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Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? 6 Reasons For This Behavior

Elizabeth Gray

It’s the dog pose responsible for countless social media posts and the melting of endless hearts. No matter the size, shape, or age of a dog, the second they tilt their head to the side, the cuteness factor hits overdrive. But have you ever wondered why dogs tilt their heads?

Most of the reasons a dog may tilt their head aren’t a cause for concern. However, some medical conditions count a head tilt as one of their symptoms. Here are six reasons your dog may tilt their head and when you should be worried about this behavior.

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1. Dogs Tilt Their Heads To Hear Better

You may notice that your dog commonly tilts their head when they hear an unfamiliar noise, such as the first time they hear a baby cry. While dogs have better hearing than humans overall, the design of their ears means they don’t hear sounds from all directions clearly as we do.

All dogs have an earflap that limits their hearing in at least one direction. Cocking and maneuvering their ears along with tilting their heads helps dogs to hear a sound more clearly and determine where and how far away it is coming from.

boxer dog tilted head
Image Credit: Charlotte Yealey, Pixabay

2. Dogs Tilt Their Heads To Interact With Us

If you notice that your dog often tilts their head from side to side as you’re speaking to them, it’s because they are trying to show you that they’re paying attention. We often interpret this as our dogs trying to figure out what we are saying or showing confusion.

In the same way that humans make eye contact or nod during a conversation to show we are present and paying attention, our dogs may tilt their heads to show they are actively interacting and engaged with us.

puppy tilting its head
Image Credit: jeremy8, Pixabay

3. Dogs Tilt Their Heads To See Better

Because their vision is poor, dogs don’t tend to rely on it as much as they do their sense of smell and hearing.

However, sometimes your dog wants to be able to see you more clearly as you are interacting to help them understand what you’re saying. Dogs rely on visual cues like facial expression and body language to help them decode our messages rather than solely on knowing the words that we speak to them.

The dog’s muzzle position can interfere with their field of vision, especially for longer-nosed breeds. By tilting their heads, dogs can make it easier to see us as we are communicating with them.

german shepherd head tilt
Image Credit: Diego Cervo, Shutterstock

4. Dogs Tilt Their Heads Because We Like It!

Positive reinforcement is the most effective training technique we can use on dogs. And what could be more reinforcing than the ooohing and aaahing, the petting, the attention, and the treats that our dogs enjoy when they adorably tilt their heads to the side? In many cases, our dogs may tilt their heads because we’ve essentially trained them to do it by our reaction.

brown dog with amber eyes
Image Credit: Vizslafotozas, Pixabay

5. Dogs Tilt Their Heads Because Their Ears Hurt

One of the less adorable reasons that a dog may tilt their head is because they’ve come down with an ear infection. Any dog of any age can develop an ear infection and they’re quite common, especially in breeds with floppy and hairy ears. Ear infections can be quite painful and tilting or drooping the infected ear is one symptom you may notice. Other signs of ear infections include scratching or rubbing of the ear, discharge, and odor.

dog tilting head
Image Credit: Sonja Kalee, Pixabay

6. Dogs Tilt Their Head Because They Have a Brain Issue

Several neurologic or brain conditions can also cause a dog to tilt their head.

One of those conditions is a vestibular disease, essentially the dog version of vertigo. Vestibular disease can either be idiopathic, meaning it has no specific cause, or can itself be a symptom of a different problem, such as brain cancer or middle ear infection. Other signs of vestibular disease include trouble walking and nystagmus (uncontrolled eye movements).

Dogs may also tilt their head if they have a more serious neurologic condition like a brain tumor or infection or because they’ve suffered a stroke. Besides head tilt, other signs of these conditions include seizures, behavior changes, or blindness.

Dog in Vet
Image Credit: mirkosajkov, Pixabay

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What To Do If You’re Worried About Your Dog’s Head Tilt

If you’re concerned your dog’s head tilt is more serious than seriously adorable, the first step is to make an appointment with your veterinarian.

To help diagnose the cause of your dog’s head tilt, your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam and ask you questions about what you’ve observed at home. Depending on what is found on the exam, your vet may recommend further tests, like an ear swab or blood work.

Ear infections are usually treated with cleaning and medications. Brain conditions may be more complicated to diagnose and treat, sometimes requiring a trip to a veterinary specialist.

Regardless of what is causing your dog’s head tilt, the earlier you can get the problem diagnosed, the better your odds are of successfully treating it. If you’re worried, don’t hesitate to consult your dog’s veterinarian.

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Conclusion

Most of the time your dog’s cute head tilt is no cause for concern and you can go right ahead snapping pictures and showing them off to your friends. Dogs tilt their heads for practical reasons and sometimes for health reasons. Now that we’ve discussed 6 reasons why dogs tilt their heads, hopefully, you understand your dog a little bit better and feel even more secure in your special bond. After all, sometimes that head tilt happens just for you!


Featured Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Elizabeth Gray

Elizabeth Gray is a lifelong lover of all creatures great and small. She got her first cat at 5 years old and at 14, she started working for her local veterinarian. Elizabeth spent more than 20 years working as a veterinary nurse before stepping away to become a stay-at-home parent to her daughter. Now, she is excited to share her hard-earned knowledge (literally--she has scars) with our readers. Elizabeth lives in Iowa with her family, including her two fur kids, Linnard, a husky mix and Algernon, the worldʻs most patient cat. When not writing, she enjoys reading, watching all sports but especially soccer, and spending time outdoors with her family.