The Real Reason Your Dog Tilts His Head


Why do dogs really tilt their heads when we talk to them?

Is there really a reason why your dog looks at you and tilts his head, or is head tilting just a habit? This is a question that Psychology Today tackled in a splendid piece that allows insight into this beloved doggy behavior.

The site notes that many people notice head tilting when they’re talking to their dog, but also states that there has been very little research done on the topic.

While some people suggest this is a way for the animal to listen more intently to their owner, others state that it is a social signal; the animal is tilting their head because it provides them with attention and rewards.

The author of the publication, Stanley Cohen, worked in the field of sensory perception and states that both of the first arguments are wrong. Instead, he adds a new theory the reason an animal does this is for vision-related purposes.

There is even a test that is proposed that you can try with your own pet:

  • Hold your fist up to your nose.
  • Notice how the vision is skewed because of your hand.
  • Look at a person or yourself in the mirror paying attention to the mouth region.
  • Tilt your head with your fist still up near your nose.

Your fist acts as a dog’s muzzle, and tilting the head allows for a better view of a person’s mouth. This is why the author suggests dogs tilt their head. Dogs are known to scan a person’s face for expressions, and the author believes that it is a way to scan the mouth more easily rather than trying to look cute.

What's your theory This dog's head tile might be to see through all that fur!

This particular dog’s head tilt might be to shake the fur out of his eyes!


A survey was conducted to test the theory and included 582 participants. The goal was to see if dogs with smaller muzzles exhibited the same head tilting behavior. While the study shows that head shape and size did play a role in head tilting, the results were inconclusive. Approximately 52% of dogs with smaller muzzles and 71% of dogs with larger muzzles exhibited head tilting.

The article goes on to say,

This is a statistically significant difference that clearly suggests that head shape, and size of the muzzle does influence head tilting in dogs.

Now, of course, 52% of head tilting in the brachycephalic pets is still a large number of dogs, and it may be that even the flatter muzzles do obscure the dog’s vision to some degree. If so, these dogs can still benefit visually from tilting their heads. However it is more likely that the fact that a dog’s muzzle blocks their vision of the lower part of the human faces that they are trying to look at is just one of the factors that cause dogs to tilt their heads when we talk to them.

Perhaps something to do with hearing plays a role, or perhaps the dogs are really just trying to look cute. Nonetheless this study is a first step toward finding the answer, and at least we now have a bit of data to work with.

Why Does Your Dog Tilt Their Head?

So, what’s your theory? Is it just an adorable affectation, or is there a more practical explanation? Personally, I’d like to think my dog is listening intently to my every word.

Article source: Stanley Coren, PhD, Psychology Today