2 min read

Why do Dogs Tilt Their Heads When You Talk to Them?


You've probably thought to yourself at some point, "why do dogs tilt their heads when you talk to them?" Or, when they hear a loud, or unusual sound? I know I have every time my dog Buster cocks his head with that confused expression on his face, the one that says, “Huh? What’s that you’re saying?” 

In the case of my pup, it actually looks like he's thinking to himself, “What is my crazy hooman doing?”  But really, why do dogs tilt their head when they look at you? Does it have an actual purpose? Or, it just your dog is just trying to be irresistibly cute??? 

The Real Reason Dogs Tilt Their Heads

a Beagle puppy is tilting her head listening to her pet parent speak

As cute as it is, the real reason dogs tilt their heads when you talk to them, or when they hear a loud noise, is simply a built-in survival instinct to utilize their ears to assess a situation. A dog's ears act similarly to an antenna. They perk up in order to triangulate how far away a sound is from them. Then, the dog will think whether or not the sound is familiar (like the sound of your voice, versus someone else's).

Dogs Can Respond to Sounds

a leashed dog is perking their ears and cocking their head to detect if a sound is a threat

With distance and familiarity in mind, the dog assesses whether the sound might be a threat to them and reacts accordingly.

Likewise, for a puppy, this movement is as much about distance as it is about learning, the perked ears and cocked head make it easier for the pup to hear the sound, and attempt to match it with previously heard sounds. 

 Dogs also use their sense of hearing to read human emotions by gauging the level and tone of their owner’s voice. When a voice is loud and scolding, the dog will first cock his head to assess, then quickly hunker down with a supreme look of guilt on his face and try to slink away, because they sense you are displeased with them. Conversely, a calm tone of voice is more likely to settle down the dog if it's acting over excited, or erratic. 

 So next time your dog tilts its head when you talk to it, remember, it's not trying to look cute, it's just listening to you!

And by "listening" we mean your dog isn't so much hearing what you're saying, but more how you're saying it...

Now that you know why dogs tilt their heads when you talk to them, you'll probably start noticing more that humans actually do the same thing when they want to listen more closely!

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