Why do dogs tilt their heads?

One of the most common behaviors in a dog is its habit of leaning and tilting its head to one side. What's behind this strange phenomenon, and is there anything to be worried about?

When a dog tilts its head, what's going on behind those eyes?
When a dog tilts its head, what's going on behind those eyes?  © Unsplash/Matt Walsh

If you have ever owned a dog, you will have witnessed it – your perfect pooch, standing in the hallway looking at you and holding its head quizzically to the side.

It's a strange sight, and one that certain builds up curiosity, but is there really anything to it?

Why do dogs tilt their heads to the side? What about when you talk to your dog, why does it always seem to tilt its head?

Why do dogs tilt their heads?

While people may expect there to be a number of more surface level and guessable reasons why a dog might tilt its head, ultimately it comes down almost entirely to the fluffy fellow's physical characteristics. Your dog's face might be cute, but there are certain parts of it that can be pretty problematic.

When your dog tilts its head, it is not doing so simply to look photogenic and cute. Instead, it is doing so for a purpose – usually, to either improve its hearing or its sight.

You see, while dogs have mostly keener senses than we humans do, they do have trouble with the long length and shape of their head. A dog's directional hearing, for example, is significantly limited due to the design of its ear and in many cases heavy ear flaps that can cover the ear canal.

It goes without saying that in such situations, the blockage of your dog's ear will mean that, whether it has high-quality hearing or not, the sound simply won't reach the ear drum.

As a result of all this, your dog is likely leaning its head simply to hear better. The move can help to reduce the blockage of the ear canal and get more direct sound into it.

Dogs are curious critters, and often show that curiosity through body language.
Dogs are curious critters, and often show that curiosity through body language.  © Unsplash/Michael G

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

This simply comes down to hearing problems – when you talk to your dog, if it has issues hearing due to the shape of its head, it will likely tilt its head so that its ears can better hear you. You will notice that your dog often positions itself so that its ears are facing towards something that it wants to hear (or away from something troubling). You need not worry too much about this behavior.

What are other potential reasons for your dog's ear tilting?

There are a number of other reasons that could explain why your dog has tilted its head towards something, or just generally. Dogs are curious creatures who are always eager to please, so it's worth noting that the vast majority of possible explanations are not only completely fine, but actively good.

Here are some other reasons why your dog might be tilting its head:

  • Curiosity: Your dog's ears are positioned so that it can best hear things when directly facing the sound. If your dog hears something that interests it, it will turn towards that sound and tilt its head for better audio quality.
  • Body language: We are not the only animals to read body language – dogs do, too! Your dog might be looking at you intently and trying to discern how you are feeling and what you are thinking via your body language.
  • Sight: Your dog's head and snout interferes with its vision. Dogs often tilt their heads simply so that they can see better, somewhat reducing the blockage of their nose.
  • Health and physical issues: There are a few rare circumstances where a dog's head tilt could be a bad sign. It could be caused by an illness, some kind of broken or damaged bone, or muscular issues. Look out for the signs of pain or discomfort and react appropriately.

Important: While almost all of these reasons are innocuous and nothing to worry about, it is always worth investigating things when they get unusual or extreme. If you are concerned about your dog's health, it is best to go and get it checked out by a medical professional.

Should I be worried when my dog tilts its head to the side?

For the most part, a dog's head tilt is completely innocuous and not something to worry about.
For the most part, a dog's head tilt is completely innocuous and not something to worry about.  © Unsplash/Curology

No, there's no need to be worried if your dog often tilts its head to the side. This is a completely normal behavior and something that all dogs do to be able to hear, see, or smell better. They are biologically flawed, just as are all products of evolution and breeding. As a result, dogs have had to adapt and develop new and beneficial behaviors as a species.

If you have noticed that your dog always needs to tilt its head when you talk to it, maybe you should speak a little louder. In reverse, if you have noticed your dog deliberately obscuring its ears when you complete certain activities or listen to certain music, maybe find away to reduce the amount of noise you are making.

There are few creatures in the world more curious and interested in their human companions than the darling doggos that inhabit our homes. Don't worry about their head tilts – it's a sign of love.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Matt Walsh

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