Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? 5Reasons - petsitterbank

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? 5Reasons

  • Head-tilting may indicate your dog is trying to see better — especially if they have a long muzzle.
  • A head-tilt could also indicate that your dog is thinking or likes the attention it gets them.
  • If your dog has larger ears, head tilting might signal that they are trying to hear you better.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

It’s hard to resist the cuteness of a dog tilting their head when you talk to them or when they hear a strange sound. But this endearing trait may have a bigger purpose than merely looking adorable.

Scientists are still trying to get to the bottom of exactly why dogs tilt their heads and there isn’t a ton of research yet on the topic. But there are some theories about why dogs engage in this behavior and what their head tilts could mean.

1. Your dog is trying to see better

black dog head tilt

Dogs with long muzzles tend to tilt their heads more than those with flatter faces.

Amanda Silvestri/Insider

The length of a dog’s muzzle can block part of their vision, says Erin Askeland, a certified dog behavior consultant and animal health and behavior expert for Camp Bow Wow. By tilting its head, a dog is able to get a better view of what’s in front of them.

Head tilting in an attempt to see better is more prevalent in certain dog breeds with long muzzles, like greyhounds or German shepherds, compared to dogs with flatter faces, like bulldogs or Boston terriers.

2. Your dog is listening more attentively

head tilt samoyed

Your dog’s head-tilt might be signaling that they’re a good listener.

Gabbie Piraino/Insider

It may seem at times like your dog is hanging on your every word when they tilt their head, and there’s some evidence to indicate this may be the case.

A small 2021 study found that dogs were more likely to tilt their heads in response to a word they knew well. As part of the study, researchers asked dogs to fetch a specific toy from another room. They found that dogs who fetched the correct toy tilted their heads when listening to the command.

While more research is needed to fully understand head tilting in dogs, the results of this study indicate head tilting is associated with processing information and showing concentration, says Liz Dimit, a franchise dog trainer for Dogtopia, a dog daycare and boarding service.

3. Your dog is trying to determine where a sound is coming from

white dog head tilt

Your floppy-eared dog might be more inclined to head-tilt.

Emily Hein/Insider

A dogs’ anatomy can make hearing difficult, especially for certain breeds like cocker spaniels or basset hounds with heavy ear flaps that cover the ear canal.

These ear flaps can interfere with sound transmission, making it difficult for your dog to get a sense of where a sound may be coming from, Askeland says. By tilting its head, a dog can open one of their ear flaps to better determine the direction of a sound and how far away it may be.

4. Your dog likes the attention it gets them

pug tilting head

If you love it when your dog tilts their head, your dog might be doing it to make you smile.

Paola Flores-Marquez/Getty Images

Humans love the look of a dog’s head tilt and often reinforce this behavior without even realizing it, says Jenna Stregowski, a registered veterinary technician and pet health and behavior editor at Daily Paws.

“We may smile and say ‘aww,’ and then lavish our dogs with affection and praise,” Stregowski says. “This tells our dogs they should definitely repeat the behavior so good things will happen.”

A 2018 study showed that people’s perception of a dog’s cuteness increased when a head tilt was involved. Participants were given pictures of puppies in which they could control head movements. One group was instructed to “make the puppies as cute as possible,” which resulted in participants tilting the heads of the puppies in the pictures.

“What likely occurs here is that when a dog tilts its head, people respond with verbal praise or pets, so the dog learns to tilt its head more frequently and may do this as a way to seek out attention,” Askeland says.

5. Your dog has an underlying medical condition

german shepherd head tilt

Head-tilting can be a sign of an ear infection.

Diego Cervo/Getty

In some cases head tilting may be a sign of an underlying medical condition, like vestibular disease, Askeland says.

The vestibular system in dogs is responsible for balance and spatial awareness. A disturbance of this system can cause your dog to appear disoriented and tilt its head in an effort to regain its balance.

Medical conditions that can disrupt the vestibular system and may result in head tilting include:

  • ear infections
  • A head injury that results in inflammation of the brain or spinal cord
  • A brain tumor
  • Vestibular syndrome, which is more common in older dogs

If you notice your dog involuntarily tilting their head (not in response to your voice or another sound), Askeland recommends monitoring them for signs of disorientation or difficulty standing and walking. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, have them checked out by a veterinarian.

Insider’s takeaway

More studies are needed to fully understand why dogs tilt their heads, but current research indicates dogs do this for many reasons, including to see or hear better and to process information.

In some cases, a dog’s head tilt may be a sign of an underlying medical condition, like an ear infection, inflammation in the brain, or vestibular disease. If your dog is tilting their head in addition to showing signs of disorientation, like trouble walking, have them examined by a veterinarian.

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