Why Some Dogs Tilt Their Heads More Than Others

It’s super cute, regardless of why they do it.

Scientific evidence puts the first domestication of dogs at around 11,000 years ago. Since then we’ve grown reliant on them for love and even service, while most dogs see their humans as the givers of food, love, attention, and potty breaks. But, have you even wondered why some dogs tilt their heads more than others? A new study aimed to find out and the results are interesting to say the least.

dog on dog bed listening
Via: Jamie Street/Unsplash

While there are some medical reasons why dogs may tilt their heads, often times dogs will do this when their humans are speaking. It has been speculated that moving the head helps dogs to hear better and to understand the sounds of words, something that some dogs may have trouble with. There is some evidence that dogs with shorter ears may tilt their heads less often simply because they don’t need to adjust their ear flaps.

It can look cute and even goofy when dogs do this, but a new study published in the scientific journal, Animal Cognition, shows that there might be more behind this action. Researchers studied 40 dogs using a toy-gathering exercise. In this study dogs were given commands to fetch specific toys from other rooms after a training period where the owners attempted to teach the dogs words for 2 novel toys each. This required the dogs to learn the toy names, listen for the toy names, recall the what the toys looked/felt like, and then retrieve the toys from another room.

dog tiliting head
Via: Edson Torres/Unsplash

Researchers found that dogs who had memorized their toys were more likely to tilt their heads while being given the command. This suggests that the head tilt was in part a response to their cognitive process of tying to visualize the toy while also listening to the command.

The researchers noted that not all dogs have the cognitive ability to even learn the names of objects, while others seem to excel at it. These extra smart dogs were labeled as gifted word learner dogs or GWL for short. These gifted dogs were more likely to tilt their heads and only of the GWL dogs did not have head tilting as a habit.

Golden Retriever sitting outside
Via: John Price/Unsplash

Only dogs who did well at learning the names of new toys were given extra testing with yet more toys and toy names to learn. All of the high-achievers were the GWL dogs.

Which direction the dogs tilted their heads to varied by animal, leaving researchers to label tilt direction as an “individual trait” specific to each dog.

As for breed influencing the head tilts all the GFL dogs who made it to the extended testing were Border collies. However, 18 of the “normal” dogs were not gifted and were also Border collies. This means that breed might not be a factor in determining how well dogs can learn new words.

Border collie tilting its head
Via: Baptist Standaert/Unsplash

While studies involving the “pawedness” of dogs and other cognition tests have been conducted before, this is the first study to look at how and why dogs tilt their heads.