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There's no question that a dog tilting its head is one of the cutest things possible, but why do they do it?

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You’ve probably seen a dog tilt its head in response to a weird noise or something you said. It’s super cute, but why do they do it?

The answer’s not entirely clear, and there hasn’t been any peer-reviewed research about it, but a couple scientists hypothesize that head-tilting might help dogs see and hear us better.

One popular idea comes from a 2013 blog post by a psychologist named Stanley Coren, who studies dogs and their behaviors, among other things. He thinks that puzzled tilt means a dog is trying to see you better.

When you speak to someone, dog or otherwise, you express a lot of emotion with the lower half of your face. And according to a small 2015 study, it seems like our canine companions can tell the difference between facial expressions that show emotion, like happiness or anger. But a dog with a bigger muzzle might not be able to see your smile or frown clearly, so Coren suggests that tilting helps them get a better view.

He tested this idea by surveying 582 dog owners online, asking them about their dog’s breed or head shape, and asking them to rate how frequently their dogs do the head tilting thing. The data were split into two groups. One was brachycephalic dogs with flatter faces like pugs.

And the other was a mix of mesaticephalic dogs with medium muzzles like beagles and dolichocephalic dogs with long noses like greyhounds. In Coren’s survey, 71% of owners of bigger-muzzled dogs reported that their pups “frequently,” “most of the time,” or “always” tilt their heads when spoken to, as opposed to only 52% of owners of smaller-muzzled dogs.

That, he says, is a statistically significant difference. But 52% is still a lot of dogs, so this probably isn’t the whole story. A psychologist who runs a dog cognition lab named Alexandra Horowitz thinks that dogs could be trying to hear us better with those sideways looks. Specifically, she thinks they’re tilting their heads to adjust the floppy parts of their ears, called pinnae, to get a better sense of where sounds are coming from.

A third take from a dog trainer named Steven Lindsay is that dogs tilt their heads because one part of their brain is involved in both listening and body language. We think a region called the nucleus ambiguus controls a dog’s head movements, as well as the muscles in a dog’s middle ear that help it perceive subtly different sounds. So Lindsay suggests that when your pup is listening, it can’t help but show you with its body too. We don’t really know how accurate any of these guesses are, but we do know that dogs tilting their heads is real cute.

So to any animal psychologists out there: round up some puppies, do some research, and post more of these adorable videos online... for science!

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