why do dogs tilt their heads

Why do dogs tilt their heads? Do they do it out of habit?

One of the cutest behaviors dogs do is tilt their heads while staring at you or hearing a strange sound.

We find it adorable and snap-worthy—but have you ever wondered why they do it?

Like with other dog behaviors, until your four-legged pal can speak with you, it's difficult to know for sure.

However, this charming trait might serve a purpose than just being adorable.

So, if you want to know more, stick with us because you’re about to learn 7 surprising possible reasons why dogs tilt their heads.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? 

For sure, all of us have seen this look at least once: Fido is staring at you intently as you're speaking.

His ears perk up as if it is a juicy gossip he must not miss.

While he’s at it, your furry buddy turns his head sideways in response to the sound of your voice.

At that point, it’s like there’s a big question mark above his head, as though he's asking himself, 

“What is my mom saying? Is she going to feed me now?”

And sometimes, we just quickly grab our phone and go to the camera and snap a shot of their cute, clueless face. 

I actually did it once because it rarely happens. I didn’t want to miss it!

But what could the head tilting possibly mean? 

Is it just one of their adorable, Instagram-worthy antics, or is something bad going on? 

Turns out, scientists are still trying to find exactly why dogs tilt their heads.

We also found out there isn’t much research yet on the topic. 

However, there are some interesting theories about why your pawed friend engages in this adorable behavior.

why do dogs head tilt

Your Dog Might Be Smart

“Well, besides the head tilt, I think my dog can read my facial expressions. He knows when I’m happy or sad.”

Maybe he is about to follow in the footsteps of Chaser!

If you're unfamiliar with her, she's a Border Collie known as the “smartest dog in the world.”

Just a quick fact: Chaser was a South Carolina-born dog with exceptional language ability and could recognize over 1,000 words!

Impressive, isn't it?

It makes sense because the Border Collie even tops the list of Reader’s Digest’s smartest dog breeds.

And interestingly, Chaser has won the hearts of many dog lovers with her signature ‘inquisitive tilt of the head’!

Interested in her story? Check out the link below for later reading.

RELATED: This Dog Learned Over 1,000 Words, and Here’s How

What do Scientists say About Head Tilting and Your Dog’s Intelligence

Scientists contend that head tilting, which happens as your dog processes important information, can indicate intelligence.

In June 2022, the journal Animal Cognition published a study that analyzed head tilting in dogs.

As stated by the authors,

“We hypothesized that head tilts may be related to increased attention and could be explained by lateralized mental functions.”

The 40 dogs were split into two groups, one with average learning skills and the other known as “gifted word learners” as they were familiar with the names of toys.

The dogs all picked up the names of two interesting, new toys.

After one, two, and three months, the new toys were placed among other toys on the floor of a different room.

True enough, only the gifted dogs were able to retrieve the brand-new toys.

When their owners spoke the names of the new toys, they were also more inclined to tilt their heads.

If Fido keeps doing this endearing head-tilting behavior and shows you signs of exceptional cleverness, maybe he understands what you’re saying after all.

Who knows? Maybe he's capable of even more amazing things than you knew.

One thing, though: it would be fun to introduce more new words to an intelligent dog.

RELEVANT READ: The 25 Smartest Dog Breeds That Are Easy to Train

why do dogs tilt their heads

Your Dog is Trying to See Better

If the first reason doesn't apply to your four-legged pet, perhaps the second explanation for why dogs tilt their heads would.

For visual adjustment, they sometimes tilt their heads to the side.

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today about the potential advantage of the dog head tilt.

He found that dogs with longer muzzles, such as Greyhounds, Dobermans, and Dachshunds, were likelier to tilt their heads.

Why is this so?

Your pup’s long snout blocks the bottom part of the object they’re looking at, so they bend their heads to the side to get a better view.

Head tilting allows a different, snout-free angle from which to view the world.

Unless you’ve got a Pomeranian, a Pug, a Bulldog, or another flat-faced pooch, the shape of most dogs’ heads means that their snout is in their field of vision.

From your doggo’s point of view, maybe he just wanted to take a good look at the dog food you were loading into his bowl as he waited.

It's adorable but makes sense, given their elongated snouts.

Your Dog Learned This Behavior

Try to remember.

Maybe there was that one time when your pawed buddy randomly tilted his head.

And, lucky for him—you caught that cute moment with a treat in your hand. 

Because that adorable head-tilting made you happy and excited, you gave him the treat and showered him with praise and affection.

What we’re trying to tell you here is that maybe you reinforced this behavior without even realizing it (which is not bad in this case, by the way).

Jenna Stregowski, a registered veterinary technician, says, 

‘This tells our dogs they should repeat the behavior so good things will happen.’

As for humans, a 2018 study revealed that people perceived the dog as being cuter when it tilted its head.

Respondents were shown images of pups in which they could control head movements.

When one group was told to “make the puppies as cute as possible,” participants bent the puppies' heads in the images.

Erin Askeland, a certified dog behavior consultant, said:

“What likely occurs here is that when a dog tilts its head, people respond with verbal praise or pets, so the dog learns to tilt its head more frequently and may do this as a way to seek out attention.”

Indeed, we enjoy the brief moment when our dogs tilt their heads to the side. 

And to snap more cute photos, we pet them and give treats as an encouragement to repeat such adorable behavior.

RELEVANT READ: Homemade Training Treats for Dogs

why do dogs turn their heads sideways

Your Dog is Interested or Curious

Your dog's head tilting is another way he communicates how attentive he is to you.

Was there a time when you and a family member talked about a very interesting topic close to your dog’s space?

And because you two were so engrossed in the topic, you both talked incessantly while ignoring your furry friend.

However, you were aware of his slight head tilt as you continued to speak.

Dogs certainly don't understand all we say, but they do show interest by tilting their heads to the side and closely observing us.

Having said that, perhaps your four-legged friend was intrigued and would have liked it if you included him!

Does head-tilting mean my dog is analyzing my body language?

Your four-legged friend also pays attention to you by observing your body language.

They do the head tilt to achieve that and get a better view of your gestures and body movements (much like what we talked about a while ago). 

They might not fully understand our emotions, but when your face and body show it, they might try to figure it out.

Say, for example, when you’re having a bad day and heavy-hearted. 

It is not a daily emotion we show to our dogs, right?

Fido might not be very familiar with that. 

In response, he might tilt his head first out of curiosity before smothering you with kisses to comfort you.

As far as showing that they are paying attention, the other reason for them to tilt their heads is to show that they are focusing on you.

You know how people will nod and say “a-huh” or “mmm” to show that they are listening to what the other person is saying?

Well, head tilting is a dog counterpart.

Your Dog is Trying to Locate a Noise

One of the most common explanations for why dogs tilt their heads is because they're trying to figure out where the noise comes from. 

Did you know that dogs can hear around four times better than us?

They have astounding hearing and can pick up a wide variety of frequencies!

For comparison, while you might be able to hear a sound at a distance of around 100 yards, your dog might be able to hear it at a distance of 400–500 yards.

So don't be surprised if Fido suddenly moves out of his cozy position, perks up his ears, and tilts his head sideways while gazing intently into space.

He might have heard something interesting beyond your hearing range.

Upright ears and ear flaps can interfere with your dog’s hearing

In addition, a dog’s anatomy can make hearing difficult.

Quick question: What is the shape or type of your dog’s ears? Are they droopy? Upright?

A head tilt can be a common behavior in certain breeds with droopy ears, like Basset Hounds and Beagles

Their ear flaps might obstruct sound transmission, making it difficult for Fido to determine the source of a sound.

So, they may cock their head to open one of their flaps. 

This way, they can better pinpoint the sound's direction and possible range.

But my dog still does the head-tilting, and his ears are not droopy.

In that case, maybe you own breeds like German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Corgi, or another dog breed with upright ears.

If so, it might reduce the ability to hear sounds coming from behind. 

As a result, Fido may turn his head sideways a little bit to hear their mum better!

why do dogs turn their heads

Your Dog Tilts His Head for Certain Words

Do you know this trend on TikTok where fur parents pretend to make a phone call or tell a story using their dog’s favorite words and film their dog’s reactions?

Honestly, I’ve watched several of them. If I were to sum up everything I've seen in one word, it would be…


Just look at this video posted by @officialkateparker from TikTok.

So many cute head-tilting moments from her dog in response to words like ‘walk,’ ‘car ride,’ and ‘cookies’!


Wait until the end😭 #tyandkate

♬ original sound – OfficialKateParker

Your pawed companion understands things you say frequently, so he might bend his head to hear better while attempting to pick up one of his favorite terms.

Dr. Wailaini Sung, a veterinary behaviorist, explains:

“Dogs may tilt their head in response to certain words that may be meaningful to them, such as ‘treats’ or ‘walk.”

In addition, Fido might also cock his head because he heard a word “that sounds similar to another word they know but doesn’t sound exactly the same.”

Did you say “walk” or “talk”? Your pooch might tilt his head because he’s confused!

RELEVANT READ: Study Shows Dogs Understand Our Words, Not Just Our Voices

Your Dog Has an Underlying Medical Condition

Fido's head tilting could be an indicator of a medical issue if it doesn't appear to be in response to your speech or another sound.

Some dogs with ear infections may tilt their heads more in an effort to find pain relief.

Also, a consistent head tilt could be a sign of vestibular disease.

But what is it?

Vestibular Disease

Due to an issue with his vestibular system, the vestibular disease affects Fido's state of equilibrium.

If you’re wondering what it does, it tells the brain whether your dog is sitting, standing, lying down, or falling.

It is a neurological condition that tends to occur in senior dogs.

When the vestibular system is malfunctioning, the brain cannot receive signals or determine the position of the head.

According to Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist, the symptoms of vestibular syndrome differ from those of typical head cocking.

Fido will often keep one ear on the ground and may tilt to one side, resembling a boat listing in the water.

There are two types: central vestibular disease (abnormality in the brain) and peripheral vestibular disease (abnormality in the ear).

If you see that your dog is tilting his head, keep an eye out for accompanying symptoms like:

Central Vestibular Disease
  • Depression
  • Head tremors
  • Facial paralysis
  • Strange behavior
  • Weakness of the body
  • Rolling around on the ground
  • Abnormal eye movements (jerking side to side, up and down, or around)
Peripheral Vestibular Disease
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Circling, leaning
  • Loss of appetite
  • Not being able to focus
  • Eyeball moving around or up and down rapidly
  • Unusual clumsiness (falls, stumbles, lack of coordination)

why do dogs tilt their heads

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads: FAQs

Are dogs that tilt their head smart?

According to a recent study, intelligent dogs bend their heads more frequently than other dogs.

When dogs hear words they have learned, they bend their heads, indicating heightened interest.

Which dog breeds tilt their heads?

Head tilting is an effort to adjust vision and is more common in certain dog breeds with long muzzles, such as German Shepherds, Beagles, Collies, and Greyhounds.

Dogs with droopy (such as Bloodhound) or upright ears (such as Siberian Husky) may also tilt their heads to gain a better idea of where the sound is coming from.

Do dogs tilt their heads when they are confused?

Dogs tilt their heads to get around their interfering muzzles and increase their visual viewpoint.

The cute head tilt broadens your dog's field of vision and allows him to pick up more or better information.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads: Takeaways

Why do dogs tilt their heads? 

Overall, it's just a behavioral quirk in response to the sound of your voice and in which Fido processes the meaning of words.

It's merely a matter of ruling out the abovementioned possibilities for why dogs tilt their heads. 

It depends on when they’re doing it! Maybe try to look at the situation and the exact moment when your dog is turning his head sideways.

But a takeaway in this article is that head tilting that is not related to communication may suggest a medical condition.

If you notice that in your furry buddy, bring him to a vet immediately.

Want to find out more about your four-legged buddy’s behaviors? You might want to check out our other articles on dog behaviors.


How Aubrey describes love is a wet nose and a happy tail. She now has over a year of experience writing about canines with a particular emphasis on health and behavior. She enjoys sharing dog tips, fun facts, and pet med topics, among other things. Her passion for both writing and dogs inspired her to share her knowledge and experience with other dog parents so they could provide the greatest care for their pets. She also stands against alpha, leader, and dominance theories. She believes there’s no need to do extra things like eating prior to your dogs.