Why does my dog tilt its head? Trying to understand your pet's nonverbal communication.

·2 min read

Even without speaking, your dog has a lot to say.

Dogs can communicate a number of different things to their owners via licking because they use their tongues similarly to how humans use hands. In addition to being important to grooming, licks can show affection, empathy or a need for attention to humans or other dogs.

Dogs’ eyes have also evolved to provide for better communication with humans. The adorable “puppy dog eyes” phenomenon is actually due to an extra facial muscle domesticated breeds developed over time, not found in wild canines like wolves.

Here are explanations of more behaviors your dog might be exhibiting.

Why do dogs lick you?: Explaining why your dog licks you and how to stop it.

Taking care of your pup: How much food should you feed your dog?

Why do dogs tilt their heads?

Dr. Ragen McGowan, an animal behavior scientist at Purina, says dogs often tilt their heads when they hear a word they understand or a novel sound.

“It’s believed that dogs tilt their heads as a way to orient sounds,” McGowan explains. “They may be positioning their heads and ears in a way that helps them better determine where a sound is coming from.”

According to McGowan, some studies suggest certain dog breeds’ noses and heads might obstruct their vision, so a dog may also tilt its head to see better.

McGowan says humans sometimes reinforce this behavior with treats or affection, especially if we find that peculiar head tilt particularly cute.

McGowan recommends visiting your veterinarian if your dog is tilting its head consistently, as this behavior may point to a medical condition.

How do dogs communicate with their tails?

If your dog is wagging its tail, it’s likely happy to see you. Dr. Stanley Coren of Psychology Today writes that a tail wag serves a function similar to a human smile. Your dog’s tail wagging could mean it’s excited, or it could simply be a polite greeting.

On the other hand, if your dog’s tail is tucked between its legs, it could be afraid, anxious or submissive, according to the American Kennel Club.

Just curious?: We're here to answer life's everyday questions.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why do dogs tilt their heads? Why do they wag their tails?