There’s a certain humanity in dogs. They always seem to have your best intentions in mind, they always look enthusiastic, and, even if you can’t necessarily prove it, you swear they can tell when you’re having a bad day. And you’re not totally wrong about that—there are some things your dog secretly knows about you.
One of the most “human” tics that dogs have is the head tilt. But why do dogs tilt their heads? Well, there are several possible explanations. There appear to be benefits to the move, part visual and part auditory.
It helps them hear better
The canine ear is incredibly sensitive, capable of picking up a far larger range of frequencies than humans. Their sharp sense of hearing can pick up the most minuscule undulations in frequency, and their head-positioning makes a world of difference. So one of the most likely explanations to answer the question “why do dogs tilt their heads” is that the head tilt allows them to position their pinnae, the outer part of the ear, so they can locate the source of the sound better.
“Some people speculate that dogs tilt their head to orient better to the sound,” explains Chewy veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung. “The dog may be trying to figure out what you are saying, meaning they may be trying to listen for words that they understand or are meaningful to them.” Dr. Sung says that they may also tilt their heads to assess “a noise that may be unusual or novel to them—they are being curious.” Find out the explanations behind more facial expressions your dog makes all the time.
It may help them see better
Stanley Coren, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today about a possible visual benefit as well. A dog’s snout is firmly in its field of vision. Although they adjust and eventually learn to not notice it, much like humans do with their noses, the head tilt allows for a different angle. Usually, a dog’s muzzle would block the lower part of the subject it’s staring at, but the head tilt allows for a full view. Coren also suggests that dogs can get a better look at the human mouth from the tilt position. Watch out for these signs that your dog is secretly mad at you.
They’re reacting to things around them
Another possible explanation that Dr. Sung suggests is that the head tilt can be an (adorable) natural response to things they hear. “They may tilt their head in response to certain words that may be meaningful to them, such as ‘treats’ or ‘walk,'” Sung explains. If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ve probably seen them respond to their favorite things this way! They also may tilt their heads because they’ve heard a word “that sounds similar to another word they know but it doesn’t sound exactly the same, and they may be a bit puzzled.”
So, the answer to “why do dogs tilt their heads” is twofold. While the head tilt does help heighten certain senses in dogs, it also helps them better understand the humans that care for them. Isn’t that sweet? Return the favor by learning these reasons behind your dog’s common behaviors.