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Why do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads

“Here boy! Good boy! Come here!”

As your dog comes running towards you, he or she sits in front of you, wagging its tail and panting with happiness. But one thing about this picture never fails to appear: the famous head tilt. But why do dogs tilt their heads at you as you praise them or talk to them?

Why do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? The Cute Empathy Part

Part of the cute trick is that your dog is very empathetic. Dogs, contrary to popular belief, cannot understand everything that you say to them. However, they can pick up on body language and tone with crystal-clear accuracy. As your dog responds to your body language, they are also listening for particular things that you say to them.

There are a few specific things that dogs listen for more than anything else; cues for meal times and play times are two of the biggest things that your dog will listen for above all else. If your dog tilts its head often, that most likely means that it is a particularly empathetic dog.

Say What, Again?

Another more technical reason that dogs tilt their heads has to do with how their ear is constructed. Because dogs have a very sensitive ear, they are able to listen for sounds that people can’t hear. By tilting their heads, the dogs can optimize what they are able to hear by rotating their heads.

The Long-Nosed Issue

Some dogs with very long muzzles tilt their heads because they are simply trying to look at who is talking to them. Long-muzzled dogs have noses that get in their way when they look at something directly in front of them and tilting their head is simply a way to hear more clearly what their master is saying to them. Studies have shown that flatter-faced dogs such as pugs are less likely to tilt their heads. Additionally, some dogs with long muzzles are simply tilting their heads to be polite!

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The Crowd Pleaser

The last reason that dogs tilt their heads is because we like it. If you think back to the last 200 cute dog videos that clog up your YouTube history, many of those videos probably include dogs tilting their heads. When you think an activity is cute, your dog will continue to do that in an effort to endear itself to you even more so.

This is seen to be the case because some dogs will walk up to their owners and tilt their heads, even if there is no external sound to speak of and they have no muzzle in their way.

The cute head tilts, that you have probably fallen in love with, has both scientific reasons and reward reasons, but we can all agree that the adorable action of a sweet head-tilt from your dog will melt your heart every single time. Even if you dog is simply tilting its head because it thinks you like that, show him or her some love, because your dog is showing you love right back. Now you know the answer as to why do dogs tilt their heads.

Video: Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Our question for the day is “Why do dogs tilt their heads?”, and I’ve gotta warn you: This is one of those questions where the answer is “No one knows for sure.” But we do have some educated guesses. They tend to fall into three categories: Sight, Sound, and Psychology. Sight is the easy one. Imagine that you have a snout. At certain angles, it would block certain parts of your vision.

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We know that pooches can watch human faces and respond appropriately to expressions of emotion, like happiness or anger. Research published over the past couple years has found that dogs systematically look at our entire faces, especially our eyes, to get a handle on our emotions.

So it makes sense that a dog would tilt its head to better see your face, and therefore determine whether treats are on the way. But not all dogs have long muzzles. If sight were the only factor in head tilting, brachycephalic babies like pugs would never tilt. Let’s look at Sound. Dogs’ hearing tends to be at least twice as sensitive as humans’ – we hear sound waves that occur in the range of about 20 to 20,000 vibrations per second (or Hertz). Dogs, depending on their breed and age, can hear sounds of about 40 to 65,000 Hertz. Meaning they can detect sounds of much higher pitches from much further away.

Dogs cope with all that audio information partially by moving around their pinna: their fuzzy, scritchable outer ears. So some canines – especially those with floppy pinna covering the front of their ear openings – may tilt their heads to move their pinna and hone in on the sounds you’re making. Furthermore, dogs have muscles that let them better process sounds in their middle ears.

Those muscles just happen to be governed by part of the brainstem called the nucleus ambiguus – yeah, it’s called the nucleus ambiguus – which just happens to also govern facial expressions, gaze, vocalizations, and head movements. This could mean that dogs reflexively tilt their heads, sort of as a byproduct of trying to concentrate on a sound. Or, as Stephen R. Lindsay says in his “Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training,” that brainstem connection could encourage head-tilting as a form of communication. Meaning that when Buddy tilts his head, he’s trying to say that he’s paying attention to me. He sees me!

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He really sees me! But, as with all studies into animal behavior, this Psychology factor is the most difficult to figure out. Some researchers suggest that dogs tilt their heads so often because they know we find it stinkin’ adorable. Specifically, because we respond with praise or other positive feedback when they tilt. Studies have shown that dogs use social cues with humans that they don’t use with each other, like direct eye contact, to elicit positive responses. Maybe all that head tilting is just the very cutest form of emotional manipulation.

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