One of the cutest thing a dog can do is tilt its head when hearing their owner talk to them. But why do they do it? Trying to understand us better, or they know it’s super cute and will get them a treat?
Dogs are really good at reading and responding to our body language and vocal cues. When you’re lecturing them about something they’ve done they might not understand all the words, but they’re looking for certain words and inflections they connect with fun activities or food. That’s why they cock their heads when you speak to them. The head tilt also comes from how their ear is constructed.
While dogs hear frequencies humans are incapable of hearing, they’re actually inferior when it comes to detecting the source of sounds. Their brains make calculations of extremely minuscule differences between the time it takes a sound to reach each ear, so by changing the head position they’re provided with useful information. The tilt, according to some experts, comes from an attempt to better locate the source of certain sounds.
Stanley Coren of Psychology Today thinks it might have something to do with vision. Not all dogs have a long nose and mouth blocking their sight, but many of them do. And just like you’d have a tough time seeing things straight with a fist in front of your nose, dogs might be tilting their head in order to see something better; specifically trying to read our facial expressions. Dogs can understand things just by seeing our mouth and the expression it makes.
So to sum up, dogs tilt their heads, probably, in order to empathize. Meaning frequent head tilters are especially empathetic, although not doing it at all doesn’t turn your dog into a dangerous sociopath. After all, head tilt might actually be coming from instinct, although if it’s responded to through positive reinforcement the more likely dogs are to do it in search of praise.