Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

One of the cutest things dogs do is tilt their head when you talk to them. It seems like they are listening with interest and can understand every word. But why do dogs tilt their heads when listening?

There are several reasons why dogs tilt their kof when listening. Usually, it is simply because they hear an interesting sound and show their curiosity. However, tilting their head also positively affects their hearing and seeing ability. Also, dogs are intelligent and learn that humans find it cute and reward them. In some cases, there may also be medical reasons for the behavior.

So, the reasons for head tilting in dogs are many and varied. Most of them are positive, but if your dog suddenly starts doing it, there could be a medical reason behind it.

In this article, we discuss the most common reasons for this behavior. We also explain in which cases there might be reason for concern.

In addition, we reveal whether all dogs tilt their heads when listening and whether you can teach a dog this cute behavior.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

There are several reasons why your dog may exhibit this behavior. They range from curiosity to a strange noise to the fact that dogs can understand precisely how their humans feel.

So, let’s look at the possible reasons your dog tilts its head.

The Dog Hears an Interesting Sound

The most common reason your dog tilts his head is because he hears an interesting noise.

This could be some high-pitched sound, another dog barking, or something unusual.

This is normal behavior in dogs when an exciting sound is heard, so it is no cause for alarm.
The dog is curious

Tilting his head maybe your dog’s way of showing his curiosity about what you are trying to tell him.

Dogs don’t understand humans when speaking, so everyday human conversation can perplex them.

When a dog tilts his head, it may be a reaction to hearing an unfamiliar statement and simply figuring out what you are trying to tell him.

Just as you and I may shrug our shoulders when we don’t quite understand something, this may be your dog’s way of asking you to explain it to him in more detail.

The Dog is Empathetic

Recent studies have shown that dogs can read emotions in human faces.

As a dog owner, you’ve probably experienced your dog curled up next to you on a particularly rough day. That’s because dogs get to know us over time and can sense when something isn’t right.

In researching dogs’ ability to read facial emotions, some studies have found that dogs use subtle cues to show empathy for our current feelings.

For this reason, some experts believe that head tilt is a behavioral way dogs show their humans that they care.

Much like patting the back of a friend having a bad day, tilting the head can offer support.

A dog can let their humans know they are empathetic in several ways, and tilting their head is one of them.

The Dog Knows It’s Cute

Probably, everyone will agree that tilting the head is a cute habit of dogs.

Every time a dog shows this behavior, you give it a smile and a sign of approval. Dogs are intelligent and learn quickly, which earns them special attention.

Their preference for positive reinforcement leads them to continue any behavior that earns them a smile or other positive feedback and to repeat the behavior in the future.

So the dog knows from your response that their head tilt is cute, so they continue with it.

The Dog Strengthens His Hearing

Many dog experts believe that dogs tilt their heads to hear sounds better.

It is well known that dogs have impeccable hearing. But tilting the head can, in some cases, improve sound pickup.

In most cases, tilting the head is followed by intense concentration on the person or object from which the sound is coming. This supports the theory that they are trying to pick up all sounds.

This is especially true for dogs with large ears or floppy ears, as their auricles can block certain sounds coming at them.

The Dog Improves Its Vision

Dog experts also believe tilting a dog’s head is due to its snout obstructing its vision.

Some dogs have long noses that prevent them from reading the emotions in our faces. This is especially true for breeds with long, pointed muzzles.

Recent studies show that dogs with long snouts have difficulty seeing the lower part of the human face.

Since much of our emotion is determined by mouth position, it can be difficult for such dogs to decipher.

Dogs have a strong need to understand their humans. This means they will try anything to recognize the emotions on our faces.

This behavior quickly shifts the muzzle out of their field of vision so they can better see the lower part of the human face.

This theory is supported by a recent study in which breeds with long muzzles were compared with breeds with short muzzles, so-called brachycephalic breeds.

This study found that 71% of dogs with long muzzles tilt their heads. In contrast, only 50% of brachycephalic breeds do so.

The Dog Knows That There is a Reward

As mentioned above, dogs quickly notice which behaviors earn them a reward.

Whether the reward is your attention or a treat, they will soon learn to repeat the behavior to get the reward more often.

Since tilting their head is so cute, we often smile at this behavior or reward them with positive attention when they do it.

Since dogs are so intelligent, they quickly realize that this cute behavior gives them a reward they crave.

The Dog Recognizes a Word

Every dog has a list of words he understands or loves particularly well. The dog knows that certain words lead to a reward and quickly recognizes them every time they are said.

Whether they recognize the sounds or the actual word and its meaning, it usually triggers a wave of excitement each time it is spoken.

When a dog is happy, he may perk up his ears and wag his tail excitedly. This may even be accompanied by a brief head tilt to check that he has heard his favorite word.

If this behavior is followed by excitement, he may have just recognized a word he loves.

The Dog is Very Clever

While there are many possible reasons for the dog’s head tilting, many of them can be attributed to the fact that they are simply trying to understand their human better. Since this shows a general interest in what they see and hear around them, it may mean that some pups are more intelligent than others.

When a dog is curious about its surroundings and eager to learn, it is usually intelligent. While there is no solid evidence that these puppies are more intelligent than their other canine friends, it is a possibility that should be mentioned.

The Dog Has an Earache

If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you know how painful it can be.

Ear infections are pretty common in dogs. Unfortunately, they can cause several uncomfortable symptoms.

An overgrowth of yeast or bacteria can eventually become a painful infection. Such an infection can cause the dog to tilt his head toward the infected ear.

If your dog tilts his head, scratches his ears, shakes his head, has a foul odor coming from his ears, or changes the appearance of his ears, he may have a painful ear.

This is especially true for middle ear infections, which usually cause a chronic head tilt.

A veterinarian can quickly treat ear infections, so your dog should be examined at the first sign of symptoms.

Other Health-Related Issues

Head tilt can be a sign of several medical conditions in dogs. A dog’s ears are involved in many conditions that affect balance, so this behavior is often the result.

To help you better understand the possible reasons for your dog’s head tilt, see the following list for the most common medical causes of this behavior:

  • Ear infections
  • Ear injuries
  • Tumor in the ear
  • ear mites
  • Diseases of the organ of equilibrium
  • Blindness
  • Brain tumor
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Neurological problems

If you suspect that head tilting may have a medical cause, you should talk to your veterinarian about proper diagnosis and treatment.

Sudden head tilts might indicate a severe condition, so you should have your dog examined at the first sign of symptoms to be safe.

When is Head Tilting a Cause for Concern?

Head tilting is usually just a sign of a curious dog. However, there are a few cases that are a bit more complicated.

To identify when head tilting is a cause for concern, there are a few signs you should look for.

Cause for concern is in the following cases:

  • The dog tilts its head without making a sound.
  • The dog seems dizzy or disoriented.
  • The dog is unsteady on its feet.
  • The dog has black dirt or debris in its ear.
  • The dog scratches its ears aggressively.
  • The dog shakes its head violently for no apparent reason.
  • The ears appear red or inflamed.
  • The dog has nystagmus, showing repeated involuntary and rapid eye movements.
  • The dog has neurological symptoms such as seizures, confusion, etc.
  • The dog’s vision appears to have deteriorated.
  • The dog is exhibiting unusual behavioral changes.

If your dog shows one or more of these signs, it is best to have him examined by a veterinarian.

Do All Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

While tilting the head is normal in dogs, this does not mean all dogs do it. Some dogs tilt their heads at every sound they hear, while others never exhibit this behavior.

Tilting the head is unnecessary to perceive the world around you, so some dogs will never do it.

If your dog exhibits this behavior frequently, you may have a particularly empathic dog.

Some studies suggest that low social tolerance dogs tend to tilt their heads infrequently, while dogs with outgoing and curious personalities exhibit this behavior more often.

A dog that does this after every word you speak may be trying to understand you accurately and show his support in a familiar way.

If your dog hasn’t started tilting his head by 6-8 months of age, he will probably never exhibit this behavior.

If your adult dog suddenly tilts his head regularly without any apparent auditory trigger, check with your veterinarian to see if there is a medical problem.

Can a Dog Be Taught to Tilt Its Head?

Some dog owners find this behavior so cute that they have taught their dog to tilt his head on command. While every dog is different, there are practical tips for introducing it to dogs.

The most common way to teach a dog to tilt his head is to reward him after hearing a high-frequency sound. Most dogs tilt their head slightly when they hear a high-frequency sound.

So, if you produce a sharp whistle or other high-frequency sound, you can immediately reward your dog with a treat when he tilts his head.

Be sure to say your chosen command when giving the treat so that your dog soon associates the head tilt trick with the command.

This way, there will be no need to make the high-pitched sound, as your dog will soon tilt his head at the sound of the command to get his reward.

Summary: Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads When Listening?

There are a variety of possible reasons why dogs tilt their heads. In most cases, it is simply a cute and attentive behavior on the part of the dog.

However, it can also be a sign of a health problem in some cases, especially if the dog suddenly starts doing it. In such cases, a visit to the vet is advisable.

However, most of the time, it is just a very endearing behavior of dogs. And you may even be able to teach your dog to tilt his head on command.