By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a dog insurance and cat insurance agency.
Smart dogs quickly discover that by sitting or standing still, looking sweetly at you and tilting their heads from side to side can yield them oodles of treats and attention from you. They seem to know that their adorable antic will fetch your favor.
But dogs also tilt their heads for other reasons – some that may surprise you and some that signal the immediate need to be treated by a veterinarian. Head tilting also may be triggered by:
1. The need to pinpoint the location of a curious sound. Canine hearing is far superior to human hearing. Although dog ears come in many shapes (from cropped to upright and from floppy to erect), they use head tiling to zero in on a sound beckoning their curiosity. That may explain while they sound the bark alarm as a delivery person approaches your front door before you are able to hear any sounds. It is important to reward your dog when she sounds the alarm so that she is acknowledged for doing her job.
2. The aggravating presence of ear infections. A dog’s ear canals may be contending with a fungal infection. Or there may be a foreign object, such as a foxtail, lodged inside an ear. Don’t ignore if your dog begins tilting his head and persistently pawing at one or both ears. Seek prompt veterinary care.
3. A head injury. During roughhousing with another dog or running too fast off leash and colliding into a solid object like a tree or parked vehicle, your dog could suffer an injury to his head. This trauma can cause your dog’s equilibrium to be off balance and cause unintentional tilting of the head to one side.
4. Vestibular disease. The vestibular apparatus are the nerves responsible for determining the body’s orientation relative to the ground. It informs your dog’s eyes and head how they should move. Inflammation of these nerves can be caused by different things, but will result in a head tilt and the dog falling or rolling to one side. Some causes of vestibular disease resolve on their own, while others are more serious. A veterinarian should be able to determine the underlying cause and your dog’s prognosis for recovery.
5. Hypothyroidism. Dogs who border on being obese and are not very active are prime candidates for hypothyroidism, a condition characterized by an inadequate amount of the thyroid hormone. Affected dogs tend to show signs of skin abnormality as well as neurologic signs, including head tilting and leg weakness.
The take-home message: book an appointment with your veterinarian if your dog starts tilting his head for any reason other than simply wanting to seek your attention.
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