Why Do Pugs Tilt Their Heads? The Truth Behind the Cuteness


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When a pug tilts their head when you talk to them, it is one of the cutest things ever. Their head adorably tilts to the side like their listening and understanding you, but what are they doing? I was really curious about why pugs tilt their heads, so I did some research and this is what I found out.

Pugs tilt their heads when people talk to them or when they hear an interesting sound. They do this to better see and locate the sound as well as to hear it better. Pugs might also associate people talking to them, and therefore tilting their head, with pleasant things such as petting or a walk.

Pugs are interesting and very intelligent animals, and while not a lot of scientific research has been done in regards to why they tilt their heads, there are many different possible explanations. Below I will go into some of the most probable explanations, although the reality is that they probably tilt their head for a combination of all of the reasons below and more.

So let’s just get right into it, and hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of your snorting and cute little furry companion.

Why Pugs Tilt Their Head When Someone Talks to Them

The exact reason why pugs tilt their head is still a bit of a mystery, but we have a pretty good idea of some of the reasons why they do it. Below are the most probable reasons why pugs, and other dogs, tilt their heads:

  • They’re trying to see the source of the sound better
  • They’re locating the source of sound
  • They’re trying to hear better
  • They’re identifying familiar sounds
  • We’ve taught them that it’s rewarding

While I had always secretly hoped that it would be because they could actually understand English, unfortunately, I have learned that this is not the case. Much to my dismay. Below I will go over the top five reasons why pugs, and other dogs, tilt their head.

Trying to See the Source of the Sound Better

If you think about it, having a muzzle on your face isn’t super great for eyesight. While pugs don’t have that long of a muzzle, their smooshed faces prohibit them from seeing certain arias in front of them, even just slightly.

By tilting their head to the side when they hear a noise, this moves their muzzles out of the way from their blind spots so they can see the source of the sound. It’s a simple example of, “if there is a problem that you can’t fix, simply go around it”.

In a study done by Stanley Coren, who is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, only 52% of flatter faced dogs tilted their head often when he surveyed many owners of different types of dogs. This makes sense because dogs with longer muzzles would need to tilt their head more due to their longer muzzle. Since pugs have a more smooshed muzzle, they don’t have to tilt their head as often as their longer muzzled counterparts to see the source of a sound. 

Locating the Source of Sound

While seeing the source of a sound is one thing, actually locating it is a whole other ballgame in many instances. Pugs might tilt their heads to better see the source of a sound, but when they are trying to find it they often rely on their ears more.

When locating a sound, pugs tilt their head to the side so that one ear can pick up on the sound more clearly and better locate where the noise is coming from. This sort of works hand-in-hand because they are focusing one ear on locating sound and at the same time moving their muzzle out of the way so they can see what is making the noise.

It might seem obvious where a sound is coming from to us, especially when it is someone talking, but you have to remember that dogs have REALLY GOOD ears. Not crazy good like to the level of bats, but far better than ours. By tilting their head, they are able to sort of filter out the other sounds to focus in on one and locate where it’s coming from.

Trying to Hear Better

This reason why pugs might tilt their head sort of plays off of the one above, but is ever so slightly different. Even if a pug knows exactly where a noise is coming from and they can see the source just fine, they could still tilt their heads just to hear it a little more clearly.

By tilting their heads to the side, they are pointing on of their ears closer to the sound and therefore able to pick it up more easily. If you think about it, their ears are not the most optional shape for picking up sounds (think of animals such as bats for the most optimal ear shape to pick up sounds).

So, as it turns out, pugs might actually be trying to listen to you when you talk to them! Of course, they are doing this for many other reasons as well, but it is cute nonetheless and nice to know that they are listening to us. Now if only they could have a conversation with us!

Identifying Familiar Sounds

Pugs are really smart and intelligent animals, but they are also largely creatures of habit. Every morning they wait for you to pet them and feed them, they like to go on walks at roughly the same time every day, and once they settle in a routine it is hard to break them out of it.

This attraction to familiarity could also cause them to tilt their heads when they hear a familiar sound. It could be a sort of display of recognition that they portray by turning their heads to the side. It could be their way of showing that they hear the sound, even if they already see its source and hear it perfectly well.

Without having a deep conversation with a pug about their hearing and head-turning behavior, but they are definitely smart enough that I wouldn’t put it past them! 

We’ve Taught Them That It’s Rewarding

Another possible reason why pugs tilt their heads is that they know that it brings really nice things that they like. Let me explain.

Whenever someone talks to a pug, it is usually right before they pet them or interact with them in some loving way. As all pug owners know, pugs are very social creatures and really love being petted and interacting with people. 

It is possible that pugs associate the familiar sound of humans talking to them with something nice like petting or a treat. And out of habit and in an attempt to get the reward faster, they tilt their heads. We may never know unless we do more experiments or site down for a cup of coffee with a talking pug, but it is very probable.

Steven R. Lindsay’s book “Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training” explores this possibility in great detail and is definitely an interesting read. 

What Does it Mean When a Pug Tilts Their Head?

Now that we have gone over why a pug might tilt their head, a common follow up question is: what does it mean? Pugs tilt their head to better understand where a sound is coming from and to better see it, but the main indication of what the famous head tilt means is that they are listening.

That’s right, when a pug tilts their head at you it means that they are listening to sounds around you or to what you are saying. That’s pretty darn cool if you ask me!

While this is a far cry from actually understanding the meaning of the sounds they are hearing, a simple head tilt can indicate that they are hearing what you have to say. Actually, pugs and other dogs can understand a lot of emotions and can pick up on facial expressions, so they might actually understand more than you realize.

What Sounds Do Pugs Tilt Their Heads To?

If you have ever owned a pug, you know that they don’t tilt their head to just any sounds. It seems like only a select few sounds make them tilt their head, but what sounds make them do that?

From spending a lot of time around pugs and observing when they tilt their heads, it has become pretty clear to me that they tilt their heads to very high notes, when humans talk to them, or when they hear a sound that is out of the ordinary.

This makes a lot of sense when you take into account why pugs tilt their heads in the first place. The main reason for this behavior is to better locate, see the source, and to better hear a sound, so sounds that are out of the ordinary would grab their attention and make them want to learn these facts about the noise they are hearing.

Pugs don’t tend to tilt their heads to sounds they hear often or to other pugs because they fully understand where the noises are coming from and there is no further investigation that they deem necessary.

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