or address their wounds.
Dogs lick for a number of additional reasons, including socialization, greeting, self-soothing, and even to stimulate certain bodily functions. Mother dogs will lick their puppies to encourage them to use the bathroom in their early days, and licking as a form of grooming is a trait that dogs carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Dogs licking each other's ears
When cohabitating in packs—whether in the wild or at home with additional pets—dogs will, in most cases, lick each other as an act of affection. Sometimes, dogs will lick one another as a way to say hello or even as an act of submission toward a more dominant canine.
Mutual ear licking is often done among dogs with a close, friendly relationship and can even transcend to other members of the household like the family cat or even yourself. So, if you've ever found yourself wondering, "Why is my dog licking behind my ears?" the answer is likely something along the lines of your dog displaying affection toward you.
Additionally, dogs sometimes lick because—and this is not the most adorable answer—ears taste good. You've probably noticed your dog licking your own skin on a hot day when you're sweaty and therefore salty. It is hard to know for sure since it will vary from dog to dog, but sometimes, our canine friends may be drawn to the allure of another dog's ear wax.
When to be concerned
In most cases, dogs licking each other's ears is a healthy and natural behavior that should not ring any alarms. Sometimes, however, licking can indicate an underlying medical issue, be it with the dog being licked or the one doing the licking. Bacterial or fungal infections like a yeast infection can cause a dog to scratch at her own ears. If another dog detects the infection, she may offer a much-needed cleaning inside a place that no dog would be able to reach on her own.
Sometimes, licking can be the symptom of a compulsive disorder in some dogs. Canine acral lick dermatitis occurs when a dog repeatedly licks one area, which can be a response to an underlying condition like an infection, or it may be an attempt to soothe herself during a bout of stress.
If you notice that your dog is licking another dog's ears for an abnormal amount of time or seems to be obsessive or compulsive about seeking out spots to lick, consult your veterinarian immediately to rule out any undiagnosed medical issues.