When you give a command to your dog, does he often tilt his head to one side and seem to understand what you’re saying? Lots of owners think that their dog is making a gesture like what we humans do when we don’t understand what someone is saying. Dogs seem so human when they cock their heads like that!
What is the reason for your dog’s cutest gesture, the head tilt? There are two possible theories for why your dog tilts his head when you speak to him.
Scientists don’t agree
Scientists specializing in biology, veterinary medicine and neuroscience are all still studying how dogs communicate. So far, there’s no proven answer for why dogs tilt their heads to the side.
The head tilt in dogs is an area of controversy among scientists. There are two major positions that scientists take in trying to explain the gesture. There is one group of experts who think that dogs tilt their heads in order to hear better. But another hypothesis suggests that they actually do it for another purpose: to look at us with a broad field of vision.
Let’s see what the scientists on each side think …
Does your dog tilt his head to hear you better?
According to some experts in dog psychology, dogs tilt their heads to place their outer ear canals in such a way that they will be able to grasp the nuances of human vocal tones more clearly and precisely.
Dogs are able to learn and recognize more than 160 words. Some dog breeds are even able to learn many more than 160 words. So it isn’t strange that dogs would tilt their heads to listen closely to their master.
Does your dog tilt his head to see you better?
According to another group of researchers, dogs do the head tilt gesture because it allows them to see your mouth better when you speak. Why is it hard for dogs to see your mouth? The answer is simple: their snout.
A dog’s snout prevents him from seeing the lower part of your face if you speak to him while facing him. It’s natural; he does have his nose right there in front of his eyes. This would explain why dogs with larger, longer noses are most likely to do the head tilt.
It all depends on the dog’s training
How your dog responds to your commands depends on how effective your training methods with him were. Dogs try to understand what we mean, both by watching our mouths and listening to our words. They think there’s an important interaction happening and they want to pay attention.
According to this theory, the head tilt is an action dogs use to understand what we tell them. Whether it is through sight or hearing, evidently a dog’s intention is to understand his people. In addition, you may have encouraged the head tilt.
Is the head tilt a programmed response?
Most owners think that dogs tilt their heads to show attention and obedience. When your dog does a head tilt, you might think he’s cute and pet him. The consequence of this is that you’re unconsciously training your dog, through positive reinforcement. Your dog will likely repeat this action again and again to get the positive reinforcement (a pat on the head).
It’s possible that humans have “programmed” this response in dogs, from the thousands of years we’ve been coexisting. And when dogs continue to receive rewards from their masters, they’ll keep it up.
Everything in excess is bad
If your dog tilts his head too much, you should get him checked out. He might have an ear infection. Any health problems affecting his ears will affect his balance too, making him consistently lean to one side. If your dog only does a head tilt when you speak to him, that’s a good sign. It’s normal for a dog to recognize his owner’s voice; it’s a sign that all is well with him.