Plenty of people think I’m crazy for talking to my dog as if she’s a person who can understand my every word. But my theory is, dogs understand tone and if you can talk to your dog in a friendly tone, they’ll soak it up and feel good as a result. Besides, who can resist that adorable head tilt?
I’ve often wondered why dogs do this and I’m not alone. Many scientists have explored this endearing trait and postulated their own theories. Some researchers believe dogs tilt their head and move their ears to better hear the words we’re saying. Others have suggested it’s a behavioral trait our dogs have learned from our favourable responses. In effect, because it makes us giggle and treats are usually forthcoming.
But one professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia by the name of Stanley Coren, who is a best known for his work and books on dogs, has come up with an answer that makes perfect sense to me. Coren has done extensive research in sensory perception and it is this knowledge that led him to the reason why dogs tilt their heads when we speak to them. You’ll be surprised to learn that the answer lies in their vision and not their hearing.
Quite simply, dogs can see your mouth more clearly when they tilt their heads, especially those with long, wide muzzles or mesaticephalic noses, like those of a beagle or retriever. Those big noses get in the way!
Coren conducted a simple experiment, which you can try at home. Make a fist with your hand and bring it up to your nose to mimic the mesaticephalic muzzle of a dog. Then look at someone’s face and see if you can clearly see their mouth. Coren found most of their mouth was obscured. But when he tilted his head to one side or the other, he could see their mouth clearly.
He decided to test this theory by asking dog owners to answer a simple questionnaire on whether their dogs tilt their heads when spoken to, and if so, to what degree. Almost 600 dog owners responded and the results showed in favour of those dog breeds with wider, longer (mesaticephalic) muzzles – 62% of these breeds were more likely to tilt their heads. However, 52% of brachycephalic breeds, like pugs, Boston terriers and French bulldogs, also tilted their heads often in response to speech.
Coren concluded that these breeds must have obscured vision as well as the mesaticephalic dogs, but maybe not as much. The psychologist also believes that hearing and social endearment must be contributing albeit lesser factors for the head tilt.
These results shed light on why dogs tilt their heads when we speak to them and present some solid data for further studies...stay tuned.
by Natalie Secretan