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

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Pets often have strange but cute habits. For example, dogs tilt their heads to one side when spoken to. Most dog lovers are familiar with this endearing behavior, but few know why.

This movement was also noticed by Stanley Coren, professor at the University of British Columbia, in his dog, which is why he investigated this habit more closely. In an article in the American magazine “Psychology Today”, he describes various explanations and presents his own research.

Many approaches, but no evidence

The professor explains that there has been much speculation about this behavior: “Some people believe that dogs tilt their heads to one side when we talk to them so that one ear can better hear what we are saying. Others believe it’s a social signal – maybe the dog realizes that we respond positively to this particular pose (because it’s so cute), and that’s why the dog takes this position because he’s more likely to get a smile and a reward, if he does. ”.

Scientific research to confirm these hypotheses is, however, sought in vain. Coren, whose research area is also the sensory perception, suggested that not hearing, but rather seeing is crucial for the posture of four-legged friends.

Dogs read their owner’s emotions on their faces

Simple experiment to simulate a dog's muzzle
Simple experiment to simulate a dog’s muzzle

His hypothesis can be tried out through a simple experiment. According to experts, you hold your own fist in front of your nose, as shown in the illustration.

Thus, one can empathize with what a dog that focuses a person’s face can see and what not. It is noticeable that the lower part of the head in particular is covered by the fist.

According to Coren, however, this section of the face is particularly important: “Remember that this part of the face, especially the mouth area, is an important part of human emotional expression.”

As soon as you tilt your head to one side, the face can be viewed without any problems despite your fist on your nose.

“We know dogs are constantly searching our faces for information and reading our emotional state. Hence, it is likely that one reason dogs tilt their heads when we talk to them is because they want to see our faces better in order to offset the way their snouts obscure part of their vision. ” explains the scientist.

Study looks at the relationship between head shape and behavior

To confirm this approach, Coren used a short online questionnaire to interview nearly 600 dog owners. These indicated with a scale (from never, rarely, occasionally, often, most of the time or always) how often their four-legged friend tilts their head to one side when they are spoken to. The researchers summarized the animals for which the answers were often, mostly or always selected as “head-tilting dogs”.

Participants were also asked about the breed of their dog. Six images have been made available to owners of mixed breeds to indicate the approximate head shape of their dog.

The pets could be divided into two groups: those with a pronounced snout, such as collies, greyhounds, retrievers or beagles and the dogs with flat faces, such as pugs, Boston terriers and Pekingese. “With a less pronounced snout, there should be less visual impairment and these dogs would have to tilt their head less,” argues the scientist.

Overall, 62 percent said that their dog often turned his head when he was spoken to. It is noticeable that four-legged friends with a large snout show this behavior particularly frequently with 71 percent, while it is only 52 percent with pugs, Boston terriers, Pekingese and Co.

“This is a statistically significant difference, which clearly suggests that the shape of the head and the size of the snout influence the tilt of the dog’s head,” explains the researcher.

However, the result also shows that over half of the dogs whose snout does not block the field of vision change their head posture. Perhaps these four-legged friends can still see better as soon as they turn their field of vision to the side.

However, according to Coren, other factors are more likely to trigger this behavior: “Maybe something is playing a role with hearing, or maybe the dogs are really just trying to look cute. Still, this study is a first step towards finding the answer, and at least we now have some data to work with. “

This article was published by in November 2018. It has now been reviewed and updated.


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