Scruffy's repertoire of facial expressions can be quite assorted, and some of them may leave you baffled at times, like pinning one ear up while leaving the other back. Spared from the gift of speech, Scruffy may never reveal his secret thoughts, but his accompanying body language can help you draw a few assumptions.
If Scruffy is pinning only one ear back and his body language seems alert, it could be he is simply paying attention. Blessed with more than a dozen muscles, a dog's ears are highly mobile, allowing the pinnae to tilt back and forth and even move independently. His ear pinned back, therefore, helps him "multitask" by focusing on certain noises coming from behind him, while the forward ear continues to focus on other sounds.
Consider that relying exclusively on one body part may not give you an accurate picture of your dog's emotions. You must look at the context and accompanying body language to decipher Scruffy's thoughts. For instance, in some cases, a dog may be intimidated by something in his environment, causing him to pin both ears back. However, he may keep that one ear flattened to his head and the other ear up if you're talking to him, or if again there's a noise that captures his attention coming from another direction.
At times, Scruffy may hold one ear flap pinned further back to instinctively protect his ears. You may see this in rough play or during a squabble with another dog. The flattened ear is usually the one closest to the other dog. A dog's ear flaps are quite thin and vulnerable, therefore it's not uncommon for these delicate structures to become victims of lacerations and other injuries.
If your dog is suddenly keeping an ear back and flattened against the head and you cannot find a reasonable explanation for this behavior, have Scruffy see the vet. A dog's ears can be vulnerable to annoying infections and irritations, such as those caused by bacteria, fungi and some pesky parasites. At times, a foreign body may be stuck in the ear canal. When an ear is painful, Scruffy may also scratch it, rub it against the carpet and shake his head and keep it to one side.
In some cases, Scruffy may not be voluntarily pinning the ear back. During puppyhood, an ear may remain floppy while the other ear may stand up. Enjoy this comical expression as long as it lasts as it's short-lived and coincidentally takes place when the puppy is teething. After the teething process is over, the ear should become strong enough to finally stand up permanently. Should the ear remain floppy, consult with your vet, as the cartilage may still be soft enough to be guided into an upright position.
By Adrienne Farricelli
The Whole Dog Journal: Structure of the Canine Ear
ASPCA: Canine Body Language
Pedigree: Your German Shepherd’s Ears
Hydro Bath: Ears
Dog Life Training: Canine Body Language
WebMD: Ear Flap (Pinna) Problems in Dogs
Long Beach Animal Hospital: Ear Infection
Dog Talk: A Brief Look at the Body Language of Dogs [PDF]
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.