Cranium-Cockin’ Canines

Is your dog giving you the side-eye? 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

It’s one of the cutest quirks in a dog’s repertoire: the head tilt. But what makes our canine comrades shoot us that irresistible angled look?

Andrea Sommese and team at Eӧtvӧs Loránd University, Budapest, examined head-tilting pups. 

They trained a group of forty dogs of various breeds on a word learning game. The researchers gave a verbal command. Then, the dogs ran to fetch the corresponding toy while the team watched. 

Seven especially smart dogs rapidly learned the correct names of toys. Curiously, while listening to the commands they did the head-tilt more often than the others. Over TWENTY TIMES more, in fact! 

Because head-tilting correlated with word smarts, the researchers think it indicates mental processes. Think: concentration or memory-referencing. 

We finally have a clue as to what’s going on in Sparky’s cocked cranium! Once again, science is here to explain why our pets are so adorable! 

Now, can somebody explain why my cat jumps on my head at 4 am?

Reference: Sommese, A., Miklósi, Á., Pogány, Á. et al. An exploratory analysis of head-tilting in dogs. Anim Cogn (2021).