JAN 18, 2018 5:54 AM PST

Why does my dog tilt her head?


If you have a dog, you've almost certainly noticed some head-tilting behavior once in a while. If you've ever fallen prey to the cuteness of it and given into another treat, you're not alone. But surprise, surprise, dogs don't actually tilt their heads to appear cuter to us humans - they do it to hear and see better.

According to studies led by a psychologist named Stanley Coren, who studies dogs and their behaviors, dogs with bigger muzzles express the "puzzled tilt" in an attempt to align their faces with ours, in order to better see or hear us (or anything else). Coren tested this idea by asking over 500 dog owners how frequently their dogs tilted their heads and then separated the data into the breeds of dogs based on how long their muzzles are. Coren found that owners of brachycephalic dogs (those like pugs with short muzzles) reported their dogs tilting their heads only 52% of the time when spoken to. Meanwhile, owners of mesaticephalic and dolichocephalic breeds (those with longer muzzles) like beagles and greyhounds reported their dogs tilting their heads 71% of the time when spoken to. Both of those numbers are significant. Try it out with your dog!

Another psychologist named Alexandra Horowitz thinks there is more to the story: dogs aren't just trying to get a better view at us when we talk to them, they're trying to hear us better, too. Horowitz hypothesizes that dogs tilt their heads to adjust the floppy parts of their ears called pinnae in order to get a better sense of where the sounds are coming from. Do you have your own hypothesis of why our dog tilts her head? Write in the comments!
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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