Expert shares sign your dog is smart and pays attention to you

When it comes to training a dog, owners need to get their pet to listen to them before they can think about trying to get them to learn commands.

A study, undertaken by the Institutional Committee of Eötvös Loránd University, has revealed what owners should look out for to know whether their dog is smart – and how they can use this in their favour.

Lead author Andrea Sommese has been researching whether there is any connection between a dog’s head tilting and their ability to understand their owner.

While some owners believe their dog’s head tilts show ‘visual confusion’, the team have argued they actually show an increase in attention in what their owner is saying.

Working alongside a team of five others, Mr Sommese observed “40 dogs during object-label knowledge tests and analysed head-tilts occurring while listening to humans requesting verbally to fetch a familiar toy”.

They mixed in six ‘gifted word learners’ (GWL) with the other dogs to see whether they would show ‘more significant head tilts’ when responding to their owner’s commands.

Sharing his findings, he said: “Upon hearing the owners’ request for a familiar toy, the GWL dogs tilted the head significantly more than typical dogs.

“Importantly, typical dogs were equally familiarised with the spoken object names, as all dogs had been exposed to three months of training with them, all owners applied the same training protocol and received the same instructions during weekly training sessions with a dog trainer.

“Thus, in the context of object verbal labels, the familiarity of the stimulus alone was not enough to elicit head-tilts.

“Therefore, we suggest that the difference in the dogs’ behaviour might be related to hearing meaningful words (for the GWL dogs) and could be a sign of increased attention.

“Possibly, head-tilts could also be related to making a cross-modal match in the dogs’ memory (e.g. name to a visual image) upon hearing the toy’s name.”

Pointing out how the “position of the owner did not influence the side of the head-tilt.”, Mr Sommese said the direction of the tilt should be considered as an individual trait to each dog.

Thanks to this research, owners should be able to identify whether their dog is smart by watching out for a head tilt – or just a slight movement of their dog’s head.

Owners should be able to use this when training them as it provides a sign their dog is able to understand what their saying and retain the information.

When summarising their results, Mr Sommese concluded: “Our results indicate that only dogs that had learned the name of the objects tilted their heads frequently.

“Besides, the side of the tilt was stable across several months and tests. Thus, we suggest a relationship between head-tilting and processing relevant, meaningful stimuli.”