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
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 it zero in on the source more accurately. This is true particularly if the sound is high pitched and strange or unexpected. Of course, when we see little Muffin tip her ootsie-cutesie, floppy-eared, fuzzy face to one side and stare up at us, bright eyed and expectant, we ooh and aah and make a major fuss because it’s just so darned cute. We also sometimes tilt our heads in response, which may reinforce the behavior. Immediately little Muffin knows she’s on to something, and the head-tilt goes into her repertoire of manipulations as a sure way to get some heavy attention. Both dog and cat experts say we like to “infantilize” our pets, keep them puppy- or kitten-like as long as possible, and we encourage these cute behaviors with lots of praise and affection.