Friday, October 2, 2009

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

By Linda Cole

We all have the same reaction to a puppy tilting their head as tiny bright eyes stare at us. It's so cute and adorable, you just can't help but pick her up and cuddle with her. All dogs regardless of their age tilt their heads as they listen to what's going on around them. Dogs tilt their heads when certain types of medical problems arise also.

A dog's head tilt is another way our pets communicate with us through use of body language. They are experts in reading our smallest movements, understanding our tone of voice and even noticing how we look at them when we speak. They can read us like a book and try their best to understand what we say. We know the average dog can understand up to 165 words and some learn even more than that, but in order to learn our words, they have to be able to hear. Dogs tilt their heads not only to hear us better, but to hear noises that interest them or listen to a sound they are curious about.

We can learn from our pets how to appreciate the environment we live in. Dogs are always listening for the smallest sound. I love sitting outside at night with my dogs watching their ears move like little antennas trying to pick up minute sounds – an owl hooting in the darkness, a lone coyote howling, a rustling in the grass or a far away sound we can't hear.

The shape of a dog's ear depends on their breed. Different breeds hear sounds with their heads in different positions. A dog tilts his head to reposition the ears so he can hear better in order to determine where the sound is coming from. My terrier mix Kelly has been on toad guard duty all summer. She pricks up her left ear and tilts her head as she listens for movement in the dew covered grass. Every now and then, she moves her ear so she can fine tune the sound of a toad making its way through the grass. Thankfully, she seems to enjoy listening for them more than trying to capture one. Turning and cocking their head to one side helps to open up their ear canal so they can hear better.

Dogs also tilt their heads because we make them feel good when they hear us say things like, “Isn't that just so cute.” We provide them with positive reenforcement because our tone of voice allows them to understand we are saying something good.

Since dogs can't tell us when they don't feel well, it's important to know your dog and their body language. This will help you determine if they are cocking their head to one side to hear better, or if a medical situation or illness has developed. Dogs tilt their heads if they have something in their ear, some kind of infection or ear mites.

Sometimes a blood vessel will break in the ear which causes a condition called Hematoma. The ear will swell up, which requires lancing the ear to relieve the swelling. This is usually caused by your dog scratching his ear which is also a sign of ear mites or a foreign object that may be lodged inside the ear. Dogs who like to swim or play in water can get water in their ears which can cause irritation and head tilting.

More serious medical conditions can also be reasons why dogs tilt their heads. An under active thyroid, inflammation of the brain, a punctured eardrum, head injuries or cancer can cause your dog to cock his head to one side. Watch for any changes in your dog's body language to help you determine if your dog's head tilt is from trying to hear better or he has something else bothering him.

Any signs of redness or pain in or around the ear, apparent pain when they are eating or trying to open their mouth for any reason, a lack of appetite or throwing up should be followed up with a trip to your vet. Wobbling, walking in circles, rolling or falling down can indicate an inner ear problem.

In most cases, a cute head tilt is nothing to be concerned about, but keep in mind that our dogs can and do tell us when things aren't quite right. Changes in their body language and normal behavior can help us understand them better.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Thank you very valuable

  2. That's pretty cool. Is there a way you can TRAIN your dog to tilt their head though? Most would say no, but there is a way for some. :) My 10 month old lab does it when she hears odd sounds all of the time. I was just trying to teach her a moment ago by playing random sound effects and when she tilted her head, I'd yell, "TILT!" Then treat her with a Canine Carry-Out treat :3lol But is there more ways besides that? Like scratching their ear or something? Please tell me your stories! (either reply here or if you have a Howrse account on, message me! I am nacho36! :D Please!


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