Is there anything more awe-worthy than when dogs tilt their head to the side? My poodle does it all the time when I talk to her. I love it so much that I’m guilty of occasionally grabbing my camera and making really strange noises just so I can watch her do the tilt. While there’s no denying the cuteness, have you ever wondered why they do it? Read on for the top three theories!
1) To See Your Facial Expressions Better
Typically, when you talk to someone, you don’t just listen to the words they’re saying and the tone they’re expressing. You also look at their facial expression. Well, research shows dogs do the same—they frequently scan our face for information and to understand our emotional state. Or, at least they try to!
According to Dr. Stanley Coren—a professor, psychologist, and author who frequently writes about canines—dogs tilt their heads to the side in an attempt to see the lower portion of our face. You see, the mouth area is vital for human emotional expressions. In a blog post written for Psychology Today, Coren asks readers to make a fist with their hand and then hold it up to their nose.
“Now, in effect, you are viewing the world with a head shape that has a muzzle like that of a dog. If you now look at a person’s face you will find that the muzzle will block some of your vision, and reduce your ability to see the lower part of the face.”
With your pretend muzzle in place, you now have to tilt your head to see certain views better. Okay … so you may be thinking to yourself, “That’s not very scientific!” Well, that’s why he decided to put his theory to the test.
From an online survey of 582 dog parents, Coren broke participants into two groups—one with brachycephalic (AKA flatter faced) dogs and another with larger muzzle dogs. His findings? 71% of participants with larger muzzle dogs reported that their dogs often tilt their heads when spoken to. That’s compared to 52% of the participants with flatter faced dogs.
“This is a statistically significant difference that clearly suggests that head shape, and size of the muzzle does influence head tilting in dogs,” said Coren.
2) To Hear Better
If you read this article on my blog then you know dogs have an amazing sense of hearing. In fact, dogs can hear sounds about four times better than humans. But sometimes they need to reposition their ears for maximum benefit. Psychologist Alexandra Horowitz—author of Inside Of A Dog: What They See, Smell and Know—believes the head tilt allows dogs to adjust the floppy parts of their ears and open up their ear canal. This not only allows them to hear our words better, but it also helps them to better judge a sound’s location and distance.
When you speak, your dog listens for familiar words and tones. According to dog behaviorist Steven Lindsey, the head tilt is a sign that your dog is trying to understand what you’re saying and he’s listening.
Some dog experts also believe our fur babies do the head tilt because we encourage it! Just think about it—dogs react to positive reinforcement and rewarding the head tilt shows your dog that it’s a behavior he should keep up. Whatever the motivation, we love it!