Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? The Answer is Twofold

What does it mean when a dog tilts their head? They're not just trying to look cute! That head tilt is useful for a few reasons.

Dogs are have been our best friends for thousands of years, but we don’t always understand dog behavior. They’re such good companions—always up for an adventure, or there for a cuddle when you’re having a bad day—that they seem almost human at times. If you live with a dog, after a while you be convinced that you know exactly what your dog’s facial expressions really mean, including the answer to “why does my dog stare at me?”

Even if you’ve figured out why your dog is following you around, there are some moves that dogs pull that seem really human, especially that adorable head tilt. But why do dogs tilt their heads? Although it’s unbearably cute, it’s also kind of a mystery why your dog is looking to the side. Turns out, there’s a few reasons why your dog might tilt their head when you speak to them, including that they’re trying to understand you.

Reasons why your dog is tilting its head

1. The head tilt may help them hear better

Simply put, a pup’s head tilt might help them to hear better. “Some people speculate that dogs tilt their head to orient better to the sound,” explains veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung. You probably already know that your dog’s hearing is much better than yours—that’s because the canine ear is capable of picking up a far larger range of frequencies than the human ear. You might tilt your head toward a sound you want to hear better, and dogs do the same.

Dr. Sung adds that they may also tilt their heads to assess “a noise that may be unusual or novel to them—they are being curious.” This could be one of the reasons why puppies tilt their head! After all, curiosity is definitely on the list of dog superpowers.

2. The head tilt may help them to see better

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today about a possible visual benefit to the canine head tilt as well. Unless you’ve got an adorable pug, or another flat-faced pooch, the shape of most dogs’ heads means that their snout is firmly in their field of vision. Although their eyes adjust for it (like ours do with our noses), tilting their head allows for a different, snout-free angle from which to view the world. Usually, a dog’s muzzle would block the lower part of the subject they’re staring at, but the head tilt allows for a clear view—most likely one of you cruelly not sharing your snacks.

3. They tilt their heads for certain words

Why do dogs tilt their heads when you speak to them? Your dog definitely understands certain things that you say regularly (like “dinner”) so they might tilt their heads to hear better, trying extra-hard to pick up one of their favorite words. “Dogs may tilt their head in response to certain words that may be meaningful to them, such as ‘treats’ or ‘walk,'” Dr. Sung explains.

Your dog might also tilt their head because they’ve heard a word “that sounds similar to another word they know but it doesn’t sound exactly the same, and they may be a bit puzzled,” Dr. Sung adds. Did you say “leash” or “quiche?” Your pup would like to know.

So, the answer to why dogs tilt their heads is twofold: they tilt their heads to see better around their muzzles, and because they’re making sure they understand what you’re saying as best they can. Are dogs that tilt their heads smarter? Well, all that listening is probably how they learned all the things your dog knows about you.

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