Do you ever wonder if your dog can understand what you’re saying? Dogs are incredibly observant and trained to respond to their owner’s commands.
However, the question remains whether they understand our words and phrases. You may even wonder if the dog’s head tilt indicates confusion.
Dogs can read their owner’s facial expressions, body positioning, and tone of voice. However, how much each factor (words vs. body language) contributes to canine understanding is unclear.
Brain studies of dogs and language
According to scientists, dogs can understand the meaning of words beyond just the tone of voice. Studies have shown that a dog’s-brain processes language in a way that is like how humans comprehend words.
These studies were conducted by having dogs lie in MRI machines, revealing that the left side of their brains processes word meaning while the right side interprets intonation.
MRI studies have shown that only the left side of the dog’s brain is activated when praising words are said in a neutral tone.
On the other hand, the right side is activated when random words are spoken affectionately.
This suggests that dogs integrate the function of both sides of their brains to make sense of language, just like humans.
This means that dogs comprehend words by simultaneously processing both the meaning and tone of voice.
Additionally, research shows that a dog’s ability to understand human language depends on its experiences and training.
Dogs learn words through repetition and reinforcement, so dogs with more training and exposure to human language are more likely to understand what we’re saying.
Dogs focus on body language and tone
While there are some interesting studies about dogs understanding what we say, most people agree that dogs understand us more through our body language and tone than our actual words.
They observe facial expressions, posture, and body movements and pay attention to the tone of our voices.
Dogs combine all these cues to comprehend the meaning of our words.
For example, when we speak excitedly with happy facial expressions, our dogs will understand that we are delighted and excited.
Conversely, when we speak sternly with a frown, our dogs will recognize that we are unhappy or upset.
It probably won’t matter much what words you use.
Dogs are thought to have the same cognitive abilities as a 6–12-month-old human infant. They respond to both verbal language and body language. They understand the difference between “es” and “o” when given specific command cues.
For example, if you say “it” and raise your hand with your palm facing down, the dog will sit. IIt’sthe combination of verbal and body language cues that help dogs understand what we want them to do.
Why do dogs tilt their heads when we talk?
Dogs are known for their charming quirks, one of which is their tendency to tilt their heads when humans speak to them.
This habit is cute and heartwarming for many dog owners because it appears to signal that our furry friends are paying close attention to us.
But why, when a dog hears us talk, why does it tilt its head, and what does this behavior mean?
Here are four reasons dogs tilt their heads when we speak:
1. They listen intently and process meaningful stimuli
Researchers in Hungary conducted a study that shone some light on why dogs tilt their heads when we talk.
The study involved 40 dogs that had learned the names of various objects.
The researchers observed the dogs head-tilting behaviors during object-label knowledge tests and found that only the dogs that had learned the names of the objects tilted their heads frequently.
This suggests that head-tilting behavior is linked to the processing of meaningful stimuli.
Additionally, head tilting can be a way for humans and dogs to communicate.
Dogs are social animals and use body language to express their emotions.
Tilting their heads is a subtle way for them to show curiosity and engagement with their human companion.
It’sa way for them to say, “I’m listening, and I care about what you’re saying.”
2. To hear us better
Alongside observing body language, our pups rely heavily on their sense of hearing to understand our communication.
So, when they’re listening to us speak, and we use words they might understand, they might have their heads cocked to hear us better.
This behavior is especially noticeable in dogs with floppy ears.
Dogs with upright ears can pivot each ear independently and might use this ability to position their ears to get the best hearing angle.
In contrast, floppy-eared dogs may tilt their heads more because they have difficulty adjusting their ears to hear.
3. To see us better
Stanley Coren, Ph.D. in psychology, hypothesizes that dogs also tilt their heads to see us better.
Because they observe our body language, seeing our expressions and lip movements helps them understand what we’re saying.
When we talk, our mouths move in different ways, and our facial expressions change unconsciously, sending messages that we may not even be aware of.
Results of a pilot study show that dogs with longer muzzles, such as Greyhounds, display head-tilting behavior more frequently than those with shorter, flatter faces, like Pugs.
By tilting their heads, dogs can gain a more comprehensive view of our faces, and the tone of our non-verbal emotions becomes more apparent.
4. They want affection
Finally, your dog’s head tilt may be because they know we find it adorable.
Dogs are visual creatures, and as they tilt their heads, their big eyes widen, which many of us find charming.
If a dog has received attention or affection from its owner when it has tilted its head in the past, it’ll be more likely to recreate the behavior in the future, almost like presenting cuteness.
Remember that there could also be medical reasons that your dog tilts its head, like an ear infection. If you see your dog doing this and it seems off to you, a veterinarian visit should be scheduled.
Final thoughts on understanding the dog head tilt
So, do dogs understand human language and conversations, and is that why they tilt their heads when you are talking?
While no conclusive evidence exists, it is widely assumed that dogs can recognize familiar noises, respond to specific body language signals, and grasp certain words and phrases.
As pet owners, we should continue to appreciate and communicate with our pets using words, tone, and body language to build a strong bond with our furry friends.