Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Feb 15, 2022 | Pet Health, Pets

Happy Wednesday everyone!  Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?  It is the cutest thing EVER when you are talking to your pet and they start tilting their head back and forth as if to say that you are special and you are their human!  I absolutely love when Jake And Maggie tilt their heads and listen intently as to what I’m saying.  They are incredibly smart; so much so, that Mr. TAL and I have to spell words if we don’t want them to know what we are talking about.  And now…they are understanding the words we are spelling out!

Have you found yourself asking why dogs do that?  I’m going to lay out some reasons why which will surprise you!

Here are some reasons dogs tilt their heads ?

* To assist with their hearing
* To help with their vision
* To empathize with you, their human
* They are practicing reinforced behavior


Jake And Maggie visit the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile

We attended a charity event last weekend for Joey’s P.A.W. and helped raise over $700 which will provide 1 quad and 2  medium wheelchairs for animals in need!  Jake And Maggie met and greeted so many kind people.  It was a fun filled afternoon with picture taking, sitting in the Weinermobile, and the pups were exhausted.  They slept the whole way home!  One of the Joey’s P.A.W. members took these photos for us which is much appreciated. You can find him via his Instagram account @thedgk.  Dog Harness from @2houndsdesign and Valentine’s Day bow ties from @thepamperedpooches.  Use code “2labs” for 10% off your order at checkout.  Maggie is wearing the sailor bow and Jake is wearing the bow tie.  

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads | www.twoadorablelabs.com
Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads | www.twoadorablelabs.com

To Assist With Their Hearing:

Tilting their heads alters the ear position and helps dogs localize sound by measuring the difference in how long it took the sound to reach the farther ear compared to the closer ear.  

For many dogs, head-tilting helps them hear better. The flaps of their ears may change the direction of sound, such as for German Shepherds whose tall ears may prevent them from clearly hearing sounds behind them.

Rotating their ears, or their entire head, can help triangulate the location of the sound so they can hear it more clearly. Other breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, have dense, heavy earflaps that can cover the entire ear canal, muffling sounds in general. Lifting these earflaps will also help improve their hearing.

Many times, moving the earflaps and tilting the head may be so subtle that we don’t really notice it. Other times, the dog may choose to exaggerate the motion. And some dogs may choose to tilt their heads more than others.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads | www.twoadorablelabs.com

To Help With Their Vision:

Perhaps head tilting, by altering the position of the ears, helps dogs better determine where a sound is coming from. Despite being able to hear an incredible range of frequencies, dogs can’t locate the source of a sound as well as humans can. However, like us, when a dog hears something, his brain can tell the difference between how long it took the sound to reach the ear farthest from the sound compared to the ear that’s closest. That difference can help localize the sound.

According to a study conducted by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., FRSC., a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201312/why-dogs-may-tilt-their-heads-when-you-talk-them):

*. 71% of the pet parents of dogs with larger muzzles reported that their dogs “often” tilted their heads when spoken to, while
*. 52% of pet parents of brachycephalic dogs (flatter-faced breeds like pugs, Boston terriers, etc.) reported that their dogs “often” tilted their heads when spoken to.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads | www.twoadorablelabs.com

To Empathize With You, Their Human:

Although they may not be able to understand all the words you say to them, dogs can empathize with the tone of the language you use when speaking to them.

A study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology confirmed that dogs can discriminate between emotional expressions in humans.  To summarize, it explains that dogs look for vocal cues and inflection to determine the meaning of your message.

It’s possible that the head tilt is the tool they use to hone in on your voice, listening for certain words and tones they are familiar with — especially the ones that suggest it’s time for a tasty treat or some play — and know how to react accordingly.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads | www.twoadorablelabs.com

Practicing Reinforced Behavior:

Most often times, head tilts come right before positive reinforcement like “Do you want a treat?” Or “Let’s play ball”.  

It could also be as simple as the “awws” and ear scratches that dogs often get when they do something adorable. Can you blame them for wanting more pats and scritches?

Just like us, it takes something interesting to get a dog to perk up their ears. You’re much more likely to pay attention to the sound of someone walking around your house at night than a car driving by during the afternoon. Sounds associated with food, toys, or something fun are much more likely to get your dog to tilt their head than more routine sounds.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads | www.twoadorablelabs.com

When Is a Dog Head-Tilt a Sign of a Problem?

Although most tilts are of the communication variety, some dogs will develop medically induced head-tilts. Generally, these tilts don’t “look cute,” and the dog’s head stays tilted for a long period of time (vs. the few seconds of a normal head-tilt).

Very commonly, you will notice additional signs that concern you—your dog may be off balance, fall easily, or have symptoms of an ear infection. If your dog is doing a head-tilt that appears to be anything more significant than a form of communication, take them to a veterinarian right away.



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  1. Carla D Evans

    I love when they do this also….interesting thanks for the info! The pics of the pups are so cute looks like they had such a nice time! ????

    • Bobbi

      You are welcome! Yes, it was a family trip (the 4 of us) and so much fun. Their tales were wagging the entire time!


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