4 Reasons Why Dogs Tilt Their Heads When They Listen

Dogs do a lot of things that amuse and delight us.

One of the more endearing things dogs do is to tilt their heads when they listen to you. Humans think it’s cute—but why do dogs do it?

As with many types of dog behavior, until your furry friend is able to talk to you, it’s hard to know for sure. But here are some reasons why dogs tilt their heads when they listen.

To Hear You Better

Although your dog understands some specific words, much of what you say is garbled to him. It’s similar to you hearing a foreign language, especially if you know just a few common words in that language. You strain to pick up the words you recognize from a torrent of undecipherable noise.

Your dog is the same way. He knows you’re talking to him, so he’s trying to pick up those words he understands so he can respond appropriately. By tilting his head, he is honing in on the best position to understand you as clearly as he can.

This is common in dogs with floppy ears that turn their whole heads to reposition their ears. Dogs with erect ears can turn their ears independently of each other—although they too may tilt their heads when listening.

To See You Better

Dogs rely heavily on body language. They also read human faces remarkably well. But their muzzle limits their field of vision. Make a fist and put your thumb against your nose and look out. This gives you some idea of what a dog sees. When he looks at you straight on, he can’t see your mouth. But if he tilts his head a little, he can get a better view of your whole face and use that input, along with your tone and your words, to better understand what you’re telling him.

dog tilt head

©istockphoto/David Baileys

It’s a Learned Behavior

Dog are incredibly cute when they tilt their heads that way. So how do their owners react? They coo at their dogs, tell them how adorable they are, smile, and give their dogs’ massive amounts of attention. Dogs are smart creatures. They understand cause and effect—after all, isn’t that how we train them in the first place? They soon realize that if they move their head in that way, their owners will be all over them with love, affection and maybe even a treat.

Humans Do the Same Thing

Although this doesn’t explain why dogs tilt their heads, it’s another reason humans appreciate it so much when they do. If you go to a friend, loved one or confidante with a sorrow, problem or worry, what does that person do? Their face softens, their mouth relaxes and they tilt their heads. Dogs are incredibly attuned to their human’s emotional state and moods. When you’re spilling your guts to your dog and he tilts his head in the same way your mom did, it just makes your dog that much more lovable.

One note of caution: if your dog tilts his head but doesn’t seem to be listening, then take him to the vet. This can be a sign of an ear infection or other condition that may require medical treatment.

Your dog may tilt his head for any of the above reasons, a combination of them, or perhaps different reasons on different occasions. But regardless of why, it’s one more thing that makes dogs so appealing to humans.

Meet the Author: Pam Hair

Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.

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