Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Head?
October 19, 2022 | 3 min read
Updated October 19, 2022
By Sarah Milton
Published: October 19, 2022
Updated: May 11, 2023
Dog Tilting Head To One Side
There are a few reasons why dogs tilt their head to one side.
When you spot your pup tilting their head to one side, this may be because they are optimizing their sound processing. Unlike humans, dogs have mobile ear flaps (or pinna) which serve to capture sound and funnel it into the ear canal. So, when a dog cocks their head, they are able to detect how far away a sound is and where it is. When they tilt their head they can determine how long it takes for sound to travel to one ear before it reaches the other, which lets them know the direction the sound is being transmitted from and how far away it is.
Dogs can typically hear higher frequencies and sounds that humans can’t, but a human of normal hearing ability can detect where sounds are coming without needing to tilt their heads, unlike dogs.
Different breeds of dogs face different hearing restrictions depending on their ear style. For example, a Cocker Spaniel and a Dachshund have drop ears, which cover the ear canals completely and have more of a barrier to sound, whereas a Boston Terrier’s ears stand upright.
Sometimes, dogs tilt their head when we’re talking to them because they’re attempting to understand what we’re saying to them, proving their attention and trying to process every word. Think of canine head tilting like a human head nod!
This behavior is more common in very social dogs, and when they’re looking directly at us while head tilting, they are also processing our tone, facial expressions and eye movements. You see, head tilting also benefits their visual processing as their snout can distort their view too! Dogs that are flat-faced (like Bulldogs and Shih-Tzus) may tilt their heads less in this case because their snout doesn’t get in their way.
Dogs may tilt their head because they’ve learned it’s a good thing to do too! Humans tend to find the behavior cute so respond in a positive way to it so the dog learns that head tilting pleases their owner. The more you praise a dog with attention for doing something; the more they want to do it! This is called positive reinforcement.
Dog Keeps Shaking Head And Tilting To One Side
If your dog is not being aurally stimulated but is shaking their head or constantly tilting their head, there may be a problem with their ears or in more serious cases, a neurological issue. They should see a vet as a matter of urgency if they’re adopting this behavior.
Author Buzhardt, Lynn DVM and Llera, Ryan DVM, BSc “Why Dogs Tilt Their Heads” VCA Hospitals https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/why-dogs-tilt-their-heads
Author Gibeault, Stephanie MSc, CPDT “Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?” American Kennel Club, Jun 29. 2019 https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/why-do-dogs-tilt-their-heads/
Comes from a family of animal lovers and got to grow up with a menagerie of pets! I believe owning a pet is a privilege and I love researching and creating informative, fun content for fellow pet owners to help their furry friends have the happiest and healthiest lives. When I’m not writing blogs, you can find me sharing a walk with my pet dachshund or at a yoga class!