Why do dogs tilt their heads?

April 13, 2012

If you mention a cue word such as “treat” to your dog, you may see your dog tilt its head in response. Such an endearing movement can catch the eye of and give joy to a dog’s owner who can be moved to give the pet a treat after the dog has performed its task. A tilt of the head is an expression that your dog can give when it questions what you are saying or doing.

A dog may accompany a questioning look with some movement of its forehead and eyelids as though to prompt you for more information. While your dog may not have the facial flexibility to make all the faces that you can, your dog manages to have quite a few facial expressions for a different emotions including questioning and being on alert for more information.

You may see a dog tilt its head about in a circular fashion if you have an object that makes an unusual noise. This appears to be a stronger expression of questioning events. A dog will tilt its head in an effort to locate the source of a sound that it hears.

When a dog makes an invitation to play by stretching out its front legs while leaving its rump in a raised position, the dog tilts his head up at the dog or person to whom the dog is making the invitation. The dog’s head tilt resembles a human head tilt when it is used to express confusion or questioning.

A dog may also tilt its head because of irritation in an ear or both ears. Ear mites, infection or an object that has become lodged in the ear may cause the dog to tilt its head. In the case of infection, the infection could spread to the dog’s earflap. A condition called hematoma of the earflap may result. In this condition, the ear swells because of a ruptured blood vessel.

An object that has become lodged in the ear causes much irritation to a dog. It could be a grass seed, water or even dirt that is in the ear. Dogs that are active outdoors have more of a chance to get objects in their ears.

A medical condition or illness may also cause a dog to tilt its head. Deafness, vestibular disease, hyperthyroidism, nervous disease or muscular disease can cause a dog to tilt its head. It is important that you understand your dog’s body language including the head tilt. By monitoring your dog’s activities in health and sickness, you will be able to spot a head tilt that is abnormal and not a healthy sign of communication.

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