Don’t try to tell me you haven’t giggled when your dog suddenly hears a sound and tilts his head. You’ve probably gone further and tried to recreate the sound so he will do it again. But why do they do it?
Well apart from because it’s absolutely adorable (like everything else about dogs). We don’t actually know for certain why dogs tilt their heads, however, given how much it melts most of our hearts, many people have come to conclude, that’s exactly why they do it. That is, it’s a learned behaviour for reward. Dogs are man’s best friend for a reason, and part of our connection with them comes from their emotional intelligence. Therefore, they tilt their heads when they’re reading our emotions and looking for the positive response they usually get when they do it. That’s right, your dog is trying to make you smile. Granted, it might be in hopes of getting out of trouble, but kudos for ingenuity.
There are a few other theories, too. Depending on the shape of your dog’s head, they may be able to improve their ability to locate a noise if they adjust the position of their ears, while also clearing their line of sight. Researchers have learnt that dogs with longer muzzles tend to tilt their heads more often, so it’s likely there’s some kind of physical, sensory benefit they’re getting from it. Try holding your fist in front of your face to mimic a dog’s nose, then move your head to see what sort of difference it makes in your line of sight.
Another theory suggests that they’re concentrating, trying to read what you’re communicating to them and seeing what words they recognize. They’re looking and listening for social cues to figure how they’re going to react, and waiting to see if you’re going to say something good like “walk” or “treat” – or something bad. Though for my Shepherd if it’s something bad he will quickly look away and not look back. He figures, if he can’t see you, then clearly you can’t see him, thus he clearly can’t be in trouble – and you guessed it, it makes us laugh. Wonder why he thinks it works?
Experiments on dogs’ interpretation of language found that they’d tilt their heads right when they were spoken to with emotionless words, and left when the words were full of emotion, both good and bad. These findings seem to suggest it has something to do with the way they process information, and it might mean they have separate processing centres for emotion and words. Give it a try and let me know what you learn from your dog’s behaviour.