Behavior

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? 5 Reasons (& Study Results)

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Last Updated: February 1, 2023 | 3 min read | Leave a Comment

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A white dog with head tilted to the side outside in the grass

There’s almost nothing more adorable than when our dogs tilt their heads at us. It’s such an endearing behavior and impossible to resist gushing over your furry friend. But why do dogs tilt their heads? Is it merely for your loving praise? It turns out there are several reasons our pups cock their heads to the side, and it’s not just to put on a cute display for us.

What Does It Mean When A Dog Tilts Its Head?

There are many theories behind why dogs tilt their heads. However, it’s not a well-studied behavior. Still, many dog experts agree on some common factors. And if you’re a long-time pup owner who’s attuned to your furry friend’s body language, you might already suspect some of these reasons.

To Improve Their Hearing

One of the most puzzling questions we pup owners have is, why do dogs tilt their heads at sounds? A common theory to explain this precious behavior comes down to dog ear anatomy. Some experts hypothesize that dogs’ ear flaps, especially those with heavy, floppy ears, partially block sound transmission.

The theory is that this different anatomy makes it more difficult for our dogs to locate where a sound is coming from. But tilting their heads may help them hone in on the source of a strange sound.

To Better Visualize Their World

Another theory is that some dogs cock their heads to see better because their longer muzzles partially obstruct their field of vision. In a survey of 583 dog parents, Stanley Coren, Ph.D., FRSC., a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, found that 71% of owners of dogs with longer muzzles and narrower heads, such as Collies and Greyhounds, and those with wider, intermediate-length muzzles, like Labrador or Golden Retrievers and Beagles, reported frequent head-tilting when they spoke to their dogs.

This percentage dropped to 52% among owners of flatter-faced, brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs. However, more than half is still a significant number, so there may be more going on than simply snout size.

As A Sign Of Concentration & Memory Recall

A small study published in 2021 is one of the only to find a possible science-based explanation for why dogs tilt their heads. While conducting a study on 40 dogs’ ability to learn names for different toys, researchers noticed an unanticipated pattern of dog head-tilting when owners asked their pups to fetch a toy by name.

Their observations found that only the dogs who had learned the name of the objects tilted their heads frequently. The “gifted” dogs, those with exceptional toy recall, tilted their heads 43% of the time, while the other dogs only cocked their heads 2% of the time. The researchers posited that these findings suggest a link between head-tilting and the canine brain concentrating and processing memory recall.

For Praise

If you frequently give your pup extra special praise, attention, treats, etc., for tilting her head, then your canine companion may have figured out this is a way to get more. After all, our dogs want to please us, so some dog head-tilting could simply be a learned behavior as a means to garner affection and rewards.

As A Sign Of A Medical Condition

So, when is a dog head tilt a cause for concern? Some head-tilting may indicate an underlying health problem. If you notice your furry friend regularly cocking her head without any auditory stimuli as the cause, you should contact your veterinarian. Your pup could be suffering from:

Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads When Confused?

Tilting our heads when we’re confused is a common human behavior. And it’s easy to read our dogs’ behavior from our human perspective. But the consensus is that dogs don’t tilt their heads when they’re confused in the sense that we do. The perceived “confusion” of our pups is rather their way of hearing a sound better.

Will This Sound Make Your Dog’s Head Tilt? (Video)

Have some fun with your furry friend, and play this video with her in the room. While you can find several similar videos on youtube, this one did the trick with my pup.

What Else Can Dog Body Language Tell Us?

While head-tilting isn’t a well-understood behavior from a scientific perspective, animal behaviorists do have a better grasp of the meanings of some other dog body language and vocalizations. Check out our guide on dog body language to learn more about what may be going on in your furball’s head and what she’s trying to tell you.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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