All dogs do wonderful and endearing things to make humans smile and feel warm inside. Some roll over onto their bellies, some wag their tails, some seem to smile, and some are so happy to see you when you come home that you couldn’t imagine a home without them. All dogs do adorable things, and among the most common of all cute behaviors is when a dog tilts its head at you as if trying to understand what you are saying better. Some dogs even have the benefit of being considered cuter than the average dog. Smaller dogs tend to be considered cuter, especially those that are bred to be smaller versions of larger breeds. The French Bulldog is both of these and more, and if you are wondering why your French Bulldog likes to tilt its head, here are several reasons.
The Root of the Behavior
Tilting the head is not a behavior limited to the French Bulldog, and over the years, there has been a lot of speculation about why this behavior occurs. For a long while, the prevailing opinion was that dogs tilt their heads in order to hear better, the same way a human might lean in closer to hear something better. Another popular opinion is that since the head tilting behavior is cute, and since it generally arouses a positive reaction from dog lovers, your dog may exhibit this behavior knowing that he will get positive attention from it. French Bulldogs, who already tend to enjoy a considerable amount of positive attention, may have learned to use the head tilt to their advantage.
Stanley Coren, a dog-loving professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, began to suspect that dogs tilt their heads for a reason unrelated to cuteness or hearing. Coren spoke to his dog, observed the head tilting behavior, and hypothesized that the real reason for the head tilt was so that his dog, Darby, could see around his muzzle. Coren put a fist in front of his face and noticed that his fist blocked some of his lower field of vision. After tilting his head, he discovered that he could now see clearly in the field of vision where a human’s mouth might be. To prove his hypothesis, he performed a simple research study in which he discovered that dogs with longer muzzles exhibit the head tilt behavior more frequently than dogs with flat faces, like the French Bulldog.
Although long-muzzled dogs performed the head tilt more frequently, more than half of all flat-faced dogs in the study exhibited the head tilt behavior. This led Coren to conclude that even flat-faced dogs might suffer in some way from vision impairment, or that flat-faced dogs at least must benefit in some way from turning their heads to the side. French Bulldogs do not appear to have muzzles that impair their vision, but they may still tilt their heads out of instincts inherited from the breed’s closest relative, the English Bulldog. Whether it is this reason, or a combination of the above, French Bulldog lovers will continue to enjoy the head tilt for years to come.
Encouraging the Behavior
The head tilt is a completely normal and harmless behavior that most dogs will do at least every once in a while. French Bulldogs do seem to exhibit the behavior more than average, although this may be due to any of the causes listed above. It is not a sign that your dog is hard of hearing or sight, although it is possible that dogs that constantly tilt their heads even while not being addressed are suffering from an unseen ailment. French Bulldogs and all flat-faced dogs for that matter may simply benefit from turning their heads so that they do not need to work as hard to adjust their ears or eyes towards the speaker.
French Bulldogs are good at reading facial expressions, as are all dogs. You may start to notice that your French Bulldog is tilting his head and looking at your face and mouth in order to read your body language. Humans do this exact same thing whether we realize it or not; the mouth and facial expressions in general are the most prominent points of human body language. Whenever you speak to your dog, he is trying to understand not only what you are saying, but also your mood, emotional state, and intentions. This requires a combination of both visual and audio cues, which your dog then processes as one command or feeling.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs like the French Bulldog are brachycephalic, meaning that they have flat and occasionally pressed-in faces. Many veterinarian societies have begun to discourage people from buying or breeding dogs with overly brachycephalic faces, because it can be hard for some brachycephalic dogs to breathe or function properly throughout their lifetime. Most French Bulldogs do not seem to suffer as much from overly brachycephalic features, but it is still up to dog owners to be responsible about where they buy their puppies from, and it is still up to breeders to breed responsibly. Since this breed in particular is among the rarer purebreds, it is especially important to make sure that the dog is going to grow up to be healthy, happy, and responsibly bred.
There is no concrete answer as to why dogs tilt their heads, but it is certainly one of the most adorable and endearing behaviors that your dog will exhibit throughout its puppyhood and beyond. Feel free to make as many faces and voices at your dog as you can. He will simply tilt his head to the side and give you that perfect puppy look.