The Canine Head Tilt Explained

November 19, 2019 at 10:15 AM by Nikki Wardle

Nikki Wardle

Dogs tilting their heads

Ears perked up with a slight head tilt back and forth is dang near the cutest thing dogs do.  But why?

That question is easier asked than answered.

Trying to see us better?

When a dog with a particularly large snout looks directly at their human, it’s thought that their nose blocks out the bottom half of their view. Tilting their head lets them get a better view of what has peaked their curiosity.

It’s estimated that 71% of dogs with larger snouts tilt their heads when interacting with their owner as opposed to 52% of flat-faced canines (Pugs, Pekingese, etc.) Of course, this only points out that larger noses only play a small role in head tilting and is not a primary cause.

Can you hear me now?

When humans hear a sound, we can generally tell where it is coming from. Surprisingly, even though dogs can hear a far more extensive range of frequencies than us homo sapiens, they have a harder time identifying the source of a sound. Some theorize that head tilting is done to help better identify the source.

Other Theories

Dr. Dodman, a veterinarian at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuft University, offers another insight to the head tilt. He suggests that dogs who tilt their heads back and forth are possibly more intelligent and have a closer bond with their human parent.

It’s well known that canines are keen on words that include a positive outcome. Words like food, walk, car ride, and treat are all words most dogs seem to know. A head tilt could be a dog trying to listen for those specific positive rewards words.

Head tilting is also a behavior that many pet parents unknowingly reinforce. With ears perked and head tilted to the side, it hard not to smile, give a rewarding scratch behind the ear, or even a treat. These rewards lead to a trained response for more rewards. 

The most popular theory, one Dr. Mary Burch of the American Kennel Club subscribes to, is that when a dog is tilting their head, they are simply curious and interested in what is going on in front of them and trying to figure out what it means.

When to be Concerned for your Canine

If you notice your dog is tilting their head with increased frequency or remains with one ear close to the ground most of the time, it could mean that he is feeling dizzy, experiencing vertigo, and is having an issue with balance. This is a rare occurrence and is associated mostly with older dogs or dogs who have vestibular system disorders. These could include ear injuries, brain disease, or a thiamine deficiency.

If you suspect your dog might be experiencing vestibular syndrome, please contact your veterinarian right away to set up an exam and discuss the symptoms.

Tilt Away

The head tilt is far from being understood since dogs can’t come right out and tell us what it means. But it is cute and adorable, and another way humans and canines can bond.  Let your pup continue to look at you with those curious tilted eyes, just remember to take lots of pictures! No one can resist a good head tilting post on your Facebook or Instagram.

Topics: Animal Hospital Near Me, Pet Facts

Nikki Wardle

Written by Nikki Wardle

Nikki is the marketing manager for IPH and has been writing for Intermountain Pet Hospital since 2014.