Why do dogs tilt their heads?

They tend to do it all the time in response to their owner’s voice, and it is super cute every time.  This is a phenomenon that has long been of great interest to dog owners.  The audio company RCA actually uses a picture of a dog looking at a phonograph, tilting its head.  This actually comes from a true story back in the late 1800’s!  Francois Barraud actually drew this painting in response to a dog he adopted listening to his phonograph, tilting his head to different sounds.  Many dogs will do this to music, some even looking like they are dancing to the beat.  So why do our dogs tilt their heads?

Dog Head TiltUsually, a dog will tilt their head if you ask them a question, if they hear a command they do not understand, or if they hear a strange sound.  They appear to be saying “I’m listening, what’s up?”  but what are they really saying?  Well, we actually really haven’t been able to understand the entire action.  One of the foremost and obvious reasons researchers have been able to observe is that dogs are simply trying to hear better when they tilt their heads.  Like us, a dog can have a better ear, and they also have sophisticated earflaps that can help them locate sounds by measuring the time it takes sound to reach each ear.  That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!  By tilting their ear towards you (up, which is where your mouth is), they can better locate and hear the words you are saying to them.

Dogs have also been shown to be able to discern and identify individual words and tones of your speech, to associate them with reward or not, things like “Want to go for a walk?”  or “Here’s a treat!”.  Dogs have also been shown to read our facial expressions, body language, and eye movements (which is why they will look into their owners face so much).  When a dog cocks their head to the side, they are actually probably trying to see our face better and also communicate that they are listening, and research suggest that helps them with training a whole lot!  Dogs have an undying desire to please us, and so they want to show us their love, and communicate it in every way they can.  Dogs actually have a hard time seeing our entire face because of their muzzles, especially dogs with larger ones.  Imagine holding a fist where your nose is, and see how hard it is to see a person’s entire face.  So a dog will actually turn their eye towards you, so they can see your entire face.  Along the wanting to please us as well, it is also suggested that dogs learn the behavior because most of us will respond positively to it; like saying “aweee” or even just the pleasant tone of your voice, dogs will see that you like it and want to repeat it!