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Why do dogs tilt their head when we speak to them?

Written by Adaptil, published on April 18, 2023

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Who's a good dog?! Does your furry friend tilt their head to one side when you call their name or ask them a question? Sometimes you'd swear they can understand every single word - and are going to reply with some doggy wisdom!

The question is - why do they do it? Is it your tone of your voice? Are they expecting a treat? Or are they keen to learn?

Although there's not much research into this cute doggy trait, there are lots of theories and reasons behind that questioning look!

Are they confused?

We know that our canine friends have excellent hearing! They can hear noises far more acutely than we can and are more likely to notice if there's an unusual noise outside, like firework celebrations or an unknown visitor approaching the house!

Some people think that doggy head tilting is a sign that they are listening - moving their head to the side to hear us better (and sometime to double check ..did you really say walkies?).

Often, you may see a doggy head tilt when you use a higher tone of voice. When you ask a question or say the magic word walkies the tone of the sentence tends to go up at the end - which can be a great trigger for you pooch to expect something!

However, some dogs will tilt their head if they hear another dog (which may be on the TV or radio) and because they can't see them they will tilt their head to work out where the sound is coming from - this can sometimes end up with your pooch showing signs of confusion and alarm such as barking.

Or are they very clever?

Your doggo is one smart pooch! Some behaviourists think that our pets tilt their heads on purpose because they know we find it pleasing, and will give them lots of fuss, attention and treats in return!

According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist and Professor Emeritus at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, head tilting is a sign of intelligence. Head-tilting dogs tend to be more sensitive as they are more attuned to sounds. He suggests also that dogs who tilt their heads have a close emotional bond with their owners - a good sign from all that training and time together!

We know that our furry friends can be very smart. And although they cannot talk, they will recognise words or phrases that will have a desirable outcome for them - like walkies, dinner time, or fetch your ball! Dr John Ciribassi, a veterinary behaviorist with Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants, suggests that a doggy head tilt may be a sign that they are concentrating on what's being said, and hoping to recognise more words that will mean something nice is going to happen!

Do some breeds tilt their heads more than others?

Another theory, by Dr Stanley Coren, has suggested that head tilting relates to the length of a dog's muzzle (the part of a dog's head from just below the eyes, down to the end of its nose and including the mouth and jaw). Some dogs have longer muzzles than others, so if they cannot see you clearly when you talk, they may tilt their head to get a better view of your mouth.

An online survey he conducted found that dogs with a shorter muzzle (such as a Pug, or French Bulldog) tilted their head less frequently when listening to a human speak. However, over 50% still did tilt their head, so a short muzzle may still block vision to a certain extent.

Of course, sometimes, the cause of head tilting can be as simple as a need to hear better - moving the head to one side can help your dog to open up their ear canal and listen. Don't forget that many dogs have big ear flaps that partially cover their ears, so they may just tilt their head to move them and focus on the sound!

Should I worry if my dog is always tilting its head?

If your dog seems to tilt their head frequently when there are no sounds, or is scratching or rubbing their ear more frequently - you should take them to your vet to check there are no other underlying health conditions.

And if your dog is tilting their head in training sessions - and just seems a little perplexed by the situation - using an ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser can help to support their learning, and help them stay calm, confident and reassured in the home!

Whatever the reason for your pooch tilting their head, as long as they are healthy, we can all agree that they look very cute doing it - and are guaranteed to get a very positive reaction! They are smarter than we think!

Following our expert tips will help to ensure your bond with your dog goes from strength to strength.

Make sure to join our community for weekly advice from our dog behaviour experts as well as product offers and competitions. 

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