Why does my dog tilt its head and is it something I should be worried about?

We may think it’s cute when our pet dog tilts its head quizzically, but what’s the reason behind it?

We all love our dogs – so much so that the number of people welcoming new puppies to their homes soared by eight per cent according to the Kennel Club.

But have you ever wondered what is going on in your four-legged friend’s head?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

One thing that often puzzles new dog owners is when their beloved pet, for no apparent reason, tilts their head.

It’s incredibly cute of course, but what is the science behind it?

There are actually several theories – here’s what the experts think.

All the better to hear you?

If your dog tilts its head when you are speaking to it, then the gesture may be so that your pup can hear you better.

It may look adorable, but why do dogs sometimes tilt their heads?

Scientists think that by altering the position of the ears it’s possible that dogs can better determine where a sound it coming from.

According to the American Kennel Club: “Despite being able to hear an incredible range of frequencies, dogs can’t locate the source of a sound as well as humans can. However, like us, when a dog hears something, his brain can tell the difference between how long it took the sound to reach the ear farthest from the sound compared to the ear that’s closest. That difference can help localize the sound.”

But if your dog is directly in front of you when you are speaking to it, then it seems unlikely that it would require more information about the location of your voice.

In this case it’s possible that your dog is trying to judge the tone of your voice – whether you are being affectionate for example, or angry that the sausages have been stolen from the kitchen table again.

All the better to see you?

Some experts in animal behaviour believe that the canine head tilt is more about what they can see than what they can hear.

Animal psychologist Stanley Coren thinks that the dog’s muzzle could partially block the view of its beloved owners face, with a head tilt meaning it is able to see you better.

His reasoning for this is that breeds will larger muzzles – such as Greyhounds – tend to tilt their heads more often than flatter-faced dogs like Pugs.

There is also evidence that certain primates tilt their heads in order to get a slightly different view of a situation, in order to get as much visual information as possible.

So your caring and considerate pet could just be wanting to get multiple views of you to make sure you are happy (and have yet to notice the missing sausages).

More treats please?

There may be a slightly more mercenary reason for your dog beginning to indulge in head tilts more regularly – positive reinforcement.

Dogs love to please their human owners, and also love the treats and pats they get when they’ve done something good.

So if they do something cute like tilting their head, and then receive a sausage as a reward, they are more likely to do it again.

Ignore your dog’s head tilts and it might simply stop doing it.

When should I be worried?

An occasional head tilt is no reason for concern, but a persistent tilt can be a symptom of a balance centre problem – similar to vertigo in humans.

This will usually be accompanied by your dog being unable to walk in a straight line, along with sudden eye movement.

If your dog has a couple of these symptoms then a trip to the vet is required before the condition worstens.

Read more:

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.