Ask A Vet: Why Does My Dog Tilt His Head When He Hears Something?

You have the squeaky toy behind your back and you are squeezing it and trying to appear bewildered. Each time it squeaks, your dog responds by tilting his head and you melt. We take pictures of dogs doing this and it never fails to make us say, “Awwwwww.” Let’s face it: we are one endearing head tilt away from being wrapped around that little paw!

It is super cute when you say something to your dog and he adorably tilts his head. It always makes me smile when my patients do it and it makes me wonder why.

Image Source: Ashley Coombs via Flickr

Maybe they are “all ears”

The external ears are cupped to direct sounds into the ear canal where they are translated into signals that the brain can interpret as sound. It is easy to observe animals rotating and turning their ear pinnae (outer ears) in response to sound. We have bred dogs to have all shapes of ears, but the original “wild” form is the ear that stands up to funnel sound waves to the ear drum, like a wolf. Perhaps when your dog tilts his head, it is because he cannot tell exactly where the sound originates and he is attempting to locate the sound, almost like bats do when they echolocate.

Or is it all in their head?

Studies have indicated that dogs’ brains are somewhat one-sided in the way they interpret certain things. For example, dogs use the left nostril to perceive odors associated with fear or stress, suggesting that these signals are processed by the left side of the brain. See if your dog consistently tilts his head in the same direction when he reacts to your sounds. It could be because you (or whatever sound you are making) trigger only one side of his brain.1

Putty in their paws

One thing is for sure: humans always find the behavior endearing and will at least smile or otherwise reward the behavior whenever it occurs. Dogs are much smarter than we sometimes realize and they seem to be very driven to please us. Your dog has probably learned that tilting his head will make you happy and he instinctively revels in your joy.

I can tell you that I think it is adorable every time I see my dog do the cute little head tilt. It is almost quizzical, like she is enraptured by me. Maybe it makes me feel charming or interesting.

Perhaps the more intriguing question is: Ask A Social Psychologist: Why Do People Find It Adorable When Dogs Tilt Their Heads? What do you think? I think the answer might say more about us than it does our dogs!

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