Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

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The dog head tilt is as iconic as they come. The lean in as their ears and eyes perceive the sound that has caught their attention. This is a pose that is seen in almost every dog and as an owner of a dog you would have noticed especially when the source of the sound is sudden or distant. 

The tilting of your dog's head occurs as a response to various situations. These circumstances range from trying to hear you clearly, trying to look cute, trying to see your face without obstruction from their nose, to the presence of a ear disease. It can also be a sign of expectation or to show empathy when you are troubled.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads

Dogs tilt their heads in response to an unusual sound. They have a sharp hearing sense which is superior to man's hearing ability. However unlike man who can hear sound from various directions dogs are not so gifted. They have to lean towards the direction of the sound. There external ear flaps that covers the ear canal so impedes their ability to fully perceive directional sounds.


Personal Experience

The dog head tilt is a dog trait and both my dogs Smokey and Skido both do it. Both of them tilt their heads for different reasons, but don't they just look so cute while doing it!

  • Smokey

When it comes to Smokey, I see it exhibit this trait when I do the following. If I call it's name Smokey and I do not follow it with any other words or instructions, after staring at me for a minute, you see Smokey tilting it's head, as if to say; what? you just called my name! What is it?. Also if you talking to fast and Smokey can not decipher what you are saying it is very sure will tilt it's head and stare at you, with the expression of I can't understand the gibberish you are talking about. This occurs especially if you are scolding it about something it has no clue about.

  • Skido

Skido is our human like dog. By that i mean a dog that experiences life as it it where a human. You will find Skido after a day of leisuring around, doing it's full body stretches all together sequentially. Starting with the lower limb and back stretches, the the fore limbs and finally tilting it's head to stretch out the muscles. Also if it is enjoying an activity such as the direction of the wind blowing on one side of his face. it will tilt it's head towards the side to fully enjoy the experience.

The Dog Head Tilt

The Dog head tilt is as a result of them trying to fully pickup the sound being perceived while their sometimes large pinna is in the way. This differs between dogs for example cocker spaniels have large flaps that limit sound from all areas while other dogs have reduced sound from the back of their ears.

To overcome this hurdle they try to push their ears out of the way and tilt their heads to the direction of the noise. All this is to position themselves for optimal sound transmission. Dogs also have the ability to decipher the distance of the sound based on when it reaches the right ear to the left ear. This is all done by tilting the head and ears.

Dog Head Tilt In Front of You

You may have noticed that you canine tilts it's head right in front of you. This is to show they are paying rapt attention to your words and want to understand what you are saying. You will notice that the head tilt follows a stiffening of the body including the eyes and ears. This is to because they have to allow the words filter in through their external ear canal to their middle and then inner ear and finally to the brain. The same part of the brain that controls the middle ear as controls their face and head causing the resultant head tilt reaction to sound.

The head tilt and rapt attention is also a way for the dog to express their love and loyalty by giving you their full attention. They also do this to prolong the social interaction between themselves and their owners.

Dog Stare

Why Dogs Tilt Their Heads


Dogs listen to both verbal and non-verbal cues from us. They listen to our voice but also read our demeanor, body languages and facial expressions. When speaking to your dog, most times your dog will want to look at your face to also read it. In doing this they tilt their heads to get a better angle and look at your face. Their long noses also stand in the way of their proper vision to get a good look they tend to tilt their heads. This broadens their field of vision. 


When a dog reacts to sound by tilting it's head that is a normal reaction and there is no cause for concern. However if you notice your dog is tilting it's head without any reason for it, your dog may be suffering from a disease or infection. Common infections that cause head tilt are yeast and bacteria infections of the external ear canal as well as middle ear infections and neurological problems such as vestibular diseases. 


Dogs tilt their heads because they know it makes them look cute. They know this because we reward their cute faces with showers of praise and patting. The dog sees this and repeats the action again because they want that positive human contact. In essence we train them to give us the cute head tilt look by rewarding them with affection. So they then to tilt their head expecting a pat on the head or some kind words.


They also tilt their heads to express their expectation for you to take a particular action. For instance if you call their name or say a word they are family with like food or walk. They look up and light up with expectation. If however you do not follow your words with action, the dog tends to tilt their heads and look at you expectantly. They are tilting their head to hear clearly as they wait to hear your response or further directions.


The tilting of the head of your dog can also be a way for them to show some empathy towards you. According to scientists, in the animal world, only dogs have the ability to read the faces of humans and decipher if we are happy, sad, angry or troubled. So you dog may move closer to you and tilt their head to the side to see if you are ok. They may also draw nearer to you do give you a snuggle or lick your face as they empathize with you.

Final Words

The dog head tilt is a communication tactic by dogs. We tend to reinforce this attitude by patting them on the head and talking nicely to them. Also dogs ae easily intrigued by us and your dog will try to know and understand you better. In doing this, they tend to tilt their heads to overcome their facial obstructions and get the best view they possibly can. When you dog tilts it head as a sign of empathy or to look cute, it is good to show them a positive sign that you appreciate their affection and care.

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