why do dogs tilt their heads

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Here’s a classic scenario; your dog hears something – a certain noise or the cell phone ringing – and suddenly tilts its head expectantly, as if it knew exactly that something was going to happen with that sound. When dogs tilt their heads to one side, no doubt, it is irresistibly cute. The tilt elicits a smile in us which is usually followed up with showers of praises, loads of treats, and pats on the back, including a head rub. Although cute, have you ever wondered why dogs tilt their heads? And exactly what is behind the dog head tilt?

Although tilting their heads to look at people is one of the cutest things that canines do, some studies point to the fact that more might be involved. According to experts, there are a plethora of reasons for dogs tilting their heads – several auditory and visual factors may be involved, but it is rather difficult to say which one occurs the most. Though the behavior has been observed to happen impulsively, it is possible to have the pose constantly repeated, when it is positively reinforced. Below are thoughts on the science behind the dog head tilt.

border collie tilting head

It’s Cute

Now, we are suggesting that your dog does it because of the knowledge that it cuts a cute figure while in a head tilting pose. The only certainty is that the dog does know when its action elicits a positive response from the adopters – this is the reason pups are generally trainable. Whenever any behavior from the dog is rewarded by pats, dog treats, or praises, it will surely want to repeat such action in anticipation of more rewards. Thus, when pet parents smile and speak “puppy talk” to their canine companion, the dog is well aware that it has done something quite good, and will waste no time in repeating it.

To Show Empathy

Among all animals, it is only canines that are endowed with the ability to read human emotions merely by looking at people’s faces. Intuitively, your furbaby will know when you are sad or happy, angry, or pleased. According to this line of thought, if it is possible for your dog can understand your emotional state, then it just might be possible that the head tilt signifies empathy with us. These adorable cuties appear to have a strange way of knowing when all is not well with us and are not averse to cheering us up with loads of kisses, snuggles, hugs, and that absolutely cute head tilt.

It May Mean Expectation

When a dog keeps tilting head back, it might mean that they want something from you. Some specific words like “walk” are capable of triggering the head tilt, though the statement might not be addressed to the dog. It will still look up to confirm whether it actually heard that familiar command, and if that is the case, the dog expects to have the word followed up with something like a treat. Even trigger words on television can set off a head tilt from your fur buddy!

It Aids The Dog In Hearing Better

This also happens among humans; we tend to cock our heads to hear better in crowded rooms and noisy environments. Some people even cup their ears in their hands just to hear better. Dogs are capable of triangulating sounds, thanks to the flexibility and shape of their ears – this aids them in determining the direction of the sound. Considering this, it might be that they are attempting to fine-tune the ability to hear through the head tilt.

It Improves Vision

This is probably the most feasible among all the reasons. Canines use the head tilt to see things in a better light. To demonstrate how this line of thought works, try to stimulate a muzzle by putting a fist up to your nose – you will observe that the muzzle will obscure the lower half (the position of the mouth). Since our fur buddies are capable of reading human emotion, they try to see us better by tilting their heads in a bid to move the muzzle out of their way. Expert observations point to the fact that pups sporting longer muzzles tend to frequently engage in head tilting than their short-muzzled cousins. Even at that head tilting will still benefit the short-faced canines. The general agreement is that head tilting in dogs is probably done in an attempt to improve vision.

Young Frenchie Tilting Head

They Are Reacting To Their Environment

Another possible reason dogs tend to tilt their heads is because they are reacting to things in their environment – anything that is meaningful to a dog is likely to elicit that head tilt, things like words, people, or anything familiar. It is possible that every dog parent must have witnessed their fur buddies react to their favorite things in this manner. What’s more, the head tilt might also be because they are puzzled – they may hear a word or command that has similarity to what is already familiar but are confused since they cannot decipher if it means the same with what they are familiar with.

It Might Indicate A Health Concern

It might be time to call on the vet if you observe your dog tilting its head and shaking it at the same time. That kind of confused dog head tilt might be an indication of vertigo or ear problem. Loss of balance and vomiting may ensue and frequently leads to falls. If the head tilt follows that fashion, consult the vet to rule out any possible health condition.

Nobody can pinpoint the exact reason why our adorable canine companions engage in head tilting. Whatever may be the case, we find the pose absolutely endearing, especially when it has nothing to do with a health issue. This is the reason many pet parents love to share lovely photos of their pups in head tilting poses with several dog lovers watching the upload on the internet.


  1. Laurie L. Dove, There Are Multiple Theories for Why Dogs Tilt Their Heads, HowStuffWorks
  2. Linda Fiorella, Why Does My Dog… Tilt Her Head?, VetStreet
  3. Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM, Why Dogs Tilt Their Heads, VCA Hospitals
  4. Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC, Why Dogs May Tilt Their Heads When You Talk to Them, PsychologyToday

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