Why do dogs tilt their heads when a toy squeaks, or we say certain words?
When our dogs cock their heads to the side, they are irresistibly cute, they make us laugh, and they melt our hearts.
But what drives this behavior? Why do some breeds tilt their heads more than others?
Why dogs tilt their heads is a question that no one can answer with 100% certainty. Animal behaviorists and experts believe dogs tilt their heads for three reasons:
- Positive Reinforcement
Dogs Tilt their Heads because of Sight
Muzzle size could explain why dogs tilt their heads.
Dog’s look at our faces and eyes to read our emotions like happiness, sadness, or anger.
Dr. Stanley Coren hypothesizes that breeds with long muzzles like German Shepherds have a reduced field of vision. Tilting the head allows a long muzzled dog to view its owner’s face better.
Coren conducted a study with 582 dogs. Three hundred ninety-six dogs had long muzzles, and 186 dogs had flatter faces like pugs and bully breeds.
His study revealed that 71% of dogs with long muzzles exhibit head-tilting behaviors while interacting with their owners compared to 52% of flat-faced dogs.
Coren’s research provides some useful information. However, snout length is not proven to be the sole factor involved in a dog’s head tilting behavior.
Dogs Tilt their Heads because of Sound
Dogs have an incredible auditory range that is at least twice as sensitive as humans, which means they can hear higher-pitched sounds from a lot further away.
Dogs have an incredible auditory range but are not good at locating sound sources, unlike human beings.
Some researchers speculate that head tilting could help dogs determine the source of different sounds by changing how their ears receive soundwaves.
When a dog hears a loud, high-pitched, or unfamiliar noise, they may tilt their head to locate where the sound is coming from. This reaction is known as triangulation.
A dog’s brain is smart enough to calculate when their left and right ears intercepted the soundwaves. By comparing the time taken for the sound to be received in both ears, they can localize the sound source.
Dogs also have muscles in their middle ears that help them process sound. The brain that controls the middle ear muscles also controls vocalization, facial expressions, and head movements.
Our dogs tend to tilt their heads when we talk to them, proving they hear us and are paying attention.
It’s believed our dogs are listening for familiar tones or words that they like, such as go, food, ball, park, or walk.
Dogs Tilt their Heads because of Positive Reinforcement
When a dog tilts its head, it may appear spontaneous at first, but dogs may be conditioned into repeating this behavior due to positive reinforcement from their owners.
When we smile or laugh at our dog’s head tilts, they know they have caused a happy emotion. Many owners reward this cute behavior with more attention in the form of verbal praise, food, play, or physical affection.
As a result, a dog becomes conditioned to repeat its head tilting behavior to delight their owners and get more positive attention.
*If you have a dog that doesn’t typically tilt its head but starts the behavior out of the blue, it could be a symptom of an inner ear disorder or an ear infection.
Regardless of why your dog tilts its head, there’s no denying a cute or silly tilt of the head can brighten up a bad day.