There is something irresistible about a dog tilting their head when we talk to them or they hear a noise. For some reason, it makes them look cuter and smarter than normal and maybe a bit more human. But have you ever wondered why your dog does it? Are there other species that also tilt their heads? Corbin Maxey is a twenty-five-year-old nationally recognized wildlife expert, regularly appearing on “The TODAY Show.” He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and started a non-profit to help reptiles when he was just 12 years old. Maxey answered our questions regarding why dog tilt their heads.
Why do dogs tilt their heads?
Although the behavior is not fully understood, there are various explanations as to why:
To hear better: Dogs will tilt their heads to reposition their ears to better judge the sound’s location and distance. Physiologically, the turning of their head helps open up their ear canal. This also helps with trying to identify familiar sounds and audio cues.
To get a better view of our facial expressions: Some experts believe that tilting the head helps dogs get a better view of our facial expressions. Stanley Coren, author of the book “The Intelligence of Dogs”, suggests that dogs with longer muzzles have an obstruction of view comparable to holding a fist up to our nose. By tilting their heads, they get a better view of our facial expressions.
To help pinpoint what they are hearing: Dogs rely heavily on audio and visual cues. They can detect the slightest change in the tone of our voices and will try to decipher familiar sounds that might interest them. By cocking their head, they can concentrate on identifying important audio cues that lead to positive enrichment for the dog, like getting a treat or going on a walk. We’ve trained them: Because we are so fond of this behavior, we commonly use positive reinforcement like praise or treats that inadvertently train our dogs to exhibit head tilting for rewards.
Is this something wolves, coyotes, or even foxes do?
Head tilting has also been documented in various Canid species including wolves, coyotes, and more closely in foxes where they use their excellent hearing and head tilting to find rodents hidden deep within the snow.
Does any other species do it?
Head tilting has also been observed in various other mammal and bird species likely correlating for better hearing.
Written by Kristina Lotz
About the Author Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of, A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.