Why Dogs Cock Their Heads To The Side

dog tilting its head

It wasn’t by accident that advertising for the company “RCA” once featured a dog cocking his head in front of a speaker horn. There’s something about this position that most people find utterly adorable. Dogs know it, too, which is why they do it, even when they aren’t trying to hear anything in particular. We give them a positive response, and they remember that. Also, dogs tilt their heads for very practical reasons as well. Tilting the head to the side puts one of the ears up and forward. By turning an ear in the direction of fuzzy or inaudible sounds, dogs are able to hear a little more clearly.

We often forget how confusing human speech is for dogs. Even though dogs understand some of what we’re saying, most of our conversation is just a blur of sound to them. Usually, they just ignore it. They can tell from our body language and eye movements when we’re saying things that concern them. Once something attracts their interest, they’ll often perk up their ears and tilt their heads slightly in order to figure out what’s going on.

Dogs rarely cock their heads when sounds are coming from the sides, since their ears are
already in prime hearing position. They mainly do it when people are in front of them, since the sound waves aren’t traveling directly toward the ears. You’ll see this more in puppies than older dogs. It’s not that puppies have more trouble hearing. They just haven’t been around us long enough to figure out what’s important and what isn’t. So they respond to almost any sound with a little head-cock, especially when we’re looking at them at the same time. They know something interesting is happening, and they don’t want to miss a thing. They often cock their heads to make sense out of the babble of noise. The movement allows them to capture every bit of sound.

The way a dog’s ears are designed may play some role in how much he cocks his head.
Pricked-up ears may be slightly more efficient than other ear shapes, since sound waves are able to go right in. Floppy ears present a problem. The sound waves have to pass through a big, heavy ear flap before reaching the eardrum. This probably doesn’t make a big difference, but dogs with heavy, hanging ears may have to work a little harder in order to hear what’s being said. The inside of a dog’s ear is shaped like a cup. This design allows the ears to scoop in sound waves – but only when the opening is unencumbered.