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Does Your Dog Tilt His Head?

Study finds the adorable habit a sign of elevated word-learning ability in dogs

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Ah, the head-tilt, one of dogdom’s most endearing, adorable habits—and, it turns out, a sign of intelligence.

In a recent study published in Animal Cognition, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, researchers from Eotvos Lorand University posited that the canine head-tilt indicated the processing of “relevant, meaningful stimuli.” Think: a dog hearing a word and recalling its meaning, be it a favourite toy or activity.

Researchers observed the reactions of 40 dogs, mostly Border Collies, during “object-label knowledge tests,” in which owners verbally requested that their pups fetch a familiar toy by name. The scientists looked for the presence of head-tilts.

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“Only a few dogs can learn the name of objects (toys) even after a few exposures, while most (typical) dogs do not,” read the report, which identified the dogs that rapidly learn labels as “gifted word learner” (GWL) dogs. “We expected that if head-tilting is related to processing meaningful or relevant auditory stimuli, dogs that learn object labels would tilt their heads more frequently upon hearing the toy’s name than typical dogs.”

The findings proved the researchers’ expectations correct. In the three-month-long study in which both GWL and “typical” dogs were exposed to training aimed at teaching the dogs the names of two toys, GWL dogs tilted their heads with more frequency than typical dogs—43 percent compared to two percent of the time. The researchers attributed the increased head-tilting in the gifted dogs to possible signs of more focused attention and/or successful memory recall.

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!

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