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When a dog responds to your voice by tilting its head, it means it is paying attention to you, says a new study

A new study reveals that when dogs tilt their heads they are paying attention to what their owners are saying (Pic. Courtesy WeLoveDogsUSA)

Dog pet parents and dog lovers can speak endlessly about the engaging and endearing characteristics of this animal. Among these habits, is the titling of the head by them on hearing human voices.

According to an article in smithsonianmag.com, what is truly ironic is that despite the centuries-old bond between dogs and humans, there has hardly been any attempt to understand the tilting of head by the animal. While doing a study on the capability of dogs to master words, experts came to know about the possible association between the memory of the dogs and the tilting of their head, as per a paper published in Animal Cognition.

Talking about this connection, Andrea Sommese said: “We investigated the frequency and direction of this behaviour in response to a specific human verbal vocalization. We did so after realizing that it often happened when the dogs were listening to their owners.”

Sommese is an animal science researcher at the Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University and the author of the study.

During their research, the Hungarian scientists studied the pattern of head tilt by the “typical” as well as the “gifted” dogs. Now, how are the latter different from the former. The owners of the pups were asked to command their pets to fetch a specific toy by prompting them with the name of that object like for example, “Bring rope”. Though most members of this species find it difficult to remember names of two names, the “gifted” dogs involved the study – all border collies – mastered the names of at least 10 different names of toys which were taught by the scientists.

It was observed by the researchers that those dogs who were able to recall the toy had their head tilted to grasp the command more than the ones who were not so adept in recalling.

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On analysing the data of the response of the dogs to their owners’ command, it was found that gifted dogs tilted their heads 43 per cent of the time when contrasted with typical dogs who did it just two per cent of the time. From this the experts deduced that the dog’s head tilting was possibly a signal of paying attention or could be matching of the name with the visual image of the object in their head.

Observation also led the scientists discover that the creatures titled their head usually in the same direction irrespective of where the owner was positioned. The tilt to the right or left was individual preference – an area which the researchers want to explore later.

In a report for Mashable, Alexis Nedd mentioned that studies conducted earlier had found that dog’s right side to be more active in processing positive words and praise.

Human-animal interaction researcher at Oregon State University, Monique Udell talking to Science, remarked: “The next step is asking more questions to get at what the head tilt really means. Can we use head tilting to predict word-learning aptitude, or attention, or memory?” Incidentally, Udell was not part of the study.

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Though the present study breaks ground in the area of connection between animal cognition and behaviour, the scientists are of the opinion that the research is still in very early stages.

The observation of the study is surely a matter of great happiness and pride for the dog parents as they realise that tilt of their pet/animal is its sincere effort to understand them.