Large dog tilting its head

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Has your dog ever cocked its head to the side and given you a strange look? While this behavior is certainly adorable, many people don’t know why dogs tilt their heads to the side. 

The truth is, dogs tilt their heads for a variety of reasons. Read this guide to learn why dogs tilt their heads. 

Related: Why Does My Dog Snort Like a Pig? 

Dog Hearing vs. Human Hearing 

The main reason dogs tilt their heads has to do with hearing. To understand why this is, you first need to understand the difference between dog hearing and human hearing. Dogs have a keen sense of hearing, and they can even hear sounds that people don’t. 

The average human can’t hear sounds that are above 20,000 Hertz. Dogs, on the other hand, can hear sounds that are as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hertz

However, humans do have one advantage over dogs when it comes t hearing. While humans can detect sounds regardless of the directions they come from, a dog’s directional hearing is more limited

Human ears can pick up a sound so efficiently that one doesn’t need to turn their head to hear a sound. Additionally, a human’s ability to discern sound isn’t affected by where the sound comes from. When someone calls your name, whether it’s from the back, front, or side, you don’t need to turn your head to hear the sound. 

This is not the case with dogs. Dogs have ear flaps that partially or completely cover their ear canals. The flaps block out sound transmission, so dogs need to change their position to optimize the detection of sound. Luckily, ear flaps are movable, so dogs can easily make adjustments to focus on the location of the sound. 

However, different dog breeds face different challenges when it comes to ear flaps and sound detection. For example, a Cocker Spaniel has heavy ear flaps that cover its ear canals entirely, so they experience more sound interference from all directions, and therefore, need to make larger adjustments to hear certain sounds. 

How Does Head Tilting Help With Hearing? 

Bulldog lying on pillow

So, how does a head tilt help a dog to hear a sound better? To compensate for the interference dogs experience with their ear flaps, dogs will perk up their ear flaps and tilt their heads for maximum sound detection. 

If a sound comes from the front of the dog, a dog may cock its head in the direction of the sound. The ear flaps also help a dog judge a sound’s distance. It does this by determining the time difference between when the sound reaches the right ear versus the left ear. 

Essentially, when a dog cocks its head and adjusts its ear flaps, it helps it determine the location and distance of the sound

Related: What Causes a Dog to Foam at the Mouth 

Why Does Your Dog Tilt Its Head When You’re Standing in Front of It? 

Regardless of breed, almost all owners have experienced their dogs tilting their heads while they’re standing in front of them. 

While this is definitely adorable behavior, we’re sorry to say that dogs aren’t doing it to look cute for their owners. When a dog cocks its head to the side, it’s because it’s trying to hear your words and understand what you’re saying

Dogs capture sound with their external ear canal. The sound is then funneled to the middle and inner ear before being collected by the brain. A dog’s middle ear muscles are controlled by the same part of the brain that controls its facial expressions and head movements, which is why we see the head tilting motion. 

Head Tilting Helps Dogs Assess Communication

Just like humans, dogs rely on a series of cues to figure out what others are trying to communicate. A dog will assess your facial movements, tone of voice, eye movements, body language, and inflection to translate what you’re trying to communicate. 

To understand us as best as they can, dogs will need to clearly see our faces. In some cases, tilting the head may help in this process. This is because a dog’s snout may interfere with them being able to see your face. 

Some dogs will tilt their heads to work around their interfering snouts and improve their visual perspective. 

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Head Tilting and Positive Reinforcement

Puppy tilting its head

It’s human nature to react to the cuteness factor of the head tilt with praise and adoration. Often, when a dog tilts its head, we’ll give it a pat on the back or a smile, or we’ll speak to the dog in a warm tone. 

Therefore, it stands to reason that a dog may cock its head to receive positive reinforcement from its owner. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this positive reinforcement, and if the head tilt helps your dog hear, then it’s all for the better! 

Does Head Tilting Indicate a Medical Problem? 

Many dog owners are worried that head tilting may indicate a medical problem with their dog. If your dog seems to be tilting its head excessively, then it may be a sign that they’re suffering from an infection in the external ear canal. 

Ear canal infections can cause pain and itching, and your dog may tilt its head in an attempt to ease the discomfort. A dog that holds its head to the side may also be a sign that it’s suffering from a neurological problem. If you find that your dog is tilting its head when there isn’t any auditory stimulation, it’s time to take it to the vet. 

Related: Why Does My Dog Lick My Wounds? 


Now that you understand the mystery behind the tilting dog head, you’ll probably be more attuned to your dog tilting its head when there’s a sound. 

Of course, head tilting isn’t the only strange behavior dogs display. 

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