If you’ve ever found yourself having a conversation with a canine companion (and you’re not alone), you’ve probably noticed your little pal tilting his head whenever you spoke to him. I’m willing to bet you did the same thing in return, and might have even replied with a “baroo?” of your own, mocking your pet in a friendly way.
But, it turns out, little Rover tilts his head in a questioning way for a reason that’ll make you think twice before making fun of him – even in a teasingly friendly manner.
Anyone who’s ever owned a dog knows how smart they are. You can teach them to sit, stay, speak, roll over…really, the amount of tricks a dog can learn is phenomenal. But canines are also incredibly sensitive to the emotional well-being of those around them, regardless of species.
Your dog knows when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you need company, and when you want to be left alone. You don’t need me to tell you that they share in your joy or misery; the way they react to your physical actions and vocal inflections is evidence enough. Obviously, a huge part of their ability to pick up on these cues is their ability to see the face you’re making, and the actions you’re taking. Therein lies, at least in part, the reason why your little buddy tilts his head whenever you talk to him.
Nosey Little Boy
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of a dog, you probably just imagined being a bit shorter and crawling on all fours. One thing you likely haven’t taken into consideration is the fact that your face would protrude a bit farther out than it does when you’re in human form. Imagine taping a paper cup to your nose (or actually do it if you’re home alone!), and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how your puppy sees the world.
This was the focus of a study done by Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology who has dedicated his career to enhancing our understanding of what goes on in our canine friends’ heads on a daily basis.
For his research, Coren surveyed 582 dog owners, asking them to report on the instances of their dog tilting their head in response to verbal cues from humans. The dogs were categorized as having either long or short snouts, with the hypothesis being that the longer-snouted dogs would tilt their head significantly more often than their shorter-snouted buddies.
Some Breed Tilt More
The results were pretty spot on. 71% of people who owned long-snouted dogs, such as collies, reported their pets tilt their head more often than not when they’re being spoken to. Comparatively, 52% of those who own short-snouted dogs, such as pugs, reported the same. Altogether, 62% of all owners answered that they’re canine buddies often tilted their heads in response to verbal cues from themselves or other humans.
Again, imagine you had a cup taped to the front of your face. You’d probably sacrifice binocular vision if you wanted to get a clear view of whatever object or being is directly in front of you, and would tilt one full eye toward your target, right? It appears that this is exactly the reason dogs tilt their heads when you speak to them.
Enhance Vision and Your Reaction
Coren did note that your dogs’ head-tilting might be a combination of an attempt to enhance vision and the positive reaction they get from you when they do it. Like I said in the intro, I don’t think I’m the only one who imitates my little buddy’s head tilt whenever he does it, and gives him a little more attention for being so cute. Says Coren, “Perhaps the dogs are really just trying to look cute. Nonetheless this study is a first step toward finding the answer (as to why they tilt their heads), and at least we now have a bit of data to work with.”
Featured photo credit: Sonny the Miniature Goldendoodle / Andrea Arden via farm9.staticflickr.com