Why do dogs tilt their heads?

Puppies try out every expression on people. They are doing it randomly, most likely, but some of these expressions are rewarded, and they keep doing it.

When a puppy tilts its head, the “AAWWWW!” and subsequent petting are nigh inevitable.

Not it? Huh. Well, what’s wrong with just telling us and not making me sit through a damn video?

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That’s too bad. I’m half deaf and find people watching still interesting even if I’m not hearing 100%.


I would go with dogs tilt their heads for a better read of our facial expressions. Dogs look at humans with a a left-gaze bias, meaning they look at the right side of human faces first since humans express their most genuine emotions through the right side of face.

My first hypothesis would be canine fovea shape; it is about vision, but it’s only indirectly about noses.

The fovea is the high-resolution bit in the centre of the human retina. While humans have a circular, central fovea, wolves have an elongated fovea-ish area that spreads laterally across the eye. Their central vision isn’t as good as a human’s, but their peripheral vision is much better; good for chasing prey. Tilting their head gets more of their fovea on target, assuming that their target is a tall skinny thing like a human.

As you move across the doggy spectrum from wolves to shitzus, their fovea gradually gets less wolf like and more human like. We’ve hyper-selected the lapdogs so much that we’re halfway to converting them into humans. That possibly explains the reduced occurrence of head-tilting in short-snouted breeds; the wolfier dogs tend to be long-nosed.


Oddly enough beagles (AIIRC hounds in general) are closer to wolves than most dogs. I look at the little guy and I think… No way. He’s so small! That howl tho… It’s ancient. I can hear it.

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Crude test for wolfish vs humanised fovea: do they watch television? Are they attentive to faces?

Beagles were bred as rabbit hunters or somesuch, yes? That’d basically be just an achondroplasic wolf…

The really humanised ones are the decorative lapdogs; they’ve been selected for visual attentiveness to human faces.

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Wallet-dog and his lil’ red scarf is, I hope, called Roscoe. Any dog with those skills and that outfit needs to be a Roscoe.

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Because they can, No, wait…that’s why they lick their nuts.

Guy in the vid sure does a lot of hand waving.


Or as a friend of mine always says, so all the rocks roll to one side.

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It just limits me to small social groupings rather than big ones. But I do tend to react to the “you’re no fun at parties” gibe because yes- I am not fun at parties.

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I can happily report cats do this too, almost always (IME) when they are trying to get your undivided attention. :slight_smile:


Why would dogs tilt their head to see over their muzzles when they are looking up to read our faces???
This makes no sense so its a bad place to start a scientific study!

The shape of the muzzle is related to the placement of the eyes and whether or not the eyes are optimized for looking straight ahead or peripherally.

Yep, humans do it as well.

Stupid question. Next article! :slight_smile:

The constant hand motion was pretty distracting. I want to tell the guy it’s okay to use your hands to help emphasize important parts of the script, but maybe pick a few points and not every. single. word.

To the point of the video, I’m in the “trying to hear better” camp. I’ll watch my dog go full head-tilt while I’m opening a can of dog food. Or just opening any can that might turn out to be dog food.

No, I would rather read the quick answer. Thank you.

I’ve heard that the hounds are the oldest specific group of dogs, but I didn’t know that they were closest to wolves. That’s strange to me, considering how even-tempered my coonhound is. I mean, in the nine years I’ve had him, he’s never bared his teeth even once.

I… hear you :heart:

The Russian experiments with selective breeding of Arctic foxes produced docile specimens in under 50 years.

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