Why do dogs tilt their heads?

Every dog does it, and most owners think that it's nothing more than a little bit of confusion and a lot of love, but what's actually behind why dogs tilt their head? Is it something you should be worried about?

Do dogs tilt their heads for a treat, to express confusion, or for a darker reason?
Do dogs tilt their heads for a treat, to express confusion, or for a darker reason?  © 123RF/Diego_cervo

Dogs are wonderful and loving companions that enrich every moment of every day spent alongside them. They are wonderful creatures and often instill a deep feeling of attachment, affection, and a need to be protective. As such, it's always best to get on top of any issue that rears its ugly head. Or, in this case, tilts its head.

In this dog guide, TAG24 will take a look at why dogs tilt their heads. Do they tilt their heads to indicate a want for food, out of confusion, or for some other reason? Is dog head tilting neurological? Let's find out!

Why does my dog tilt his head?

There are three main reasons why dogs generally tilt their heads. It is, above anything else, usually a gesture of love and good will. Your beloved doggo wants to be loved and wants to be appreciated. A head tilt is often either an expression of that love and commitment, or something that is helping them better understand you or garner your attention. Let's take a look.

Here are the top three reasons why dogs tilt their heads

  • Dogs tilt their head to help them hear better: Dogs will often tilt their head when they are intently trying to listen to something. They will lift their ears into the air, spiked and firm, and will tilt their head to the side. Our perfect pooches have far better hearing than we do, so perhaps your dog has picked up on something you can't hear? Alternatively, your doggo could be trying to listen to you, trying to make sense of something you are saying or doing. It is showing you attention, so appreciate it!
  • Dogs tilt their head to express empathy: Dogs explore the world with their nose, ears, and eyes. As pack animals, much of that exploration is centered around the alpha animal - in other words, you. If you are hurt or seem uncomfortable or unhappy, if you are confused or not paying them enough attention, they will tilt their head to express empathy and affection towards you.
  • Dogs tilt their head to improve their vision: Another explanation is that your dog is simply trying to get a better look at something. It has been proven that some dogs have trouble seeing because their muzzle blocks their vision. As a result, these dogs will tilt their heads to compensate for any visual shortcomings they may have.
  • Dogs tilt their head out of love, affection, curiosity: Your dog loves you and you love it. You do strange things and your dog can get a little confused by your behavior. All-in-all, your dog's head-tilting behavior could simply be the result of a little confusion and a whole lot of love.

This is not a comprehensive or complete list, as there are many potential reasons why your dog keeps tilting its head. If you are ever concerned for your doggo's health then you must contact your vet immediately.

Why do dogs tilt their heads when you talk to them?

Dogs will tilt their heads when you talk to them because they are trying to listen and understand you. As we previously mentioned, it is not uncommon for a dog to prick up its ears intently and listen to you for a good long while. This is simply a deciphering technique, and nothing to be worried about.

Your dog loves you, after all, and it's probably very frustrating that you don't speak doggy language! They want to communicate, and one good way to show you attention is to tilt the head, stare at you, and listen intently. What more could you want? Your beautiful doggo is showing you all the attention you crave!

Why do dogs tilt their heads to certain sounds?

Curiosity killed the cat, but that doesn't make it always a bad thing. Many dogs will listen intently to strange noises that they have picked up with those awfully sensitive ears of theirs. If a certain sound intrigues them then you might notice your dog staring somewhere, its ears up and its head tilted. There's nothing to be worried about here, but certainly something to be investigated.

Follow your dog's gaze and go take a look. Perhaps your dog has picked up on a small mouse, or something else worth checking out. You might find nothing, but a wild goose hunt is better than no goose hunt at all. It's important to remember that dogs and cats both have very sensitive ears and will react differently to you if they hear something odd.

Important: Your beloved doggo will get rather distressed at certain sounds, even ones that you yourself might enjoy. If your pooch starts tilting its head and presenting signs of distress when a certain noise is sounding, try to stop the noise or remove your dog from the situation as soon as possible!

If your dog keeps tilting its head in an unusual way, see your vet as soon as possible.
If your dog keeps tilting its head in an unusual way, see your vet as soon as possible.  © Unsplash/Fredrik Öhlander

Is the dog head tilt neurological?

In some dogs, head tilting can indicate either distress or a neurological disorder. The distress explanation is rather simple, and we've already touched on it: Dogs have an intense sense of smell and hearing, and will often tilt their heads when in a moment of distress due to these factors (among others). This, however, is an issue outweighed by another.

As discussed in a 2021 research article on the topic, a number of veterinary scientists found that the tilting of a dog's head is a neurological sign that may indicate congenital cerebellar malformations. These are rare cognitive conditions that are often genetic and are associated with developmental disability.

In other words, your dog's constant head tilting could have something to do with a mental disability it has developed. As a result, if your doggo has been acting strangely, is increasingly tilting its head, or has been doing so since birth, it is important that you take it to the veterinarian to be checked out.

While rare, and not necessarily deadly or all-that dangerous, if your dog has any health problem then you'll want to know about it. Head tilting in dogs can indicate something neurological, so it's best to get it checked out.

Dogs tilt and turn their heads for a variety of reasons

There are many diverse reasons why your dog might be turning and tilting its head. Some of those reasons are more-or-less inconsequential or even positive, and others can be a sign of distress or discomfort. It's important to get to the bottom of your dog's behavior.

The first thing any dog owner should do is get used to its mannerisms and body language. With a deep understanding of these factors you will more easily be able to identify when something changes, if something is wrong, and whether it might be time for that dreaded vet visit.

Cover photo: 123RF/Diego_cervo

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