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Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads, Notably When You Talk to Them? | Pupford

September 15th, 2023

Filed under Lifestyle + Stories

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Almost all dog parents have asked this question at one point or another -- why do dogs tilt their heads when you talk to them?

...Other than to rack up some brownie points and melt your heart, of course.

giphy-tumblr | Pupford

So aside from the fact that it is adorable, what makes your pup tilt their head? 

In this article, I'm gonna lay out some of the main reasons why it may happen.

You'll also find some fun interactive polls, links to scientific studies, and more!

Here are some reasons dog tilt their heads:

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

Let's dive deeper into some of those potential reasons!

Although researchers haven’t determined the stand-alone reason (or if there is only one, for that matter), researchers have made connections between the famous head tilt and a few different factors.

Let’s take a look at them. 

But first, I want to hear from you. Vote below.

Dogs Tilt Their Heads to Assist Their Hearing

One explanation is that dogs tilt their heads to help them hear you better.

Dogs tend to have excellent hearing, especially in distinguishing a wide range of frequencies. BUT, they can’t locate the source of a sound as well as humans can. 

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.

Pretty cool right?

Related Reading: How to Train a Deaf Dog

Researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom also recently determined that dogs can pick up on voice inflection, and do in fact respond to baby talk. So if you find that your dog tilts their head more when you speak in an excited, high-pitch voice, they may be focusing on tone and pitch.

dog-running-with-human-after-hearing-a-high-pitched-noise | Pupford

Speaking of your dog listening to you...

If it seems like your dog never listens to you (yikes!), then check out these hacks to improve listening.

🐶 Curious about your dog's body language and communication? Sign up for the Dog Body Language Course here!

Head Tilts Can Improve a Dog's Vision, Especially When Confused

Stanly Coren, PhD, has studied sensory perception for many years, which prompted him to explore the question: why do dogs tilt their heads?

black-and-white-dog-tilting-its-head | Pupford

His theory is simple: head tilting allows dogs to see what’s in front of them (in this case, you talking to them) since their muzzle can otherwise obstruct vision.

To understand what a dog might see, try looking straight ahead with your fist in front of your nose.

Are you able to see everything clearly in front of you?

Coren conducted a survey that yielded the following key results:

  • 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.

While the difference between the two groups isn’t stark, it’s enough to suggest that since the larger-muzzle dogs may have their vision obstructed more, they are more likely to tilt their heads when spoken to.

Additional Learning: 10 Facts About Dogs' Eyes, Vision & How They See Color

Dogs Tilt Their Heads to Empathize With You

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.

dog-cuddling-a-human | Pupford

A study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology confirmed that dogs can discriminate between emotional expressions in humans. You can read more about the study here, but 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.

That's even more reason to avoid harsh tones or anger with your dog! If you want your dog to be responsive to your cues, you'll have much more success with a happy and energetic tone of voice.

🐶 Curious about your dog's body language and communication? Sign up for the Dog Body Language Course here!

Practicing Reinforced Behavior With Head Tilts

Jill Goldman, Ph.D. believes dog head tilting is most influenced by positive reinforcement.

A lot of times, head tilts come right before a positive event!

Like when you say “Want to eat?” or “Want to go to the park?” -- which then begins a rewarding experience for the dog. 

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?

Positive reinforcement can also be a great training method.

If you need help with training, go download our 100% free app!

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? Recap

brown dog tilting its head to hear better | Pupford

To summarize, experts have some good ideas, but we aren’t completely sure why dogs tilt their heads.

More research is needed in this area to really understand exactly why. Do dogs tilt their heads when we aren’t there to see it? If so, why?

Which of these explanations is the most accurate? Is it all of them working tandem?

We may not be entirely sure why dogs do this, but it’s cute and we’re here for it. 

If you’re looking for ways to reward your dog for all that cuteness, check out our simple ingredient, healthy, and tasty training treats!

11/10 doggos give them 2 paws up 🐾

Shop (and get 15% off) our most popular treats here.

Something to Note

If your dog persistently is tilting its head without any reasonable cause, consult your veterinarian right away. It could be a sign of an ear infection or vestibular issue. 

But if the head tilts are happening after the sound of the treat bag opening, there’s no need to worry!

Have more questions about dogs and why they might tilt their heads? Just ask them in the comments below!

🐶 Curious about your dog's body language and communication? Sign up for the Dog Body Language Course here!


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