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Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads

Breeding Business is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Published on
Sunday 23 February 2020
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
why do dogs tilt their head
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Many different reasons can trigger dogs to tilt their heads. Any dog owner can agree that watching our pups tilt their heads is adorable. We film it, take pictures, but what does it really mean?

Some reasons are positive, and some are negative. This is why it is so important to be able to tell the difference. If your dog is unwell, this may be a sign and you need to be able to recognize that and we can help. We have listed all the different reasons so you can finally answer the question of why do dogs tilt their heads.

Why Does My Dog Tilt His Head?

Although there are no seriously concerning explanations on this list, there are some that are negative or require your attention. And whether you are here out of interest or out of concern, we will provide the reasons and explanations so you know why your dog is tilting its head.

A positively reinforced behavior

Dogs can learn by reinforcement, negative or positive. If we praise them after a behavior, they may perform it more. If we scold them after a behavior, they may perform it less. In this case, the behavior of head tilting is positively reinforced.

For example, we may coo over them, give them treats or give them attention when they head tilt. Therefore they will most likely do so more. As they will believe there is a chance for any kind of praise. And even if they do not receive praise after they have learned this trick, they will still have a positive association with tilting their heads so they will always be more likely to do so.

It has also been argued that if one of your dogs tilts their head and receives praise, another may mimic the behavior in hopes of similar praise. Therefore, they may have learned the behavior while someone dog sat them or they were in a kennel, but it all comes from positive reinforcement.


It has been claimed that our household pets are incredibly empathetic. With every conversation, they listen to and every interaction you have with them, they begin to associate certain words, inflections, and tones with certain emotions.

Of course, our dogs are not listening to us and understanding everything we say. However, they are able to grasp what emotions we are feeling and sometimes where they are directed at. So, when your dog tilts their head and looks at you intently, it may be that they are listening for certain noises, inflections or monitoring for behavior because they know something is wrong. Therefore, they may be trying to further understand what emotions we are feeling.

Remember, just because your dog does not tilt their head in this circumstance or does not does so frequently, it does not mean they are not empathetic. Some dogs may understand emotions a lot more easily. Some may have better hearing and sight to notice the differences in your behavior. Others may just be comfortable watching without needing to tilt their heads.

Dog head tilting for listening

Your dog may be tilting their head so they are able to listen better. Whether that be to you, another dog or a random sound. They may be tilting their head if they have particularly floppy or hairy ears. This is because their ears or fur may be making listening more difficult. And by tilting their head this removes the problem. If you think your dog may be struggling to listen because of the fur in and around their ear, consider cutting their fur in those areas.

The other reason they may tilt their head to listen better is so they can hear more subtle noises. In the case of you talking, it may be so they can focus on particular inflections or words so they can understand the situation or conversation better. Or, they may be focusing on a distant dog barking and tilt their head because the noise is quiet.

Dogs generally tilt their heads to obtain more information.

Dog tilting his head for seeing

Similarly, a dog may tilt their head so they can have a better view of whatever they are looking at. This may be because fur is blocking their eyes and is particularly common in long coat breeds. If you think your dog’s fur is blocking their eyes, consider trimming the fur in this area.

Another reason why dogs tilt their heads is that something may be obstructing their view and they are trying to see the whole picture. For example, if the furniture is blocking one side of their face, they may tilt their heads so they can see past this. They may also tilt it so they can see around you.

Just because a dog tilts his or her head does not mean they cannot see. Observe the frequency and situations when they tilt their head and trim their hair if you think they are struggling.

Ear infections

Ear infections may cause pain, itching, and dizziness, all reasons your dog may tilt their head. If a dog is in pain, they may be tilting their head to try to disrupt or prevent the feeling of pain, this is the same with irritation and swelling. Apart from itching, something which will be much more painful for your dog to do with an ear infection, they are not able to do much. This is apart from movement, their only tool of defense. Therefore, them tilting their head is to try to minimize the discomfort they are feeling.

As for dizziness, your dog’s inner ear contains a liquid which helps them to keep and feel balanced. When they have an ear infection, this does not operate as normal and can make your dog feel dizzy. By pawing at their ear or tilting their head, it may be to try to steady themselves or prevent the room from spinning.

A sign of confusion

In the same manner that we furrow our brows and press our lips together when we are confused, dogs tilt their heads. It is not exactly known why this behavior is performed but many believe it relates to some theories on the list we have already explained. By tilting their heads, dogs may get a better viewpoint, may be able to listen more adequately and therefore be able to judge the situation better. By tilting their head, your dog is giving themselves the best advantage to try and gauge or understand that which they currently do not.

Whether it be a situation, command, or sound, your dog is most likely tilting their head to try and understand what just happened, when they do so in confusion. It can also be argued that, like we as humans may cock our heads slightly in hopes of someone repeating what they just said, dogs do the same.

Head Tilting In Dogs – FAQs

To make sure we have answered all your queries about why do dogs tilt their heads, we have found the four most searched questions related to this topic. Let us answer them right now!

Why does my dog tilt his head when I talk?

Your dog may tilt his head when you talk for many different reasons. The most likely may be because he either cannot see or hear properly, or he is confused. Does he have long fur that could be blocking his eyes or ears? Or when you address him is there usually something in the way, such as his bed is behind a piece of furniture? The answers to these questions may be the reason why your dog is tilting his head at you whilst you talk.

If your dog is confused, consider, are you using terms you don’t normally use or talking especially quick or slow? He may be trying to clarify what you are saying. Finally, he may be trying to gauge your emotions. Notice if he is reacting to a particular inflection said with emotion, he may be concerned about you or your current emotional state.

Why do dogs tilt their heads when confused?

Dogs tend to tilt their heads to judge the current situation better and gain further understanding. Some specialists say dogs do so to see and hear better. For example, if you gave them a command and they were confused, perhaps they are head tilting for you to say it again. Similarly, if you fake throw your dog a ball, they make be tilting their head in confusion to see if there is anywhere they have not looked.

Others argue that it is a natural commutative response as a gesture asking for repetition. In the same way, we hum a noise when we are asking someone to repeat something, some behaviorists say this is a dog’s way of doing that.

Why is my dog’s head tilting and shaking?

This is much more likely a sign of an ear infection or something wrong with your dog’s ear. When they have an ear infection, the area is much too tender for them to paw at or rub, so these behaviors are not commonly seen here. Instead, they tilt and shake their head to try to disrupt the pain, discomfort, and feelings of dizziness. This is the only way they are able to attempt to control the situation. If you see this occurring regularly, take them to the vet for a medical clean and perhaps ear drops.

How can I make my dog stop tilting his head?

You can stop your dog tilting their head through positive reinforcement or association. We personally only recommend positive training as punishments can lead to fear, anxiety, and other unpleasant emotions dogs do not deserve.

However, why do you need to prevent your dog from tilting their head? Any display of behavior is a method of communicating and this should not be stifled. If the behavior is not destructive, accept your pooches quirks as they accept yours.

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