If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with your dog, you’re familiar with that charming, endearing head tilt. Those puppy dog eyes, the perked up ears, and the head cocked to one side all make for an irresistible, photogenic pose. But why, exactly, do dogs tilt their heads?
While we can’t know for certain, there are a few different theories as to why dogs tilt their heads. The good news is that most head tilting is completely normal (and adorable). That being said, it’s also important to know when your dog’s head tilting could be a sign of concern.
Head Tilting and Hearing
Dogs are known for their sharp sense of hearing. By tilting his head, your dog is able to better identify the source of a particular sound, which is why dogs generally tilt their heads toward the direction of the sound. Some dogs also need to change the position of their heads in order to hear better—otherwise, their ear flaps get in the way.
When your dog cocks his head while you’re right in front of him, he may also be listening for changes in frequencies and inflections. While he can’t necessarily understand all of the words you’re saying, he can certainly pick up on the tone you’re using. Plus, he may be trying to listen for some favorite words such as “treat,” “car ride,” or “walk!”
Head Tilting and Vision
To get an idea of what it’s like to have a long snout, put your fist in front of your nose. It’s more difficult to see what’s right in front of you, right? Some dogs’ muzzles can obstruct their vision, so they tilt their heads when they want to get a better look at something.
This doesn’t quite explain why dogs with flat faces (such as Pugs) tilt their heads, though. This leads some experts to believe that head tilting is simply a canine instinct when it comes to communication. Perhaps your dog is studying your facial expressions; perhaps he’s simply letting you know that he’s engaged and focused on what you’re saying.
Head Tilting and Positive Reinforcement
When your dog tilts his head while you’re talking to him, he’s likely showing interest and curiosity as a means of communication and bonding. He could also be conveying confusion as he tries to understand what you’re saying—think of a head tilt as the canine equivalent of both a human head nod and a human shrug.
Dogs are smart creatures. When they see how much we love that adorable head tilt, they’re inclined to repeat the behavior in order to get a positive reaction. If you give Fido treats and head pats after he cocks his head to one side, he’ll learn that this particular behavior often reaps positive benefits.
Plus, the communication that evokes a head tilt (such as “do you want to go for a walk?”) is often followed by a positive experience, and your pooch can definitely make that connection.
When is Head Tilting a Concern?
If you notice frequent or persistent head tilting without visual or auditory stimulation, it could be a sign that something is going on internally.
If your dog’s head tilt is accompanied by any head shaking, itching, dizziness, or signs of discomfort, it’s probably a good idea to pay a visit to the vet. He could be experiencing an ear issue, or even cognitive health problems.
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Other Interesting Dog Behavior
Your dog’s behavior and body language can provide a lot of insight as to what he’s thinking and feeling. Certain dog behaviors can also alert you to potential health issues, too.
Other common dog behaviors and what they might mean include:
Circling and Tail Chasing
If your dog loves running in circles and chasing his tail, he may simply be exploring out of curiosity, or he may be full of excess energy.
Running or walking in circles too much, though, could be a sign of cognitive issues or other health problems. Additionally, if your dog likes to catch and chew on his tail, he may be dealing with skin problems or mental health concerns.
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Digging is common dog behavior which occurs for a few different reasons: your pup may be looking for critters to satisfy his prey drive; he may be releasing pent up energy or attempting to relieve stress; he may be trying to create a comfy space to lie down; he may simply be bored and looking for entertainment.
If you want to change your dog’s digging habits, you’ll first need to to identify the reason behind his behavior. Do you need to remove some pests from your yard, or do you need to provide your pup with a healthy outlet for his pent up energy?
Dogs use scent as their main form of communication, which is why your pooch probably likes to make frequent sniffing stops on your daily walks. Dogs can learn a lot about each other through scent, which is why they tend to engage in mutual sniffing when meeting each other.
Chewing is an instinctive canine habit, which occurs for a few different reasons. It’s an outlet for your pup’s anxiety, stress, and frustration, and it can also be a source of entertainment for a bored pooch. Chewing is also important for your dog’s dental health, as it helps to clean the teeth by scraping off plaque.
Instead of trying to stop your dog from chewing altogether, make sure your dog has appropriate chew toys.
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