Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington
Are they confused? Did they hear a strange sound? It’s just one of the adorable things our pooches do – but why do dogs tilt their heads?

Dogs have a way of staring straight into our souls – all they have to do is open up their big puppy dog eyes, tilt their heads, and we are ready to give them anything they want. But why exactly do dogs tilt their heads? Is there a practical reason or is it just a quirk that some dogs have and others don’t?

Are Their Practical Reasons for Tilting the Head?

If you think about human body language, you may notice that head tilting behavior is common. In many cases it is something we do when we are listening intently or as a sign of compassion and understanding. For dogs, body language is everything because they cannot communicate with words.

Related: Why Do Dogs Hump?

One of the practical reasons dogs sometimes tilt their heads is so they can hear better. Dogs have such a strong sense of hearing and they are constantly being bombarded by sound – tilting their head helps them to pinpoint exactly where a certain sound is coming from.

There is also research to suggest that dogs tilting their heads could be a sign of empathy. Dogs have a way of knowing exactly what it is we are thinking and feeling, and they can connect with us on a deep level. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that they use body language to communicate with us in the same way that we use it with other humans. There is also the possibility that your dog has learned that people think this behavior is cute and that they will reward him for it.

Is Head Tilting an Indication of Disease?

Though there are many practical reasons why your dog might tilt his head, it is important to remember that head tilting is also a common symptoms for a variety of diseases. One potential medical cause for head tilting is vestibular disease – a disorder of the sensory (vestibular) system which controls the dog’s feeling of balance. In addition to head tilting, this condition may also cause stumbling, lack of coordination, frequent falls, erratic eye movements, and turning in circles. This condition can be caused by injury to the ear, brain disease, abnormal tissue growth, nutritional deficiency, toxicity, upper respiratory tract infection, and various metabolic diseases.

Related: 5 Tips to Keep Your Dog from Digging in the Yard

Perhaps the most common medical cause of head tilt in dogs, however, is inner ear infection. Ear infections can cause balance issues as well as other symptoms such as scratching the ear, buildup or discharge in the ear, odor in the ear, redness and swelling, hair loss around the ear, and shaking the head.

Head tilting is not necessarily a sign of disease but if your dog suddenly starts to exhibit this behavior out of the blue (especially if he doesn’t usually do it) it may be worth having it checked out. The worst that can happen is that you catch a disease in the early stages when it is still treatable.

The next time your dog tilts his head at you, take it as a complement – your dog is just trying to tell you how much he cares about you!

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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