The Top 5 Reasons Dogs Tilt Their Heads

dog tilting its head to the side

If you’ve ever seen your dog cock his head to one side, you know how completely adorable it is. Though this is definitely one canine trait owners find quite cute, it’s not uncommon to wonder if there is a specific reason why your dog engages in this behavior. Is it to help him hear a little better or a response to your emotions that shows your dog cares? Could it be a sign of vestibular disease in your dog? There are many different reasons why your dog might be tilting his head, and without the ability to ask him yourself, it might be one of those things where you’ll just never know with 100% certainty.

In this article, we’ll focus on the top 5 reasons behind why dogs choose to tilt their heads.

  1. A display of emotion

If your dog seems to be paying extra attention to you or is clingy when you are feeling blue, this is not an uncommon phenomenon. Our dogs are quite in tune with our emotions, intuitively sensing when we are feeling low.

If you happen to notice your dog is tilting his head from side to side when you are having an “off” day, this can be attributed to a couple of things. Your dog may be carefully examining your face for signs as to how you are doing emotionally. Or alternatively, your dog may be mimicking you. Head tilting done in this context is a dog’s way of communicating with you, a subtle body language that is unique to the dog, and hopefully, understood by you, his owner.

  1. An improvement in hearing

It is entirely possible that your dog’s head tilts are simply a way for him to pick up sounds better. When a dog cocks his head, his ears often become erect, a condition that helps conduct sound more efficiently. It could be your dog tilts his head to try to identify an unusual noise or to better hear the sounds found within his environment.

Because our dogs possess a very acute sense of hearing, they are able to detect frequencies that are both higher and lower than what we ourselves can identify. However, to narrow in on a specific sound, sometimes a dog will need to concentrate very carefully and position his ears in the direction of the sound to identify what it is. Because of this, it is quite plausible that your dog might be tilting his head to improve his hearing capabilities.

If you see your dog cocking his head from side to side more frequently, it may be that your dog is starting to lose his hearing. For best results, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a full examination. If required, your vet can refer you to a canine hearing specialist who can further assess the extent of the problem and provide a recommended mode of treatment.

  1. An improvement in vision

Just as some dogs cock their heads to more acutely determine the origin or identity of a sound, so too do some dogs do this to improve their vision. When this occurs, it is most often a result of the dog’s unique anatomical construction. Dogs that have long snouts may not have the same visual trajectory as shorter-nosed breeds, and thus, tipping their heads can allow them to see a wider field of vision.

  1. A sign of focused listening

A group known as Animal Condition recently conducted a study during which it was determined that some dogs comprehend certain words and will acknowledge recognized terms with a tilt of the head. The dogs in the control group were categorized into two different groups with dogs exhibiting the head tilt considered to be “Gifted.”

  1. A medical issue

In some cases, dogs can develop age-related issues that can impact your dog’s motor skills and sense of coordination. When a dog begins to exhibit difficulty maintaining balance, it is possible that the dog may be suffering from a condition known as vestibular disease. If your dog is cocking his head without any apparent cause, it is a good idea to contact your veterinarian for a full assessment to discuss what the cause of this behavior might be.

Vestibular disease is a medical condition affecting balance. The most commonly seen symptoms of this problem include falling, head tilting, vomiting, and repeated circling. When the vestibular system fails to make the appropriate connections with the brain, coordination and balance are impacted, leading to issues like involuntary cocking of the head.

Should I Be Concerned About My Dog’s Head Tilting?

Most often, head tilting in dogs is not a cause for concern. For many dogs, it is a learned behavior. If you express pleasure whenever your dog cocks his head, your dog may continue to exhibit it simply because it makes you smile. If you want to this behavior to continue, all you need to do is encourage it through praise. However, if head tilting is a habit you wish to discourage, it is best that you ignore it whenever your dog offers it to you.

If head cocking is a new activity for your dog, it’s important that you thoroughly investigate why your dog has begun doing this. Since a medical cause may be at play, it is always a good idea to schedule an appointment for a veterinary examination to rule out any health conditions that may require treatment.

Why do dogs tilt their heads? From trying to gain a better vantage point from which to see or hear things to medical problems like vestibular disease and even simply an acknowledgement of your emotions, there are lots of possible reasons why your dog may choose to engage in this behavior. But perhaps the simplest solution of all is this: your dog cocks his head to one side because it makes you happy when he does it!

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