The ear flips of an inquisitive head turning side to side disarm a dog lover like nothing else, but why do dogs tilt their heads? In a new report titled “An exploratory examination of head-tilting in dogs,” researchers theorized that the cute tilts may be connected to improved attention from the puppies in question, as lateralized brain, activities helped them digest information.
The study, which was published in the journal Animal Cognition, engaged the assistance of 40 dogs who were participating in another study by Fugazza et al, in which they were asked to retrieve toys with acquired names as guided by a person.
The researchers paid close attention to the dogs’ head tilting as they watched the difficulties unfold. They took note of whether the dogs cocked their heads and in which direction they cocked their heads. It had to have been a long day at work.
Seven of the dogs in the study were classified as gifted word learners (GWLs), meaning they had demonstrated a high level of ability in memorizing the names of items. The remaining 33 canines were family dogs that had undergone three months of training to become familiar with the names of the toys.
The GWL dogs turned their heads substantially more than the family dogs, and the direction of the tilt was not related to the owner’s location or the source of the sound, according to the findings. Toy popularity was unlikely to be the tilt trigger, according to the researchers, because all of the dogs had trained to be equally familiar with the toys before the investigation.
“The familiarity of the stimuli alone was not adequate to trigger head-tilts in the setting of object verbal labels,” the researchers reported. “As a result, we propose that the difference in the dogs’ behavior might be linked to hearing significant words (for the GWL dogs) and could be an indication of greater attention.” When the dogs hear the toy’s name, they may tilt their heads to make a cross-modal match in their memory (e.g., name to a visual picture).
“There is evidence for lateralization in the canine brain while processing human vocalizations, but the limited number of GWL dogs in our study prevents a population-level side bias from being investigated.
The link between the direction of head tilting and brain processing of human vocalizations may be revealed in future studies with a bigger sample size by combining behavioural and neurological approaches.”