There are very few things cuter than a German Shepherd giving you the puppy dog eyes or tilting its head to the side. They are pros at getting what they want and it is hard to resist those precious expressions. But what exactly are they saying with this particular body language? This little nuance can mean lots of different things. This article will break down this cute gesture and help to explain why it happens. So, why do German Shepherds tilt their head.
German Shepherds tilt their head to listen better and to let us know they are paying attention. Most of the time it is simply a form of communication. However, it can also be a sign of something more serious. Some medical conditions such as an ear infection, injury, disease or even cancer can cause the head tilt.
Now that you have a quick idea of why they do it, let’s get into some details and learn more about this quirky form of communication.
The Main Reason German Shepherds Tilt Their Head:
The main reason that German Shepherds use this movement is to capture sound better. They have big fluffy erect ears that allow them to hear sounds much better than humans.
In fact, they are able to hear at twice the frequency of humans. We can only hear at a frequency of 20 Hz, while a German Shepherd can hear at a frequency of 40 Hz.
Overall, they can hear four times better than us. And while it sounds nice, it can also be a negative. Because their ears are so sensitive, they can be frightened by loud noises like thunder or fireworks.
They can hear so good for a couple of reasons. Number one, their ear canal is much deeper than ours. This means there is more surface area for the sound waves to vibrate through.
The second reason is because their ears have much more mobility than ours do. That is why you will see a GSD move its ears in the direction of the sound. This allows them to capture more sound which gives them a better idea of what it is and where it’s coming from.
This is where the head tilt comes in. Similar to moving their ears, a German Shepherd will tilt its head in the direction of the sound to improve their hearing and find out what the noise is.
On top of that, GSDs are very loyal and protective animals who are very alert to what is going on around them. It is in their nature to hear and sound and want to react.
Examples of why a German Shepherd might tilt its head:
Here are some scenarios of when a GSD might use this movement to listen better.
- They are playing outside and hear an animal in the woods.
- You call their name or give them a command.
- They are sleeping and hear a noise at night.
Pay attention to your pooch the next time they cock their head to the side and try to figure out why they are doing it. It may help you understand them better.
Other Reasons Why German Shepherds Tilt Their Head:
Aside from the most obvious reason of listening better, there are some less common reasons that a GSD may do it.
They Are Concentrating or Remembering:
German Shepherds are extremely smart and may be trying to figure out what you are saying when you ask them a question or give them a command.
For example, if you ask your GSD to fetch a specific toy, he may tilt his head in an attempt to recall in his memory which toy you are referring to.
There is proof, based on this study, that there is a direct correlation between a dogs ability to recall the names of toys and head tilt.
This means that smarter dog breeds such as the Border Collie, Poodle, and German Shepherd may tilt their head to the side more than some of the less smarter dog breeds at least when it comes to more complex commands.
To Improve Their Vision:
GSDs may use this movement to get a better view believe it or not. Depending on the dog breed, their muzzle may impede on their vision.
The German Shepherd has a long wedge shaped muzzle that can get in the way sometimes. If they happen to be looking at you or listening, they may lean their head to the side to see you better.
In addition to your voice, dogs also pay attention to your facial expressions. They may also be looking at your face to determine what your emotion is and how they should react.
A dog may learn that by using this expression, it can receive love and attention. Its hard to resist a GSD that is giving you those sweet puppy dog eyes, cocking its head to the side, and wagging its tail.
However, rewarding the behavior with hugs and kisses or even a treat will reinforce it and your dog may pick up on this.
They may use this to their advantage when they are seeking attention. That being said, there is nothing wrong with this sweet little gesture every now and then to share the love.
Medical Reasons Why German Shepherds Tilt Their Head:
There are a few different medical issues that could cause a German Shepherd to tilt their head. It could be something as common as an ear infection to something as serious as a brain injury or a tumor.
The most common cause of this movement in GSDs is an ear infection called otitis interna. When the ear becomes infected by bacteria or fungus, the inner ear becomes inflamed.
It can be caused by several things including disease, ear mites, or foreign objects that get lodged in the inner ear. Although more common in dog breeds with long, hanging ears, German Shepherds are still susceptible.
Tip: Clean your dog’s ears but never too hard. Cleaning them too much or with too much pressure can actually cause otitis interna.
There are several signs that a dog might have otitis interna. But head tilt, a loss of balance, and a loss of hearing in the affected ear are some of the first things you may notice.
The dog will usually lean his head towards the side of the infected ear. This can mess with his balance and cause him to walk in circles or fall over. Occasionally, both ears get infected causing the dog to swing his head back and forth.
If you notice any of these signs, prevent your GSD from moving and take him to the vet immediately for an exam. Dog’s can recover fairly quickly with antibiotics and balance is usually restored within 2 weeks to 1.5 months.
In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. If left untreated, dogs can permanently lose their hearing in the infected ear.
Head trauma or serious injuries that damage the middle or inner ear can also cause a dog’s head to tilt. Similar to ear infections, balance is affected when specific parts of the ear become hurt.
German Shepherds are big athletic dogs. Because of their size and speed, this type of injury could be more dangerous. Injuries like this are usually the result of car accidents. But they can also happen during dog fights, rough play, or falling from a high place.
Some signs of a brain injury include bleeding in the eyes, nose or ears, head tilting, or seizures. They are very serious and should be immediately checked out.
TBI, or traumatic brain injury, happens in 1 out of 4 dogs after receiving major trauma to the head. Unfortunately, it can cause post-traumatic epilepsy.
Idiopathic Vestibular Disease:
Also called “old dog vestibular syndrome,” this disease usually affects dogs in their later years, normally in the range of 12-13 years.
It is a progressive disease that comes on suddenly affecting the vestibular system which includes the brain, and inner and middle ear. It affects the dog’s equilibrium and maintains balance when the dog is walking, sitting, or standing.
The sudden onset of symptoms include disorientation, head tilt, loss of balance, and nystagmus which is involuntary, rapid eye movement.
If a German Shepherd has the disease, they will most likely fall over towards the side that they are leaning. There are several things that can lead to vestibular disease including ear infections, hypothyroidism, toxic drugs, trauma, or tumors.
When a vet can’t find a specific cause, it is referred to as idiopathic vestibular syndrome. There are multiple ways that it can be diagnosed including blood and urine tests, X-rays and occasionally MRIs or CT scans.
Treatments vary depending on the severity and cause of the disease. Antibiotics can be used if it’s an ear infection. Nausea medicine or sedatives may be used for comfort.
Fortunately, vestibular disease normally doesn’t last more than a few weeks and isn’t life threatening. Most dogs start improving by day 3 with the first 2 days being the worst.
The head tilt usually improves in a little over a week but unfortunately can stick around permanently along with a slight wobbly gait.
If you suspect your GSD has any of these symptoms, contact your local vet. On rare occasions, there could be a serious underlying cause.
Most of the time, a German Shepherd tilting its head is nothing more than a cute attempt to listen or pay attention better. And there is a good reason that we find the gesture so utterly adorable. Something in our brain connects the level of cuteness in a dog to the angle that their head is tilted.
This study performed by the Journal of Vision did an experiment in which pictures of puppies and adult dogs were rated based on cuteness. It found that when controllable, the angle of the dog’s head was directly correlated with how cute they were perceived to be.
There is something innate in us as human beings to recognize beauty in animals even down to their specific body language. These subtle little movements can have a profound effect on how we treat our pets, even causing us to give in to their demands at times.
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