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Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? 5 Reasons Why

By February 17, 2021February 21st, 202120 Comments

Ever walked into a room, said something loud, and noticed the comical yet adorable way your dog tilts its head while staring at you? Almost as if it’s trying to figure out exactly what you’re saying.

If you’ve ever wondered why dogs tilt their head at a random sound or when you talk to them, you’re not alone. Many pet owners wonder why their dogs tilt their head, this article will help you understand!

They’re Trying to Hear Better 

Dogs have ear flaps that partially or completely cover their ear canal and can prevent or reduce sound transmission. Dogs often have to change their position to enhance sound detection. Fortunately, the ear flap is movable so the dog can make the necessary adjustment needed to focus on the exact location of the sound. Different breeds face different challenges with some dogs having the ear flap cover the back of their ears and others having it cover the entirety of their ears (for example, German Shepherds and Cocker Spaniels respectively). To make up for the interference of ear flaps, dogs straighten their ear flaps and tilt their heads for optimum sound detection. 

It is also thought that a dog’s movable ear flaps also help judge a sound’s distance by determining the difference in the time it takes between when the sound reaches the right and left ears. So basically, cocking the head and adjusting ear flaps helps the dog hone in on the location and distance of sound.

They’re Trying to Understand Us

When a dog listens to your voice, it tries to identify familiar keywords or tones that it has associated with a reward, such as going on a walk or receiving a treat. Since the muscles of a dog’s middle ear are controlled by the same part of its brain that’s also responsible for facial expressions and head movements, when a dog tilts his head, it’s trying to catch on to what you’re saying, as well as show you that it’s listening.

They Can’t See Our Faces Easily

Dogs not only use our words and tone to understand us; dogs also use our facial expressions, body language, and eye movements. It’s therefore important for them to see our faces clearly. When dogs with large snouts look directly at humans, it’s thought that their nose blocks out the bottom half of their view. Tilting their head lets them get a better view of what has piqued their curiosity and better identify what the human is communicating to them.

It’s estimated that a majority of up to 71% of dogs with larger snouts tilt their heads when interacting with humans as opposed to 52% of flat-faced canines. This means that you’ll experience more head tilting from your dogs with larger snouts than from the flat-faced ones.

We’ve Taught Them to Do It

While we’ve identified that there are several factors involved in the head tilt and that it’s a cute thing to behold, we can also agree that it’s human nature to respond to cuteness with positive reinforcement. So we find that when our dog cocks its head, we respond by giving them a good pat, a rub down, or a treat. In this way, we have taught them to keep doing this to receive positive treatment. Our response to the head tilt encourages repetition. So the more we gush over the cute canine head tilt, the more they do it hoping for a reaction, and the more we get to enjoy it!

Should I Be Concerned If My Dog Tilts Its Head?

A regular head tilt not associated with any communication with your dog or in the absence of any external sounds may indicate a medical problem. Infections of the external ear canal caused by bacteria or other microorganisms may cause pain and the occasional head tilt. Middle and inner ear infections are more serious and are often accompanied by a more persistent head tilt. Other causes of a dog tilting its head can include vertigo caused by a disorder of the vestibular system, ear injuries, brain disease, or toxic antibiotics in the ear.

If your dog constantly cocks his head when there is no auditory stimulation, it needs to see a veterinarian. If you think something’s not right, take your pet to the veterinarian, who can perform a complete physical exam and check your dog’s ear canal to give a diagnosis and treatment options for your pet.

Alica Brennan

Alica Brennan

Hi! I'm Alica 👋 I'm the primary writer and editor for LovingDogs.co. I currently have a German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, and Maltese Shih Tzu. I hope to bring entertainment to you dog lovers globally! ❤️

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