Boston Terrier with his head tilted to one side

Dogs tilt their heads

Hi, Doctor Karl here.

Dogs have been hanging around humans for at least 15,000 years. But we still don’t have the answers to the two big questions: do dogs really love us and why do they sometimes tilt their heads in such a cute and ridiculously cute way?

Dogs evolved from wolves. But if you compare a dog and a wolf that have both been raised in close contact with humans, there are big differences. If you offer them both food, the dog will come first to eat and then hang out for cuddles and companionship. But a wolf will take the food, and then vamoose.

Second, suppose you set up an experiment where the human caretaker appears to be trapped in a box – they are not actually trapped – the dog will provide support and show signs of distress in the poor human’s plight, but the wolf just doesn’t. does not matter.

It appears that part of the difference is related to two genes called GTF2I and GTF2IRD1, and these genes are well known to have potent effects on sociability in mammals, including humans. Modern wolves usually have no mutations in these genes. But dogs can have up to six mutations — and the more mutations they have, the more they love people.

Current thinking is that way back in time, a few wolves with one or two mutations approached humans for companionship. And this turned into a beautiful relationship where dogs and people hang out a lot. Today, dogs and people work and play together – companionship, police work, helping the disabled, protecting people, pulling loads and hunting.

And when a dog and their human guardian look lovingly at each other, their hormones react. Their oxytocin levels rise, which is associated with love and bonding.

So who knows what love really is, but it seems that what a dog feels for its owner is pretty close.

So that’s Love 101, so now let’s see why some dogs tilt their heads. Stanley Coren, the author of many dog ​​books, has explored this.

One suggestion was that the dog wanted to point one of its ears toward its owner—in order to hear them better. But most of the time, the dogs’ ears weren’t even on the owner.

Another hypothesis was that the head tilt was simply the dog letting the owner know that he was paying attention to him.

Another possibility Stanley Coren thought of was that the dogs’ long muzzle, or snout, might obscure the view of the owner’s mouth, and perhaps simply tilting their head could get their long muzzle out of the way. See. Make a fist and hold it in front of your nose. Now look at a fellow human being and you will find that you cannot see their mouths clearly – that is where words come from, but also the center of most human facial expressions. But if you tilt your head, you can now see their mouth. Maybe this is happening in the dog, but we don’t know for sure.

A more recent study looked at 40 dogs and their ability to understand words describing their toys. After an initial training period of three months, during which they learned the names of their various toys, the dogs were tested. The owner and dog would go to one room, while the toys stayed in another room. The owner would then ask the dog to get the specific toy they named.

Now about 33 of the dogs were pretty hopeless at getting any of the mentioned toys. But seven of the dogs were really good. They could take back 10 or more toys. Now the seven dogs were initially able to return the correct toy 86% of the time, a month later this dropped to 61% and another month later to 57%. That’s pretty impressive. In fact, one of the dogs was able to return the correct toy 54 times out of 59 tests.

Now here’s the strange thing. When listening to the owner’s instructions, the gifted dogs tilted their heads to the side 43% of the time, while the common dogs that couldn’t return the toys did so only 2% of the time. And the gifted dogs had a preferred direction of tilt, such as to the left or to the right, which they clung to.

At this stage, we still don’t really understand what’s going on with head tilt. Maybe the dogs are tilting their heads, knowing they look extra cute, to make us love them as much as they love us. Or maybe I’m just barking at the wrong tree…

#Dogs #tilt #heads

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