What’s That You Say?

nipper_1661795cWho hasn’t seen this famous image of Nipper the dog tilting his head at the Victrola?  It’s one of the most recognized images out there.

In England back in the 1880’s, after a fox terrier named Nipper lost his human to illness, the dog was adopted by artist Francois Barraud. Barraud observed Nipper’s habit of sitting in front of his phonograph and tilting his head in response to the sounds. The artist speculated that Nipper was waiting to hear the voice of his human companion, whom he loved. That inspired Barraud to create the famous painting “His Master’s Voice” which later was adopted by RCA/Victor as its symbol. When I see that image, I wonder why dogs do that?  Why do they tilt their heads when we speak or make a noise?  Inquiring minds want to know!!  Well…maybe not, but I wanted to know so I did a little research.

In Alexandra Horowitz’s book ‘Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know’, head-tilting is portrayed simply as an effort by dogs to adjust their pinnae, or outer ears, to focus upon the precise location of sounds. That’s something at which they’re actually not as good as humans, despite their ability to hear frequencies that we can’t detect.

In contrast, Steven R. Lindsay’s ‘Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training’ sees the head tilt as a combination of physiological response and communication cues, which makes more sense to me. When a dog is listening to your voice, Lindsay writes, he or she is trying to identify familiar words and intonations that the dog has learned to associate with some activity (such as going for a walk or getting a treat).

So…there you go.  Two theories to choose from.  But what’s most important here is to watch some adorable doggies doing the head tilt.  Hope this bit of useless trivia helps your Monday be a little bit less…well, Monday-like.

And now, for your entertainment pleasure…some pugs doing the head tilt.  You’re welcome.

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