Aw puppy head tilts are so cute, they look like they are trying so hard to understand. When you talk to your dog, do they tilt their head? There’s no doubt it’s adorable. Sometimes it can feel like they’re judging you or like they’re trying to figure out what it is you’re saying. It often appears to be a puzzled head tilt, and some dogs seem to look confused when they tilt their heads. But why do dogs tilt their head if it’s not just to look completely munchable. 

Head tilting in dogs can be a regular sign of communication and canine body language, but what exactly does it mean when your dog tilts their head? Read on and we’ll be filling you in on why do dogs tilt their head, how does head tilting help your dog to hear, and if you should be worried about your dog’s head tilting.
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brown puppy tilting it's head
Photo by Dex Ezekiel on Unsplash

Why do dogs tilt their heads?

Dogs tilt their heads to show that they’re paying attention or are interested in what you are saying. When they hear a strange noise or the sound of other animals, they also become alarmed. Certain breeds’ radar ears also go off! Here’s more on why dogs tilt their heads.

1. To show you engagement

When your dog tilts their head, they’re showing you that they’re listening and processing what you’re saying to them, or that they’re interested in what you’re doing – could well be the opening of a treat packet, dogs seem to tilt their head a lot when they hear that!

2. To hear you better

While dogs have good hearing, the nature of their ears allows them to process sounds more effectively when they tilt their heads. This is more common in dogs with floppy ears who must tilt their heads to hear what is going on. Pricked-eared dogs do tilt their heads but are more likely to spin their ears around like satellites.

3. To improve their view

It might seem strange, but dogs also head tilt so that they can see better. By tilting their head, they’re able to see past their snout and improve their range of vision.

4. To show how they’re feeling

Dogs show their emotions through their body language, so if your dog tilts their head they’re probably expressing themselves. Head tilting in canine body language usually signifies that they’re curious or unsure of something.

5. Because your dog is clever

Recent research showed that dogs who tilt their heads when asked to retrieve a particular toy by name, are classed as ‘gifted word learners’ and are smart dogs! 

Source: An exploratory analysis of head-tilting in dogs

6. They have a problem with their ears

Dogs with ear infections or other ear problems, such as mites or fleas, may tilt their heads. This is more common in certain breeds, such as those with pricked ears, like French Bulldogs, as they catch a lot of dirt in there, or in hairy dogs, such as Cockapoos, Labradoodles and other poodle-crosses, who have a lot of fur in their ears. These breeds may require their hair plucking or trimming to avoid ear problems. If water-loving dogs’ ears are not properly dried and cleaned after swimming, they may also develop ear infections.

7. Head tilting and vestibular problems

The vestibular system manages your dog’s balance, posture and head position. The vestibular organ comprises two parts, one in the brain and one in the middle and inner ear. Ear infections, hypothyroidism and brain injuries can all cause damage to the vestibular system and cause head tilting in dogs.

8. Head tilting because it’s cute

Does it look cute when your dog tilts their head? Well, dogs understand that we often give them positive feedback and praise when they tilt their heads, and dogs find this reinforcing, so yep they tilt their heads more because we show them that we like it.

9. Parasites can cause head tilting

Fleas and ticks can cause a dog to shake their heads, as well as scratch at themselves. Can’t blame them, get that thing out of my ears!

black lab tilting head
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

How does head-tilting help with hearing?

Head tilting improves a dog’s hearing by allowing them to hear more clearly. Dogs’ ears are extremely mobile, allowing them to move around and hear sounds from all directions rather than just directly in front of them.

When a dog hears an unusual sound, they’ll prick their ears or tilt their head in that direction to learn more about it.The sound might be rewarding – the treat packet, or something to worry about, like fireworks, so the more information they can get, the better.

Should I be worried that my dog is tilting their head?

If your dog tilts their head, it can be cause for concern, but it is usually not serious unless accompanied by other signs.

If you’re concerned about head tilting in dogs, here are some warning signs to look out for.

  1. The head tilting has come on suddenly – any sudden changes in your dog’s behaviour are worth paying attention to. 
  2. Your dog is scratching at their ears while also tilting their head
  3. Your dog seems restless or is panting a lot
  4. Your dog is losing their balance or falling over
  5. Your dog is whining or crying.
  6. Your dog is tilting their head when there are no unusual sounds you can hear, and you’re not interacting with them.
  7. Your dog is showing other signs of pain or illness.

If you see any of the above, do contact your vet, as they’ll be able to thoroughly examine your dog and see if there is any cause for concern.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned why dogs tilt their heads. They quite often tilt their heads for cute reasons but also to get a better look or a listen of something. Ear tilting can be concerning, so look for other signs that your dog has an ear infection, fleas and ticks, or something neurological that needs to be investigated.

Fancy learning some more about dog health? Check out our article on what to do if your dog is itching and scratching their ears.
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