Ear bone’s connected to the lip bone.

Ear bone’s connected to the lip bone.

Massaging dogs is a kind of meditation for me. I’m aware of my breathing, my heart rate. I’m open to what’s going on in the dog’s body and her body language signals. My self-awareness is activated. I’m open to any unconscious cues that my own body might be sharing. My intuitive mind and the dog’s inner voices empathically synchronize. This psychic entrainment happens often during massage.

As an instructor of canine massage, there’s also a part of me that’s always looking for something to share as a teaching moment.

That something presented itself recently while I was working with a beautiful, densely coated GSD, German Shepherd Dog. This dog is physically strong and strong willed. She’s loved and cherished; accustomed to her wants being accommodated. At home, this dog is leader. I’ve massaged her over a dozen times. Although she has never growled or snapped, her warning signals are unmistakable. She makes it very clear that she is in control and highly protective of certain areas on her body.

If my hand begins to get close to one of her “Do Not Enter” zones, she lowers her chin, bares her teeth, looks at me, and emits a frequency that says “That’s close enough. Proceed further at your own risk.” I respect that.

At one point in her massage, my head was over her spine and my line of vision was over the back of her head. Her head tilted forward as her chin lowered. Then I noticed her ear prick forward on the side my hand was advancing toward. I leaned around to make sure and, okay then; that’s not a smile. That’s a warning. I tasted the bile rising in my throat; my indication that she’s moving into the yellow zone. And I had come close to crossing the yellow ”No Passing” line.

The facial muscles between the ear and mouth were contracting when she bared her teeth. I saw it as a dime size spot turning like an antique key in an old lock. It twisted the tissues around it, into itself.

I recalled the signals I used to watch for that horses employ. Perched way back on the saddle, the rider needs to track cues about what thoughts are transpiring in the horse’s head, a meter in front of you. From that sight-line, what can you observe? The angle of the neck, the tilt of the poll, and of course, the ears.

The language of the ears tells us if the horse is scared (pinned back), bored, distracted, confused, aware, avoiding flies, or paying attention to the rider. Here’s a link to a more comprehensive translation of horse ear language: https://www.equinespot.com/horse-body-language.html

Horses are great at multitasking. I recall one cross-country event in which we were cantering up to a curve in the trail. I was feeling pretty good about how well we were doing; and as I began my self-congratulatory grin, my horse’s right ear swiveled to the right. His neck stretched out and, mid-stride, he chomped off a twig of fresh spring green shrubbery. We continued, my ears reddening (embarrassment) and pulled back (affection), as I chuckled out loud. My horse’s ears flopped in happy arcs as we cantered down the path, him munching his snack.

Ear language is similar in dogs to that of horses. Dogs have dozens of interacting muscles that affect movement of the their ears. 27 muscles coordinate to push, pull, extend, contract, and rotate each ear. And now we know a few of them insert into the sides of the mouth.

Pay attention to the dog’s ear. It may be connected to her mouth. Watch for this signal. It may save you from injury.

The general rule is when dogs ears are pinned back, it suggests fear or apprehension. The face becomes more streamlined, more aerodynamic, so it can move faster to where it needs to go. Ears pricked up and/or forward shows alertness, interest. Sometimes it’s just one ear; sometimes both. Ears project the direction of their focus. Ears flattened and down shows affection, like Bashful in the Disney Snow White cartoon.

What other ear messages have you noticed?

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