Dogs do plenty of cute things, but there are few behaviors more adorable than the head tilt. I make plenty of strange noises around my pups just to see if they’ll tilt their heads to the side in a quizzical look of confusion. Most dog owners can tell you that the head tilt means a dog is intrigued and experiencing something out of the ordinary. But why do they do it? Well experts say that the head tilt has a lot to do with a dog’s ability to empathize.
Dogs have evolved to be very good at understanding humans. They can read our body language, facial gestures, and speech patterns to empathize with us. They even recognize certain words and vocal tones and associate them with playtime, walks, or food. When they tilt their heads, it’s possible that they are trying to filter what we are saying to pick out those familiar parts of our language.
Even though dogs can hear frequencies we can’t, they’re actually not as good as humans at finding out where a sound is coming from. Some experts believe that when a dog tilts its head, it’s trying to adjust the pinnae, or outer ears, to better detect where a sound is coming from. So when you’re making a weird noise, your dog might be thinking, “That’s weird. I better find out if that sound is really coming from my human.”
The head tilt may also be a response to visual cues, not just auditory. Stanley Coren of Psychology Today suggests that a dog’s muzzle might make it difficult to see the source of a sound. By tilting their heads, dogs are better able to see our faces and read our expressions, which they are also very good at.
Whatever the case, it’s one of the most adorable things in the world. I will certainly continue to make weird noises to elicit a head tilt from my pups. Maybe one day they’ll just figure out I’m a particularly odd human and ignore my shenanigans. But until then, it’s head tilts all the time.