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Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

3 min read

Is there anything cuter than a dog tilting their head from side to side? This adorable behaviour has the power to melt the heart of just about anyone – but why do dogs do it? Check out our guide and find out the story behind this common canine habit.

If you’re lucky enough to have a canine companion in your life, it’s likely you’ve encountered the heart-melting head tilt. You may be telling them that it’s time to go for walkies, and they start cocking their head from side to side, and you think to yourself, “why do dogs tilt their heads? Are they listening to what I’m saying?”.

At Purina, we’re just as curious about your pooch’s behaviour as you are, and that’s why we’ve taken a look into the reasons why dogs do this. Keep reading to find out more!

 

Why do dogs tilt their heads?

Experts can’t actually come up with a definitive reason why dogs tilt their heads. They’ve suggested a number of possible answers, including:

Trying to locate a noise

One of the most popular answers to the dog head tilting question is that they’re trying to decipher where a noise is coming from. Dogs can hear a huge range of frequencies – in fact, they can hear frequencies two to three times higher than us humans! So when your canine friend tilts their head, they may be listening to a noise that is too high-pitched for you to hear. Adjusting their head from side to side may help them localise the source of the noise and figure out what the sound is.

They’re interested or curious

Animal behaviourist Jill Goldman, Ph.D., has also suggested that if dogs display this behaviour when they’re standing right in front of you, they’re interested in what you’re saying and are listening for frequencies, inflections and key words that they like. Of course, they may not quite understand all the words you’re saying, but if they like the voice you’re talking to them with, they may be trying to work it out.

Black and white dog is looking at the camera

Adjusting their field of vision

The reason why your dog head tilts could also be to do with their vision. Stanley Coren, Ph.D., believes that a dog’s muzzle may obstruct their view, so they tilt their head from side to side to look at things better. In his pilot study, he discovered that dogs with longer muzzles such as greyhounds were more likely to tilt their heads than flatter faced breeds like pugs. However, he also found that more than half of the flat-faced breeds also tilted their heads, so there’s still much to learn here.

It’s a learned behaviour

There’s a high chance that when your dog tilts their head, this loveable behaviour will be met with positive encouragement such as a cutesy voice, a fuss and possibly even a snack too. This means your dog essentially discovers that tilting their head wins them affection. Our canine friends are people-pleasers after all, and once they’ve learned you like something, they’re more likely to keep doing it!

 

What if my dog’s tilting their head a lot without a clear reason?

If there’s no auditory or visual cue present and your dog seems to be tilting their head a lot, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your vet as it may be a sign of a health issue.

Fluffy dog is looking at the camera

Some dogs experiencing ear infections may tilt their head more often to try and relieve pain, and a consistent head tilt could also be a sign of vestibular syndrome (a condition where dogs lose their normal sense of balance, a bit like vertigo). 

According to Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviourist, vestibular syndrome manifests differently to standard head cocking – your dog will keep one ear to the ground on a regular basis and may lean to one side, almost like a boat listing in the water. This condition can cause other symptoms such as disorientation and nausea, and it’s always worth getting your pet checked out by your vet to deal with any concerns.

That’s our guide to why dogs tilt their heads! Want to find out more about your canine companion’s behaviours? Discover the reason behind your dog staring at you, next.