Cooper can’t tell you exactly what’s going on in his head, but he can show you. You’ll need to learn to read his body language to figure out how he’s feeling. Keeping his ears back could be a good thing, although in some cases, it’s a warning sign for aggression.
When Cooper feels happy and friendly, he’ll stand relaxed and pull his ears back a bit. He’ll go up to that dog at the park, with his tail gently wagging straight behind him, and sniff her, all while keeping his ears back slightly. If your pooch wants to make friends with your new neighbor, he’ll gallop on over and nudge your neighbor’s hand with his snout while keeping his ears pointed back. He’s doing his best to signal that it’s OK to pet him; after all, he’s always up for making new friends.
Dogs point their ears towards whatever sound seems interesting to them. You might notice that Cooper walks slightly ahead of you during your evening walk. He’ll point his ears back slightly or point one ear back and one to the side, just to help him listen to exactly where you are. This allows him to keep the pace with you. Of course as soon as he hears those birds up ahead, you’ll see his ears perch right back up towards the sky so he can listen to them.
If Cooper happens to be in a situation where he’s surrounded by other dogs -- or even humans -- who seem to have a higher social ranking, he’ll feel out of place and show submission. It’s his way of letting everyone else know that he’s not going to fight to be the top dog and he recognizes his role lower down in the pack. When he’s acting submissive, he’ll drag his tail, refuse to make direct eye contact and may even roll onto his back, showing his belly off to everyone. You’ll see that whether he’s standing or lying down, he’ll keep his ears completely flattened back or stick them straight out to the sides.
Sometimes Cooper could be in a situation where he is scared, making him feel the need to prove himself. Maybe he’s playing at the park with unfamiliar dogs or is surrounded by too many strangers at your dinner party. You’ll notice the hair along the back of his spine standing up straight while he’s showing his teeth, holding his tail down between his legs and keeping his ears pointed back. He could also be growling or snarling. Because Cooper is signaling that he’s feeling threatened, he might bite the next canine -- or person -- who goes near him. If he’s on a leash, pull him out of the situation immediately. But if he’s not on a leash, you’re better off making other animals leave the area and asking anyone nearby to walk away until he cools off.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.