Dog Articles: Training

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Adorable faces. Sweet dispositions. Unconditional love and loyalty. There are many reasons to love dogs, and one of their cutest and canine-defining behaviors, the head tilt, can certainly join the list.

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large dog sitting and tilting its head


Why do dogs cock their heads as if to say, “Huh”? It’s easy for us to humanize our furry companion’s characteristics but the jury is still out on exactly why dogs tilt their heads. Still, there are some theories.

The better to hear you

Dogs can’t detect where sounds come from as well as people can. Maybe when you talk to your dog, he's trying to identify the sound source, possibly wondering if it’s actually coming from you. 

Your furry family member may also be trying to hear you more clearly, in order to identify certain words or phrases he associates with rewards. If your best pal knows "sit" or "treat," he might tilt his head in order to reassure himself he heard the sound correctly, especially when it means a food reward.

The better to see you

Dr. Stanley Coren from Psychology Today has an interesting theory for canine head tilts. According to Dr. Coren, head tilts could be related to obstructed vision.

Dogs with larger muzzles might have some of their vision blocked, making it difficult for them to see your mouth. Tilting their heads would make it easier for them to watch your mouth, which might also help them gauge your emotional expressions. 

You can test this theory yourself by holding your fist up to your nose to mimic your dog’s muzzle. The “fist” muzzle will block some of your vision as you look directly at a person’s face, particularly their mouth. With your fist still in place, tilt your head to look at the person. You’ll notice you’re able to see the mouth region more clearly when you do this. 

To be praised, of course

Since humans seem so enamored with our companions’ head tilts, pooches may derive good vibes from our reactions. As we know, positive reinforcement goes a long way to encourage repeat behavior, which could be another reason dogs endear us with head tilts.

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