What Does it Mean When a Dog Is Tilting His Head?

When your dog cocks his head from side to side, it’s not because he knows you think it’s cute — not always, anyway. He does it for a combination of reasons, but they aren’t all adorable. It could indicate an illness, so watch out for other signs of health trouble.

Poor Balance

A dog who tilts his head often could be suffering from poor balance and is trying to compensate. Your dog’s vestibular system, deep down in his inner ear, controls his balance and his ability to gauge his posture. Vestibular disease, which can be caused by conditions such as injury, nutritional deficiency, parasites or more, affects the vestibular system. Your dog’s balance suffers, and he tilts his head to try to stay level. Other symptoms include frequent falling down, nausea and poor coordination — if your dog appears to be struggling, contact your vet.

Better Hearing

Your dog may tilt his head when you speak to him as a way of trying to hear you more clearly — think of it like adjusting your earbuds when you listen to music. While dogs generally have excellent hearing, their outer ears don’t automatically adjust and hone in on sounds like yours do. He has to tilt and turn his head as a way of funneling sound into his ear. You may notice that he does the head tilt more often when you’re directly in front of him than when you’re to the side — that’s because when you’re face-to-face, the sound isn’t going straight into his ears, and he has to point them at you.

Communicating Back

Dogs don’t communicate by listening alone — they are visual communicators that rely on body language. In fact, they communicate with body language so much that the same part of the brain that controls listening to sound also controls movements of the head and face. This means that while your dog is listening to something, like you asking him for the hundredth time who a good boy is, he’s working his face and head muscles to “talk” back, and show you his reaction and/or comprehension.

Learned Behavior

Dogs learn from consistency. When it comes to getting positive attention from their people, they can learn quickly. When your dog does something cute like tilting his fuzzy little head, you can’t resist fawning a little bit — it’s OK to admit it. Once your dog gets that positive reaction from you a few times, though, he realizes that tilting his head is the key to making you gush — and he’ll milk it for all it’s worth. Dogs aren’t always too proud to perform a little, especially when affection and treats are at stake, so sometimes they just tilt their heads because they know how much you love it.

 

OTHER DOGS TILT THEIR HEADS FOR DIFFERENT REASONS

Many dogs have learned to cock their heads to the side simply because they get a reward. What is the reward? Well, remember at the beginning of this article how I mentioned that this gesture is just too cute?

Your immediate response is to say something like, “Awwwww, like at Buddy with his head turned to the side, how cute!” followed by lots of petting and soothing tones. This is a reward, and some dogs may have turned their heads to the side a few times in the beginning, but soon enough learned that this will give them lots of that lovable attention.

So if you have ever given a dog this kind of attention after it has tilted its head in a really cute way then you have just positively reinforced that behavior. And you know what? The dog will remember this and might do this more often – not to hear better, but to feel better.

HUMAN SPEECH & YOUR DOG

Dogs can understand part of our human language, but most of it is just a fuzzy blur to them. Almost like when a human hears a foreign language. Dogs cannot take in everything we say. But canines are very good at observing and becoming familiar with human tone of voice, body language as well as eye movement.

Trying To Absorb Every Sound He Can

It is when a dog notices something of interest that its ears perk up to catch all the sounds. If the sound comes from the front your dog might cock its head in the direction of the sound, but if the sound is coming from a direction to the side of him then there is not likely going to be any head tilting. Why? The ears are in the perfect spot all ready to pick up the minutest of sounds.

A dog’s ear shape and position will have something to do with how the dog perceives sound and how often a head tilt might be noticed. Even the age and experience of the dog play a role in this. A German shepherd with pricked up ears might hear better from the front than a cocker spaniel who would hear better from the side. Certainly, a long floppy eared dog would be seen tilting its head more often than a dog with open ears.

So, trying to understand why a dog tilts his head we learn it’s probably down to the dog trying to understand us or the strange noises of our world. It’s been said that a dog who tilts their head to the side is showing intelligence. A very subjective position to take. Canine intelligence is still a largely disputed area of scientific study. A clever dog is not always a dog who happens to be what we like to call ‘obedient’. However, head tilting by dogs does tend to suggest an advanced propensity to want to understand and identify an audible stimulus.