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Dear Matthew:

Why do dogs cock their heads to the side when they are confused or intrigued? This is a serious question. A puppy did this to my wife recently when she spoke to him in a very high voice.

-- Steve, San Diego

Maybe he was cocking his head so he wouldn't bust out laughing, depending on how silly your wife sounded doing her voice reserved for babies, kitties, and puppies. The best dogologists themselves cock their heads to one side each time they hear this question. They too are confused and intrigued. Their most frequent guess is that the head-tilt changes the position of the dog's ears relative to the source of the sound, helping the dog to zero in on the source more accurately. Apparently even dogs can't believe we sound so stupid when we talk to them. And of course when little Muffin tips her ootsie-cutesie fuzzy face to one side and stares up with those bright, expectant puppy eyes, we go all goofy and woggly and make a fuss because it's just so darned cute. Then little Muffin knows she's on to something, and the head-tilt goes into her repertoire of manipulations as a sure attention-getter. Both dog and cat experts say we Americans like to infantilize our pets, keeping them puppy- or kitten-like as long as possible, so we encourage these adorable behaviors with lots of praise and attention. Bad owner! Bad! Bad!

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