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Ever wondered why do dogs tilt their heads? We all know that there is something irresistibly cute about the look on your pooch’s face when they inquisitively incline their head to the side while listening to you attentively. But is there a particular reason why this behaviour occurs? The scientists think that there might be and what’s more - the reason isn’t just one.
Read along to find out what the research says and discover the top 5 reasons why dogs tilt their heads below.
Dogs tilt their heads to hear better
As silly as it may sound, when dogs tilt their heads, they also move their ears which a believed to help their hearing. This is especially true for long-eared breeds, as moving those ear flaps out of the way can make a significant difference in how much these pups can hear.
Another reason why head-tiling can help your four-legged friend hear better is that despite being able to hear even frequency inaudible to the human near, doggos are not very good at determining where the sound is coming from. By moving their heads, dogs reposition their ears, making it easier for their brain to process the difference between how long it takes the sound to reach one ear or the other, which in turn helps them localise the source of the sound.
Dogs tilt their heads to see better
Hearing might not be the only sense that can be enhanced by dogs tilting their head. According to a pilot study by Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, and FRSC, head tilting could be helping pooches with long muzzles see more clearly what is going on right in front of them.
Dr Coren’s theory is that flat-faced dogs, such as pugs, are less likely to tilt their heads when you talk to them than long-faced breeds, such as greyhounds. Why? Well, simply because the long snout is getting in the way of their vision and tilting their head allows them to clear their line of sight to get a good view of you as you stand in front of them.
Of course, there’s a lot more research to be done on this theory. For example, Dr Coren believes that it’s worth studying head-tilting throughout a dog’s lifetime to find out whether older dogs are more likely to exhibit such behaviour, in order to aid their ailing eyesight or hearing, as they age.
Dogs tilt their heads to understand you better
We’ve got some good news for you - if your dog is a head-tilter, you might have a smart cookie on your hands. This idea stems from the fact that scientists have hypothesised about head-tilting being a behaviour associated with improved cognitive skills that could also be considered a sign of intelligence in dogs.
In a recent study, researchers found that “gifted” or “talented” pooches who were able to memorise more object (toy) names and commands, were also more likely to tilt their heads while receiving commands from their owner. As the correlation between head-tilting and stronger memory skills was observed over a period of several months, it is believed that this behaviour can be perceived as a sign of increased attention, helping dogs hear and understand important words.
Dogs tilt their heads because of positive reinforcement
Another theory as to why dogs tilt their heads is that their owners are stimulating them to do it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a head tilt is a trick you’ve consciously tried to teach your dog. Positive reinforcement happens without you even realising it. As a dog cocking their head can be adorable, dog owners are likely to respond to it by saying nice things, patting them on the head and even giving them a treat (head tilts are irresistible, aren’t they?).
There is some scientific backing for this idea too. According to American applied animal behaviourist Jill Goldman, PhD, head-tilting could also be helping dogs better identify the inflection of your voice and the sound frequency. By doing that, they could pick up when their human is using a “baby voice” to positively reinforce their behaviour. Differentiating between such behavioural cues could allow your furry buddy to identify the things that please you so they can repeat them later. Smart, right?
Dog Head-Tilting As a Sign of a Medical Issue
Head tilting is a common behaviour and in most cases, it’s a welcome part of human-dog interaction. That being said, on rare occasions, head-tiling could be a warning sign of an underlying medical problem, such as an infection or your furry friend having trouble keeping their balance. But how can you tell whether your dog is simply trying to communicate with you better by tiling their head or if there’s something you should be concerned about?
Most times, dogs will tilt their head while looking at you directly when you give them commands. That’s normal and it isn’t something you should worry about. However, if the head-tiling doesn’t seem to be directly associated with any sort of communication, auditory or visual, and it’s a continual process rather than a quick one-off move as a response to your interaction, you may want to have your pooch checked out. If you have any concerns about your pet, it’s always better to give your vet a call and make sure everything’s ok.
Right-Tilters vs Left-Tilters
A fun fact about dogs is that much like humans are either left or right-handed, pooches can be right or left-tilters and that’s a persistent behavioural trait. The research shows that dogs tend to tilt their heads in the same direction, regardless of where their owner is standing.
Scientists are yet to pinpoint the factors that decide what makes your dog a right-titler or a left-tilter; whether it’s a personal preference or more, but it has been suggested that the right side of the dog’s brain is responsible for making sense of positive words and other forms of praise, so that might have a role in deciding the direction in which your pooch cocks their head.
A Lot Left to Learn
Yes, there is a lot of research that could be done in the future to really understand why dogs tilt their heads and how that helps them interact with their owners. However, it’s definitely an adorable sight and a nice way to bond with your furry friends, so we’d understand if you were inclined to reward a cute head tilt with a healthy dog treat. Don’t overdo it though - always remember the 90/10 rule and keep treats to a maximum of 10% of your dog’s daily nutritional intake.
Want to learn more about dog behaviour? Check out some of our other articles below:Why do dogs eat grass? | What fruit and vegetables can dogs eat? | How to help your dog get rid of itchy skin? | How to help dogs lose weight? | Are dogs carnivores?