How To Clean Dog’s Ears When They Hate It: 9 Simple Steps

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So like many other dog owners you have a dog who hates getting their ears cleaned. They freak out anytime you try to clean them, yelp when you touch them, and they might even try to bite you.

This can be even worse when they have an ear infection causing them pain and discomfort. This is not uncommon for dogs to hate getting their ears touched or cleaned. 

So what’s the secret to cleaning a dog’s ears when they hate it? Should you sedate them to clean their ears?

In this post you’ll discover:

  • Why your dog hates getting their ears cleaned
  • The 9 steps to clean a dog’s ears when they hate it (#7 is what vets use! Hint: it’s not sedatives)
  • If sedating a dog to clean their ears an option
  • Tips to ensure safe and successful ear cleaning

Let’s dive in.

How To Clean Dog’s Ears When They Hate It: 9 Simple Steps

Why Does Your Dog Hate Getting Their Ears Cleaned? 

Dogs hate getting their ears cleaned or touched for one main reason which usually stems from pain and discomfort.

Dogs have tons of nerves in their ears which can make ear touching uncomfortable or ear pain quite severe.

If your dog yelps when you touch their ear it could be due to an ear infection or in some cases dogs will yelp just because they have sensitive ears.

Dogs with sensitive ears hate it when you touch their ears, period. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing, they simply detest anything in or around their ears.

It’s important to note that just because they’re in discomfort doesn’t mean they’re in severe pain, but it’s likely uncomfortable for them.

So how do you deal with a dog that freaks out when you clean their ears?

How To Clean Your Dog’s Ears When They Hate It In 9 Steps

1) Know How To Properly Clean Your Dog’s Ears

How To Clean Dog’s Ears When They Hate It

The first step in building a strategy for dealing with a difficult dog is to understand the proper way to clean a dog’s ears.

Once you know how to properly clean their ears you can add some tricks to help calm them down and allow you to clean them.

Let’s quickly go over how to clean a dog’s ears.

Step #1 – Determine why you’re cleaning your dog’s ears. Is it because they’re dirty or infected? If they are infected you will need the proper medication.

Step #2 – Make sure your dog is in a calm state and take them to a confined space, like the bathtub so you’re not chasing them around. The goal here is to get this done as quickly as possible.

Step #2 – With your cleansing solution or medication, pull your dog’s ear straight up and slightly backwards.

Step #3 – Using your other hand, apply the medication or cleansing solution into the ear canal.

Step #4 – Continue to hold the ear flap up to allow the medication to get down the ear canal.

Step #5 – Massage the base of the ear using two fingers. Then release your dog’s ear and allow them to shake it off. Some solution and wax may come out of their ear at this point. This is completely fine.

This is the cleaning process simply laid out. If your dog has an infection and needs multiple medications in their ear, repeat this process but wait about 30 minutes before doing it again.

Do not mix medication to try and get it all done at once, unless your vet has mentioned its okay.

Here is a video of basic dog ear cleaning for you visual learners:

Now, how do we deal with the aggression and craziness of your dog when their ear is being cleaned.

2) Desensitization Them To Ear Handling

Desensitization to ear handling is easier said than done.

It’s much easier when your dog is young since they haven’t fully developed habits. This is why it’s so important to get them used to being touched from a young age.

When dogs hate ear cleanings its because they have not been desensitized to handling.

This makes cleaning, grooming and medicating your dog so much harder when they’re not used to their ears, paws, teeth etc. all being touched.

If your dog is older this will take more time since you have to break their current habit and re condition them.

Here is a great image to explain the process.

As shown in the image, the goal is to replace the reaction of fear from ear cleaning and replace it with the same feeling your dog gets when you give them a treat.

Gently pet your dog’s head around their ears while praising and rewarding them when they comply. 

You can hold the treat in your hand partially closed. That way they are distracted by trying to get the treat while you are playing with their ears.

When your dog does not comply, a stern “no” should be your response.

3) Make Them Work For Everything

Consider taking your dog into some obedience training classes.

When you force a dog to work for everything you create an obedient dog. So much so that they’ll listen even when you’re cleaning their ears.

Of course this is not always going to work as completely obedient dogs can still hate getting their ears cleaned.

Getting them to work for everything is as simple as having them sit before eating, playing, going out, etc.

You’d be surprised how well this can work to actually change their behavior to start enjoying ears cleanings.

They still might hate it, but they will itleast allow you to clean them without making it impossible for you.

4) Using Calming Products 

There are tons of calming products around that can help dogs relax for an ear cleanings.

These are especially good for dogs that get a little anxious when it comes to their ears.

There are calming products for treats, CBD oils, special aromas, collars, toys, jackets etc.

When it comes to ear cleaning the calming jackets, collars, and toys are probably not the best option.

The products I would recommend are the calming treats, CBD oils, and special aromas.

When researching methods around calming dogs who hate getting their ears cleaned these were the big three for calming alternatives to help.

Now to be fully transparent the worst part about these is they are not guaranteed to help.

All dogs are different and experience things in different ways.

So you may find that the calming aromas actually work really well, but the treats and CBD do absolutely nothing.

This is something you have to test with your dog to figure out.

The American Kennel club recommends this CBD oil: Downtown Pet Supply Hemp Oil for Dogs.

How To Clean Dog’s Ears When They Hate It

5) Use Distractions

One of the best ways to get your dog’s ears cleaned when they hate it, is to distract them with something they love.

This can counterbalance the hate for the ear cleaning with something they love, making the experience less awful.

Grab a liki mat or a spoon and spread cream cheese or peanut butter all over it.

While you are working away on their ears you can get someone to hold the spoon or mat for them to lick.

You could also get one of those liki mats that suction cups to the wall. 

6) Exercise And Stimulate Before

As a dog owner you know the saying “a sleepy dog is a good dog”.

If you take your dog out for an intense exercise and mentally stimulate them, later that day when you go to clean their ears, it will be much easier.

7) Put Your Dog On A Table Or Forcefully Restrict Them

dog on table for ear cleaning

Try placing your dog on an elevated table about chest level. The reason this can work is because your dog will be scared of falling off.

Because of this they will stand still as though there is a barrier around the table.

I see this happen all the time at my brother, Dr littlejohns hospital (krvh.ca). He picks up dogs and puts them on the examination table (about chest level) and the dogs freeze up.

Now full disclosure this does not always work as intended and can be easier or harder depending on the size for your dog.

My pup enzo is over 100 pounds so getting him on a table is not so easy. 

But vets use this strategy all the time to examine dogs.

Now if this is not an option for you, you will have to find another way to restrict them. 

This might take some trial and error to find what works for you. Some people find body blocking and pushing their dog up against a wall to work.

Others use gentle headlocks to hold them in place. You may have to use your legs, arms, multiple people etc.

Whatever it takes to get the job done. Once you find something that works over time it will get easier!

8) Ask Your Vet For Sedative Drugs

Many dog owners ask if they can just sedate their dog to clean their ears.

In short, it’s completely fine to sedate a dog to clean their ears so long as your vet has given you permission. Ideally, exhaust all other options first before deciding if sedating your dog is your best option to clean their ears.

There’s drugs like Trazodone that can both sedate a dog and relieve anxiety. A lot of groomers will use this for really difficult dogs.

Another drug is Acepromazine which is one of the most common oral sedative drugs prescribed to dogs.

It works by blocking dopamine receptors in the brain, thereby depressing certain brain functions.

Explain to your vet the difficulties you are experiencing when cleaning your dog’s ears and they may consider prescribing you something to help.

Ear cleaning is extremely important for dogs, especially ones prone to ear infections.

How To Clean Dog’s Ears When They Hate It

9) Get The Experts To Do It

If all else fails you can always outsource the cleaning to the experts.

This can be annoying to some due to the price and nuance of needing to take their dog in just to get their ears cleaned.

For some this is the only way to actually get their dogs ears cleaned.

What I usually recommend is to try to get multiple things done when you bring your dog in. 

For example, when you take your dog for ear cleaning, make sure you also request nail trimming, and grooming.

That way you can get everything done all at once!

What If Your Dog Tries To Bite You While Cleaning Their Ears?

If your dog actively tries to bite you while cleaning their ears and you have tried desensitization and other calming methods, you may want to consider muzzle training.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything, muzzle training can allow you to clean your dog’s ears when necessary while avoiding their biting response.

I highly suggest going through the section above and making sure you have truly exhausted your options.

I find many dog owners assume things won’t work because they don’t want to put in the effort.

The steps put together in this post have worked for many dog owners in this position, you just have to actually test different strategies and find the one that works for your dog.

Does Your Dog Go Crazy After Ear Cleaning? 

So you finished cleaning your dog’s ear cleaning but they’re going crazy and shaking their head.

Is this normal? What do you do?

If your dog is going crazy or shaking their head after you cleaned his ear there is probably something still stuck in his ear.

Dogs will often shake their head a lot, or bat at their head with their paws.

What you can do is grab a cotton ball (not a Q-tip) and then push the cotton ball with your finger down their ear canal.

The goal is to try and bring out as much stuff from their ear as you can.

You can repeat this several times as long as you are just using your finger. Your finger cannot harm their ear drum since you will not be able to reach it.

Can You Clean Dog’s Ears With Q Tips? 

clean dogs ears with qtip

You should avoid using Q-tips® to clean out your dog’s ears. Using Q-Tips®  risks damaging the ear canal and ear drum. A dog’s ear canal is shaped like an “L” with the eardrum at the end. 

This design makes it easy for parasites, bacteria, and yeast to get stuck in the canal. Q-tips® can actively push debris and gunk further down the canal, making things worse.

Instead, stick to using cotton balls and cleansing solutions to clean your dog’s ears.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Dried Dead Tick On Dog? What You Need To Do (Vet Answers)

Why Dogs Scratch Their Ears & Shake Their Head At Night

Ingrown Dog Whisker: Causes, Treatment, & Prevention (Vet Answers)