Perhaps the cutest thing dogs do is tilt their heads when they are looking at their owners. This adorable action endears them to their humans, and they are immediately rewarded with smiles and encouragement to do it again. But is that all there is to it? Studies show that there might be more involved than merely a learned response.
There are six thoughts about why dogs tilt their heads, and the truth is probably ensconced in all of them. Here are those reasons.
1. It’s cute
Okay, so the dog doesn’t actually think “I’m cute when I do this,” but he does know when his owner responds positively to something he does. That’s why dogs are generally easy to train. When any behavior is rewarded, whether by treats, pat, a kind word, or other means, the dog is apt to repeat the behavior in hopes of more rewards. So when we smile and talk “puppy talk” to our adorable furbuddy, he knows he’s done something good and will want to do it again.
2. It shows empathy
Dogs are the only animals that can read emotion in human faces, according to Dr Kun Guo at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Their studies showed that dogs can see intuitively whether people are happy or sad, pleased or angry. If they can understand our emotional state, the thinking goes, then perhaps the head tilt is a way of showing empathy with us. Our furbabies do seem to have an uncanny way of telling when something isn’t right with our world, and of trying to cheer us up with kisses, snuggles, and that delightful head tilt.
Related Post: The New Science of Dog Psychology
3. It exhibits expectation
Dogs also tilt their heads to show that they’re expecting something. Certain words, such as “walk” can trigger the head tilt, even if you aren’t addressing your dog. He’s looking to see if he did, indeed, hear that special word, and if so, he’s expecting to have the word followed by something. Occasionally, dogs will even tilt their heads when they hear trigger words on TV!
4. It helps him hear better
When you’re in a crowded, noisy room, have you ever cocked your head, turning one ear toward someone trying to talk to you? Perhaps you’ve even cupped your hand around your ear in an attempt to hear better. Dogs can triangulate sounds due to the shape and flexibility of their ears. This helps them determine where sounds are coming from, so it may be that the head tilt is an attempt to fine tune their hearing. To see it in action, just watch a Jack Russell Terrier trying to pinpoint where in the wall a rodent is located.
Related Post: Puppy Talk 101 - How to Communicate with Your Pup
5. It improves his vision
Probably the most reliable reason is that it helps the dog see better. In a study conducted by Stanley Coren Ph.D., F.R.S.C., he discovered that dogs see better when they tilt their heads. To demonstrate how that works, simply put your fist up to your nose to simulate a muzzle. If you look at a friend’s face, you’ll notice that the lower half (where the mouth is) is obscured by the “muzzle.” Since dogs actually read our expressions, they tilt their heads to move their muzzle out of the way in order to see better. Dr. Coren found that dogs with longer muzzles tilted their heads more frequently than did short-faced dogs. Even so, tilting their heads benefitted those breeds, too. The consensus is that head tilting is most likely the result of attempting to improve vision.
Related Post: The World Through The Eyes of a Dog
6. It might indicate a health concern
If your dog is holding his head at a tilt, or shaking his head at the same time, it may be time to visit your vet. Ear problems or even vertigo can cause this behavior and may be accompanied by vomiting or loss of balance, sometimes leading to falls. If you’re seeing this kind of head tilting, take Fido to see his doctor and clear up the problem.
Related Post: Top 4 Golden Retriever Health Problems
Whatever the reason that your favorite canine is tilting his head, chances are that you find it endearing (unless he’s sick, or course). That’s why so many people post captivating videos of puppies with that lovable tilt and so many of us dog lovers enjoy watching them.