Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads – Explained

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Why do dogs tilt their heads? Is it something that you should be worried about, or it is just something cute that dogs do? Read on and discover.

Have you ever seen your dog tilt his head?

If you say no, you are not a dog owner yet. Head tilting is commonly seen in dogs and it is just of those things that dogs do.

Head tilting is also one of those things that dogs do that people love. It’s cute and every dog does it, regardless of its size, sex, or age.

Head tilting is just something that dogs do. Still, every dog behavior has a ‘why’ behind it.

Is it normal for dogs to tilt their head? When it comes to standard and unusual behavior in dogs, it all comes down to frequency.

For example, if your dog tilts his head occasionally, it is a regular thing. This also means that it’s a harmless habit. However, there are moments when head tilting can be a clear indicator of a health problem.

Read on to learn the difference between a friendly head tilting and head tilting that can be a sign of a medical issue.

Normal Dog Head Tilt In Dogs

Head tilting may appear in some dogs more than in others. For example, puppies are more prone to head tilting than adult dogs are.

Puppies are just entering the world of exciting smells, sounds, and views, making everything new and interesting.

In puppies, head tilting is often an indicator of something interesting. Whenever puppies hear a new or interesting sound or words they will tilt their heads.

They may do this when they see something interesting or find something unusual. They will cock their heads on one side, wait for a moment, and return to normal position.

In some cases, puppies may alter the head to the other side (if something is really unusual) and then return it to its normal position.

Head tilting is something that is mostly seen in puppies, but it can be equally seen in adults, and even senior dogs.

Don’t think that senior dogs do not get to experience new wonders every day as well.

Still, there is a lot to be learned about this behavior, so we (humans) can fully understand it.

As long as this behavior is an occasional thing your dog should be fine. Some people find this behavior more than cute and choose to train dogs to do head tilting on commands.

Before you start this training make sure that you do a throughout research on whether mastering this command is something that your dog could really benefit from, or is something that is just cute.

Some dog experts believe that head tilting is a dog’s way to try to get his ears at a different angle to hear something.

Others claim that head tilting is their way to change their eye position to see better.

Your Fido may be trying to concentrate to hear better or to locate where a sound gets from.

One is for sure – puppies will use head tilting more often than adult dogs will.

Everything around them is new and exciting. Just say a buzzy word around them, or do a funny posture, and you will see your puppy tilting his head on one side or the other.

We may not know everything that there is to know about this behavior, but we do know that it’s frequent, adorable, and common.

Does Head-Tilting Really Helps Dogs Hear Better?

For many dogs, head tilting is an effective way to hear better. Not only that head tilting helps them hear better, but it also helps them locate the direction of the sound.

Dogs can locate the location of the sound thanks to ear rotation. This is something that is maybe best seen in German Shepherds who come with tall ears that may prevent them from hearing the sounds behind them clearly.

When they rotate their ears, they can actually hear more clearly. On the other hand, breeds with dense and floppy ears, such as Cocker Spaniels, need to lift earflaps so they can hear better.

Their earflaps can cover the entire canal, muffling sounds. You are sure that your dog has never demonstrated head tilting?

It may be the case, but the majority of the time that simply isn’t the truth.

Why? Dogs are experts when it comes to certain behaviors. Their head tilting may be so subtle that you won’t even notice it.

All in all, dogs will demonstrate head tilting when they see fit.

Some may choose to do it more often and may even exaggerate the motion, while other dogs may choose to tilt their heads more than others.

When A Head Tilt Indicates A Health Problem

Although head tilting is usually a sign of curiosity in your dog, there are some situations when head tilting is an indicator of health issues.

Unfortunately, when head tilting indicates health issues it’s commonly a sign of serious issues.

In most cases, when health-related head tilting is involuntary, no matter how frequently it may occur.

Involuntary head tilting is different than normal head tilting, and it is commonly followed by other signs of illness such as:

  • Involuntary eye movement (nystagmus)
  • Dizziness
  • Drunken gait (ataxia)
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy

When head tilting is a big deal, it’s usually followed by some kind of vestibular dysfunction.

The vestibular system is located in the middle/inner ear and brain stem, and as such, it is responsible for balance and coordination.

Did you know inflammation of the ear can strongly affect the nerves and structures of the vestibular system? This inflammation can lead to head tilting and many other signs of vertigo.

Here is a shortlist of health problems that can significantly disturb the vestibular system:

  • Horner’s Syndrome
  • Head Trauma
  • Tumor
  • Ear Infections
  • Brain Diseases
  • Idiopathic Vestibular Dysfunction
  • Hypothyroidism

If you notice all of the sudden frequent head tilting in your dog, or it becomes an everyday occurrence, make sure that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Whenever you notice unusual behavior in your dog, you shouldn’t ignore it.

Any sudden change of behavior in your dog may be a sign of underlying issues, and you shouldn’t ignore it.

If ignored, it may become worse over time and lead to permanent damage. When (and if) you notice a head tilt in your dog that seems abnormal, make sure that you contact your veterinarian.

Make sure that you have clear communication with your veterinarian.

Choosing the best veterinarian may be challenging and often time-consuming, but it’s important to find the right veterinarian for your dog, with whom you can have clear communication that will help you always find the best solution for your dog in the shortest time possible.

Ear Infections And Head Tilt In Dogs

Ear infections in dogs are very common. This is why grooming shouldn’t be taken lightly as ear checks should be a mandatory part of grooming practice.

This is something that is extra important if you have a dog with long and floppy ears. Learn how to clean a dog’s ears and how to do it safely.

If you have any doubts about how to check a dog’s ears or how to clean them properly make sure that you contact your veterinarian.

Since ear infections are common in dogs, you should be extra cautious when your dog starts heavily with head tilting.

In some cases, head tilting may be a clear indicator of ear infection and your dog’s way to alleviate discomfort.

When an ear infection occurs, it may be expected to see some other signs such as lethargy or poor appetite followed by fever.

Ear infections in dogs can only be treated by your veterinarian. When it comes to ear infections in dogs you shouldn’t try any DIY treatments, before you talk with your veterinarian.

In fact, the best treatment will come from your vet’s side. Treatment for ear infections will commonly include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and pain relief.

If an ear infection isn’t properly healed or treated, it will lead to permanent damage to the ear.

In some cases, poorly treated ear infections can lead to deafness.

Geriatric Vestibular Disease in Dogs (Old Dog Imbalance)

Geriatric Vestibular Disease is one of the common causes of head tilting in dogs. This condition frequently attacks older dogs (dogs who are over the age of five) and can result in head tilt.

This is why regular veterinarian check-ups are so important when keeping your dog healthy and strong.

If your dog is a senior canine citizen and you notice head tilting, and next to that you notice a rapid shifting of the eyes from one side to the other, and circling it all may be indicators of Geriatric Vestibular Disease in dogs.

When (and if) you notice these symptoms make sure that you contact your veterinarian.

One of the best things that you can do when you notice unusual behavior in your dog is to monitor him closely. This means that you will be able to provide your vet with first-hand information on your dog’s behavior.

If your dog is diagnosed with Geriatric Vestibular Disease you should know that it’s up to you to make his days easier and calmer.

That being said, you should create a quiet space where your dog can rest peacefully to reduce stress.

In most cases, veterinarians will provide anti-nausea medications.

Head Injuries And Trauma In Dogs

When a head injury or trauma in dogs occurs, you may expect to see some head tilting.

Symptoms will vary on the severity of the injury, and the first symptoms may even appear days after an injury happened.

Did you know that in dogs around 50% of all head trauma is caused as a result of a motor vehicle incident? This is why you should be careful when sharing a ride with your Fido.

Make sure that your vehicle is big enough to have a dog in as well.

It’s important that your dog has enough pace and that he can move easily if needed.

That being said, movement inside the vehicle doesn’t mean that your dog should walk from seat to seat but means that he has enough space to move his head and body easily.

Whenever possible, do your best to have the safest car ride possible with your Fido.

Some of the other symptoms of head injury and trauma in dogs are:

  • Blindness
  • Circling
  • Head pressing

What about the treatment in this case? The treatment will always vary from dog to dog, and based on the cause of injury.

Treatment may vary from medications to surgery.

Other Causes of Head Tilt in Dogs

There are other causes of head tilting in dogs that may not be commonly reported.

In some cases, head tilting may be a sign of a tumor or some sort of masses in the head or neck region. That being said, head tilting may be a sign of meningitis, encephalitis, or brain tumors.

In some other cases, head tilting may be a clear indicator of the blood vessels in the head.

To know for sure that might be troubling you Fido, you need your veterinarian to help you.

Only your veterinarian may isolate the particular cause based on examination and diagnostic tests.

The Bottom Line

The key to having a healthy dog is to know your dog. Whenever you notice any unusual behaviors, that simply stand out from the daily motion, you should react.

This doesn’t mean that you should make a big drama from even the smallest change, but you should react when a certain behavior becomes too frequent.

Many changes in a dog’s behaviors are often a sign of underlying medical issues, and the right reaction can save your dog a lot of trouble, and you a high veterinarian bills.

Prevention is the key when it comes to having a healthy and happy dog.

Make sure that you provide regular veterinarian check-ups, the right nutrition, and regular exercise to keep your dog’s joints strong and fit.

Don’t forget that once you get a dog you are directly responsible for his weight, so make sure that you learn about the dog’s nutrition as much as possible.

Don’t ignore head tilting when you notice it.

In most cases, it will be a way of communicating between your dog and the world, and between you and your dog, or an indicator of an underlying health issue – make sure that you don’t ignore it.