Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

July 14, 2023
Annette Thompson

We’ve all witnessed that heart-melting moment when our beloved dogs tilt their heads while looking at us, leaving us charmed and wondering about the reasons behind this adorable behavior.

Surprisingly, much research has not been done into why they do it. However, a study at a Hungarian University sheds light on this endearing gesture in our canine companions.

Gifted dogs, capable of memorizing multiple toy names, were observed to tilt their heads more frequently before correctly retrieving a specific toy than regular dogs, suggesting that head tilting might indicate concentration and recall in dogs.

Key Takeaways

  • Scientific research funded by Eötvös Loránd University points out that dogs tilt their heads when processing information.
  •  In the study, dogs tilt their heads regardless of the owner’s position, so it doesn’t seem they tilt their heads to listen better.
  • The scientific research on this topic is severely limited, so more studies with more dogs must be done to draw more robust conclusions.
  •  Some dogs tilt their heads at random points because they have a vestibular disease in the ear. They exhibit other symptoms such as leaning, lack of balance, circling, etc. So if your dog tilts their head randomly and presents other symptoms, take your pet to the vet.

Internet Speculations

adult German shepherd on green field

A quick internet search turned up various speculative theories regarding head tilting in dogs, including the idea that it might help them hear better, focus on specific words or tones, or even be a conscious act to appeal to humans. The scientific literature, however, offered little to no support for this theory.

Why do dogs tilt their head?

The research team led by Andrea Sommese studied 40 dogs, 33 of them were regular dogs, and the other seven canines were known as “gifted word learners” The normal dogs and gifted dogs were subject to training to memorize the name of two toys and retrieve them from a different room. The talented dogs had an incredible ability to remember and retrieve at least ten toys by their names. One standout participant named Whisky impressively recovered the toys 59 times.

This study suggests that dogs tilt their heads when they are processing relevant auditory information.

As the researchers observed these talented dogs over several months, they noticed a striking pattern—most gifted dogs consistently tilted their heads when asked to fetch a familiar toy, in contrast to the typical dogs.

The research team found that gifted dogs tilted their heads during trials a remarkable 43% of the time, while typical dogs did so only 2%. The head tilting behavior was consistent over months of observation, and each dog even had a favored side, such as having dogs a preferred paw to look for an item or two on which side they had their tail, such as humans can be left or right-handed.

All six gifted dogs performing frequent tilts in this study were Border collies. However, most typical dogs not displaying such behavior also belonged to this breed (18). Hence, it is essential to avoid relating frequent head tilts with Border collies. Most gifted dogs reported in the literature belong to this breed, but most Border collies do not appear to be able to learn object names. It is also important to note that a few dogs of other breeds have shown this skill. Since the frequency of head tilts in gifted dogs of different breeds has yet to be studied, further research is needed to address the generalizability of the present results to other breeds.

Is my dog tilting his head because of a disease?

Head tilting can be associated with dog vestibular disease, ear infections, or neurological afflictions. But there’s is no need to worry. A dog’s cute tilt related to processing information looks very different than a head tilt because of a disease.

Symptoms of disease-related dog tilt:

  • When your dog tilts their head when you are not talking to them or because of an unexpected sound.
  •  Lack of coordination in movements.
  •  Wide based stance
  •  Leaning, circling
  •  Falling or rolling to one side
  •  Strabismus (the eyes are not aligned)

When your dogs present this symptom or any other changes in their behavior, take them with your veterinarian.

How to make your dog tilt their head:

Try playing these sounds to your dog:

As we learned, dogs seem to tilt their head when presented with auditory information that needs special processing, such as a command, a sound out of context or the squizing sound of a toy.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my dog keep tilting her head up?

Dogs do that when processing important information because they pay attention to you or something relevant.

Why is my dog tilting his head to one side and off balance?

Your dog is likely to have vestibular disease. Take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible so

Can a dog’s head tilt be a sign of a neurological condition?

A dog’s head tilt can indicate neurological conditions like vestibular disease or brain tumors. Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause and may include medication, surgery, or supportive care.

Do all breeds of dogs tilt their heads?

No formal study can confirm if all dog breeds tilt their heads. However, it has been observed that some breeds are likelier to tilt their heads, like breeds with muzzles seem likelier to tilt their face than flat-faced dogs.

Also, it has been observed that some dogs of the same breed tilt their heads, and some don’t.

Are dogs that tilt their head smart?

According to the study by Andrea Sommese in a Hungarian university, they were more likely to comply with a complex command when they observed the dogs tilting their head.

Why do dogs tilt their heads when confused??

It seems dogs tilt their heads when confused to understand what is happening.


In wrapping up, dogs tilting their heads is the cutest spectacle. According to the only scientific paper investigating this event, they tilt it to process better the information presented to them.

At Bone Voyage Dog Rescue, we are home to numerous loving dogs, each with adorable head tilts and heartwarming stories. We strongly believe these dogs deserve a chance at a forever home where their charming head tilts are appreciated and loved.

So, why not bring this joy and curiosity into your life? You’ll marvel at their endearing head tilts and give a dog in need the loving home it deserves. Come and embark on this fulfilling journey with us. Adopt a dog from Bone Voyage Dog Rescue today, and let’s add more love and happiness to your life.

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