Thursday, 5 December 2013

Getting things straight…or not

Are you a head tilter?

I most certainly am not.

Between you and me, a certain person wasted quite a lot of time last night trying to get a photo of me cocking my head to one side to illustrate this blog post, but she signally failed because it's something I just don't do.

So why bring the topic up at all, I hear you ask.

Well, Gail and I were snuggled up together the other evening, listening to our favourite radio science programme, 'The Infinite Monkey Cage' (co-presented by her 'friend' Professor Brian Cox) and, in the course of a fascinating discussion about perception and neuroscience, we heard a wee snippet about head tilting in mammals.

Apparently, one theory for why we do this (or not) is because: "it will change your perception a little bit and will give you a bit more information. It will give you some understanding that was not previously available."

Cue a consultation with Professors Google and Wikipedia, which quickly revealed two additional competing theories relevant to dogs:

(1) Heads are tilted to improve hearing by lifting ear flaps away from earholes (leading to the prediction that the behaviour would be less common in dogs with pricked ears)


(2) It is learned behaviour, an adaptive response to the fact that human find the cocked head gesture "too cute" and reward the dogs with attention and treats.

So, my canine friends, I am wondering if, and under what circumstances, you move your head out of alignment with the rest of your body? Is it when you have a reasonable expectation of a treat, when you are finding it difficult to hear, or when you are trying to figure out something you don't quite understand? Or for some other reason? And by the way, are your ears upright or dangling?

As ever, with my Bertie Boffin hat on, I shall do my best to analyse any data you provide, using advanced multivariate analysis and general linearised statistical models as appropriate, and I shall report my findings in due course.


  1. Well, Bella and I both have pricked ears....and we both do the scottie head tilt. Sorry if we mess up Brian's hypothesis.

    XXXOOO Daisy, Bella & Roxy

  2. Hari OM
    (from stormy auld Reekie - how are you faring up yonder?)

    Re the head tilt. As to the response to conditioning theory; nonsense!!! Seeing the INDog up close and personal and observing that puppies head tilt to their elders and playmates suggests there is a 'thinking' purpose behind it (as indicated by Gail's mate, Brian). I do consider this as a signal that whatever is going on is non-threatening and requires a degree of analysis... for example "what just happened?", or "why did you do that?"...

    In regard the ear prick - again nonsense. Seen it done by all kinds of ear-wearers.

    Further evidence is that dogs are observed tilting head when trying to work out what that strange object is in the bottom of the water bowl or whether that is actually a lizard or the more risky snake... I saw both of these in Jade, who as a rule was not a major head-tilter. Brilliant paw lifter though. That, too, is a natural behaviour. No doubt such things can be encouraged and affirmed by positive training techniques (read 'handing out treats'), but there has to be a pre-existing tendency.

    I disagree that you are not tilting in that top photo Prof Bertie-ji; slight, I grant you, but still present...

    Looking forward to your reports. Hugs and wags, YAM-aunty xxx

  3. Never heard of this before

    Welcome to my blog

  4. We head tilt big time as we have to try and figure out what the idiot is saying. Usually not worth the effort Bertie.
    Have a tremendous Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  5. Well here it is the pugs are MASTERS of the head tilt and from what we have seen so are all pugs, just google pug head tilt. WE tilt heads for treats, when a word is said, anytime the camera comes out. Tubby in particulary is a pro. It may be that our heads are a bit heavy. Bob occasionally head tilts, Norbert never! He also hates the camer though and wont look in it he has to be tricked and needs a parent iwth him in the picture a lot

    retro rover

  6. Hmmm you have your head tilted in your header photo and your about me photo. But we have noticed that me with my flop down ears tends to tilt my head a lot more then my brother who has pricked up ears.

  7. In anticipation of a treat! I am getting a bit hard of hearing, and Teka just ignores what the humans say anyway. Also that thing about "understanding?" Teka says she understands EVERYTHING and I am always in a fog.

    gus n teka

  8. Our Ears... hang Down, being Dachshunds and all.
    We don't cock our heads very often... our peeps look bad enough withOUT seeing them sideways. Can't wait to hear the conclusion to your poll.

  9. My brother, now Angel Jake, would tilt his head all the time when mom or dad would speak to him. I don't. I do move my ears though when I hear my name spoken, or any of those special words like treat or outside or hungry.

    Wirey love,

    Just Harry

  10. We both have pricked ears and we both head tilt both directions when trying to sort out what SHE is going on about and we've never recieved a treat for doing it either. What a novel concept, a treat for being cute! Kenzie does it the most. I'm not sure if that means she is more curious or dummer'n a box of rocks. Here is an example from last night. We are both relaxing on the ottoman watching some great goofy labs on the TV jumping about in the water after a frisbee, giving the occasional muttered growl when they turn toward us. "Hey you with the wet furs, that's close enough!" SHE comes over to us and sits and starts talking to us. "GIRLS (HT- girls usually means she wants both of us to do something) there is a RAT (HT the other direction - rat sounds a lot like CAT doesn't it?) in the GARAGE (HT back the other way - when she says garage that usually means car ride but when the Mr. says garage that means OUT..and it's awfully late in the day for a ride) and I want you both to GO OUT (HT - ah...go out...and garage...must mean she wants us outside?) there and KILL (HT - ??? What is she going on about?? KILL usually goes with squirrel, I don't see or hear any squirrels, they've all gone to bed at this hour) it or there won't be any more KIBBLE (HT - food? What does foodibles have to do with this killing things outside and going for a ride? I do wish she would stick to the subject) in your BOWL (HT - bowl means kitchen...make up your mind woman, is there a cat or squirrel in the kitchen, outside or in the car?)!
    By now I was getting dizzy with all the head tilting back and forth. She got up and motioned for us to follow. We followed her into the garage where she left us for an hour of wonderful fun and mayhem. We did not get the rat, but only because it cheated and climbed up on some shelving. We did have great fun rushing about sniffing and clambering over (ahem) short boxes and knocking stuff about and squeezing under and behind stuff. Our bag of kibble had been violated by this demon. We will conquer this new and sneaky enemy. And we learned a new word 'RAT' which means beady eyed long tailed kibble thief!

  11. Mia, a very cute cavalier spaniel, tilts her head regularly due to her complete confusion as to what her humans are up too but never tilts her head for treats, that involves vigorous tail wagging. The head tilting is usually a sign that she is going to completely ignore what you are saying.

  12. I may not do a head tilt but I do a good snout snort :-)

  13. Bertie, as you noted on our blog, yes, I do the head tilt - totally of my own accord, when SHE says something interesting like, "walk? where's Ruby? Where's Mabel?" (my walking buddy.) And yes, admittedly, I am adorable when I do the Head Tilt, I'm really just trying to understand.

    My angel sister Allie was a mistress of the head tilt, and did it so frequently, that her opinion was often sought after; as in, "what do you think??" If only she'd still been around when SHE found blogging. Allie could have demonstrated the true "dogs really do understand us" pose...

    Stay warm,


  14. hmm...excellent question Bertie! I cock my head when mum asks me a question. Like "wanna go in the car?" or "walk?", etc. As i am a Scottie, I have pricked ears and therefore personally would debunk #1 - i have no earflaps to move in cocking my head...

    edgar and his mum

  15. Ha! Just had to add that Gail's view on Mamma's coffee is much like the Big Guy's view (remember he comes from espresso country). That is NOT coffee. But whatever it is, yummmmm...

  16. All my dogs have pricked ears, but only the boys are tilters. Rocco tilts for questions that he is responding in an affirmitive to. (Do you want a cookie?) Tilt! (Do you want a bath?) Blank Stare.

    Tank tilts for strange noises. His ears are constantly flipping between prick and upright, so who is to say?

  17. Oh Bertie, guess what, I am a head tilter. I guess that is good

  18. my dogs rarely tilt their heads

    Stop on by for a visit

  19. Bertie you are one fine director of science of all things WHT. No need to tilt your head 'cause you are straight up handsome!
    Hugs Madi your bfff

  20. OK Bertie, We are Scotties and our ears are always up (unless sleeping) and we do tilt our heads, so we can better comprehend the situation, and the sound gets repeated, then we remember it. Like the word "SNACKS", now we got it and we are on alert at the sound. Hope that helps your analyzes!

    The Mad Scots

  21. My ears dangle, Bertie, and my Mom says I seldom tilt my head and when I do, she seldom pays attention to WHY, having other, bigger things to think about. Since you don't, you can just let us know what the results are we can think deeply about them. How deeply, I can't say, but we shall see.


  22. Well Bertie, I (Sasha) have long ears and I do tilt my head quite frequently. I do it mostly when there is an odd or shrill noise. I don't really do it for treats, it doesn't seem to warrant one in my household. I do it when a sound bothers me. I will leave you to your conclusion and do let me know what you think.

    Loveys Sasha

  23. Only when trying to figure something out. That of course may account for a large part of their day.

  24. I (Braeden) tilt my head, but usually only when the eating words come out (treat, dinner, food, wanna eat?) Seth on the other hand does not usually tilt. He's a straightforward kinda guy. We're both Scotties, so who knows. I guess it's 50/50.

  25. Dear Godson,

    My ears are dangling (duh), and I'm most definitely a head tilter. The expectation of a treat typically causes me to tilt my head, but there are various other reasons as well. I often tilt my head just to get a better angle on things.

    I hope this helps your research!

    Your godmother