Can we all agree that our pups are irresistibly adorable when they tilt their heads at us? This adorable action endears dogs to their humans, and they are immediately rewarded with smiles and encouragement to do it again. But is that all there is to it? Studies have shown that there might be more involved than merely a learned response.
There are many reasons why dogs might tilt their heads, and the truth is probably ensconced in all of them. Here are six reasons.
1. It’s cute
Okay, so the dog doesn’t know that they look cute when they tilt their head. However, dogs know when their owner responds positively to something they do. That is also why dogs are generally easy to train. When a behavior is rewarded, whether by treats, physical affection, or praises, the dog is apt to repeat the behavior in hopes of more rewards. So when we smile and “puppy talk” to our furbuddy, they know that they’ve done something good and will likely do it again.
2. It shows empathy
Dogs are the only animals that can read emotion in human faces, according to Dr. Kun Guo at the University of Lincoln in the UK. The study showed that dogs can intuitively see whether people are happy, sad, pleased, or angry. If dogs can understand our emotional state, then perhaps the head tilt is a way of expressing empathy. Our furbabies do seem to have an uncanny way of telling when something isn’t right with our world, whether that is through kisses, snuggles, and that delightful head tilt.
Read more: The New Science of Dog Psychology
3. It exhibits expectation
Dogs also tilt their heads to show that they’re expecting something. Certain keywords, such as “walk”, can trigger your dog. When dogs tilt their head, they might be looking to see if they did, indeed, hear that special word. If so, your pup is most likely expecting to have the word followed by something or an action. Occasionally, dogs will even tilt their heads when they hear trigger words on TV!
4. It helps them hear better
Have you ever cocked your head, turning one ear toward someone trying to talk to you in a noisy room? Perhaps you’ve even cupped your hand around your ear in an attempt to hear better. Dogs can triangulate sounds due to the shape and flexibility of their ears. This helps them determine where sounds are coming from. The action of head tilt may be an attempt to fine-tune their hearing.
5. It improves their vision
Probably the most reliable reason why dogs tilt their head is that it helps them see better. A study conducted by Stanley Coren Ph.D., F.R.S.C., discovered that dogs see better when they tilt their heads. To demonstrate how that works, simply put your fist up to your nose to simulate a muzzle. If you look at a friend’s face, you’ll notice that the lower half (where the mouth is) is obscured by the “muzzle.” Since dogs can read our expressions, they might tilt their heads to move their muzzle out of the way to see better. Dr. Coren found that dogs with longer muzzles tilted their heads more frequently than short-faced dogs. The consensus is that head tilting is most likely the result of attempting to improve vision.
Read more: The World Through The Eyes of a Dog
6. It might indicate a health concern
If your dog is holding their head at a tilt, or constantly shaking their head, it may be time to visit the vet. Ear problems or vertigo can cause head tilting behavior, which may be accompanied by vomiting, loss of balance, and sometimes even falls. If you’re seeing this kind of odd head tilting, take your pup to see the doctors and clear up the problem.
Read more: Top 4 Golden Retriever Health Problems
Whatever the reason that your favorite pupper is tilting their head, chances are that you find it endearing and entertaining(unless they’re sick, of course). That’s why so many people post captivating videos of puppies with that lovable tilt and so many of us dog lovers enjoy watching them.