Why Does My Dog Tilt Its Head?

Why Does My Dog Tilt Its Head?

Your precious pup probably exhibits many cute and charming behaviors to get your attention, tell you what’s going on in their mind, or simply show you their affection. If your dog, like most, tends to occasionally tilt their head, you may be wondering why exactly they do that. 

While there’s no single, proven reason for dogs to tilt their heads, many have been suggested. Whether your dog is concentrating and trying to listen, suffering from an ear infection, or simply trying to look cute, here are several reasons why your dog may tilt his head.

Why Dogs May Tilt Their Heads According to Science

In late 2021, a new study popped up that indicated dogs might tilt their heads in concentration. In the study, researchers were testing “gifted word learner” dogs, those who could accurately recall the names of various toys and retrieve those toys when requested.

Most dogs are unable to recall most toys by name. However, some dogs, specifically border collies, can recognize the names of specific toys and find those toys when asked. In this study, researchers were watching various “gifted” dogs to see how many toys they could recall and find.

During the study, those dogs who could recall and retrieve toys asked for by name exhibited a head tilt at least 45% of the time. Plus, this pattern endured over several months of study. Therefore, the researchers concluded that this head tilt might have something to do with these dogs’ ability to recall.

While dogs did not tilt their head at every command, they were more likely to do so when hearing meaningful or familiar words that required them to pay attention or take action. Scientists speculate that a head tilt may indicate increased attention or concentration upon visual memories. 

Interestingly, the position of the owner giving the command did not change the direction of the head tilt at all, indicating that dogs form a preference for one side or the other much like humans may be either right- or left-handed. 

There is still more to study in regard to why dogs tilt their heads. However, it is safe to assume that, in most cases, dogs are simply focusing on the words you’re saying or the task at hand. 

Is Head Tilting in Dogs a Medical Symptom?

While your dog’s head tilts are likely harmless in most instances, head tilting can occasionally be a sign of an illness.

Ear Infections

Ear infections generally lead to dogs feeling uncomfortable, so many may exhibit symptoms such as tilting their head, scratching at their ear, or excessive head shaking when dealing with an ear infection. 

If your dog has a serious infection and fever, they will also seem lethargic and suffer from poor appetite, so you should be able to notice when your dog has an ear infection that needs treatment. If you notice these symptoms in your pup, take them to the vet for antibiotics.

Old Dog Imbalance

Some older dogs (usually over the age of 5) get a sickness called geriatric vestibular disease. This illness causes severe imbalance, falls, and head tilts, as well as symptoms such as circling or rapid side-to-side eye movement. Be aware that most head tilting will be severe with this disease…your dog will probably lean until their ear is all the way on the ground.

The exact causes of this disease are not well understood, so you should take your dog to the vet for treatment and immune support if you suspect that this is the cause of their head tilt. In most cases, anti-nausea medication and extra support around the home can help your dog recover.

Other Medical Causes of Head Tilt

In addition to the common causes mentioned, there are other medical issues that could lead to head tilt in dogs. These include:

  • Head trauma from being in an accident of some kind
  • Tumors or masses near the head or neck
  • Brain tumors
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis

If you notice severe head tilting and can’t determine a cause, always reach out to your vet for a diagnosis and extra support for your pup.

Other Potential Reasons for Dogs To Tilt Their Heads

Besides these situations, the reasons that dogs may tilt their heads are highly speculative. Some suggestions that have been made include:

  • Your dog is interested or curious about what you’re saying and listening for familiar inflections.
  • Your dog is searching for a noise…perhaps a noise at a higher frequency that you can’t hear.
  • Your dog is adjusting their vision to see more clearly.
  • Your dog knows that you find their head tilt charming and are seeking your attention and affection.

These reasons are not well-supported by research, but they are fairly standard suggestions. After all, since you can’t ask your dog why they tilt their head, your best guess is as good as you’re going to get unless scientists can conduct more research that offers a clearer answer.

Ultimately, your dog may tilt their head for a variety of reasons. In most cases, this is nothing to worry about and is merely a signal that your dog is paying close attention to you and whatever it is you’re saying. Just keep an eye out for further symptoms that could indicate illness or distress.

When it comes down to it, dogs tilt their head to indicate that they are using that head, whether to concentrate, to see better, or simply to communicate in some small way. Just as with many other behaviors your dog may exhibit, their head tilt is one that helps them engage with you in the best way possible to bring joy into both of your lives. 

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