This is why dogs often tilt their heads when listening to people

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Pets often have strange but gentle habits. For example, dogs tilt their heads to the side when talking to them. Most dog lovers are familiar with this endearing behavior, but few understand why.

Stanley Koren, a professor at the University of British Columbia, also noticed this movement in his dog, which is why he researched this habit closely. In an article in the American Journal of Psychology Today, he describes various explanations and presents his own research.

Many ways, but no guide

The professor explains that there has been a lot of speculation about this behavior: “Some people think dogs tilt their heads to the side when we talk to them so one ear can better hear what we’re saying. Others think it’s a social cue – maybe the dog realizes that we’re responding positively. For this particular pose (because he’s so cute) and that’s why the dog adopts this pose because he’s more likely to get a smile and a treat, if he does.” .

However, one searches in vain for scientific research to confirm these hypotheses. Corinne, whose field of research also considers sensory perception, suspects that not hearing, but rather seeing is crucial to the setting of four-legged friends.

Dogs read their owners’ feelings on their faces

A simple experiment to imitate a dog's snout
A simple experiment to imitate a dog’s snout

His hypothesis can be tested with a simple experiment. According to experts, you hold your fist in front of your nose, as shown in the figure.

This allows you to understand what a dog focused on the person’s face will see and what will not. It is noted that the lower part of the head in particular is covered with fists.

However, this part of the face is especially important, according to Koren: “Remember that this part of the face, especially the mouth area, is an important part of human emotional expression.”

Once you tilt your head to the side, you can easily see your face, despite your grip on your nose.

We know that dogs are constantly scanning our faces for information and reading our emotional state. So it’s possible that part of the reason dogs tilt their heads when we talk to them is because they want to take a better look at our faces to compensate for the way the muzzles block part of their vision,” the scientist explains.

The study investigates the association between head shape and behavior

To validate this approach, Corinne surveyed nearly 600 dog owners using a short online questionnaire. They indicated on a scale (never, rarely, occasionally, often, most of the time or always) how far their four-legged friend was tilting their head to the side when spoken to. The researchers summarized the animals in which answers were selected most frequently, often or always as “head tilt dogs.”

Participants were also asked about the breed of their dog. Six pictures of mixed breed owners have been provided to indicate the approximate head shape of their dogs.

Thus pets can be divided into two groups: those with a pronounced muzzle, such as collie, greyhounds, retrievers or beagles, and flat-faced dogs, such as pugs, Boston terriers, and Pekingese. “With a less pronounced muzzle, there should be less visual impairment and these dogs would need to tilt their head less,” says the scientist.

Overall, 62 percent reported that their dog often turns its head to the side when spoken to. It is noted that four-legged friends with a large snout exhibit this behavior particularly frequently at 71 percent, while only 52 percent for pugs, Boston terriers, Kings and Co.

“This is a statistically significant difference, which clearly indicates that head shape and muzzle size influence head tilt in dogs,” the researcher explains.

However, the result also shows that more than half of dogs whose muzzle does not block the field of view change the position of their head. These four-legged friends may still see better once they turn their field of view to the side.

However, according to Corinne, there are other factors that are more likely to lead to this behavior: “Maybe there is something to do with hearing, or perhaps dogs are trying to sound really nice. However, this study is the first step towards finding the answer, and at least we have Now some data to work with.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider in November 2018. It has now been reviewed and updated.

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