How To Get Your Dog to Rock a Head Tilt for Photos

Show of hands: who believes that a head tilt makes a dog look cuter? I’ve found that almost all of my clients love a head tilt portrait! Many even request that particular pose and mention this mannerism among their favorite things about their dog.

Psychology Today article, “Why Many Dogs Tilt Their Head When We Talk to Them” by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., FRSC., a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, explains a few theories behind this endearing behavior.

“Some people have suggested that dogs tilt their heads to the side when we speak to them so that one ear can hear more clearly what we are saying,” Cohen elaborates. “Others have suggested that it is a social signal–perhaps the dog recognizes that we respond to that particular posture in a positive way (because it is so cute), and therefore the dog adopts this position because they are more likely to get smiles and rewards when they do.”

brown pit bull with an adorable head tilt

What Cohen also uncovered in his research, however, is that dogs are constantly scanning human faces for any information that helps them read emotional states. This point, coupled with how the shape of a dog’s muzzle can obscure a part of his vision, has been shown to help our canine companions compensate for this “blind spot.” To further support his theory, Cohen conducted an online survey of 582 individuals in which “71-percent of the owners of dogs with larger muzzles reported that their dogs often titled their heads when spoken to…only 52-percent of the owners of the flatter-faced, brachycephalic dogs reported that their dogs often tilted their heads when spoken to.”

Here are three of my fail-proof tips to help elicit an adorable head tilt from your dog.

1. Squeak & Eek.

In Margaret Bryant’s book, Dog Photography: How to Capture the Love, Fun, and Whimsy of Man’s Best Friend, she explains that while one of the best ways to get a dog’s attention is sound, they can quickly desensitize to familiar sounds, adding, “You might have better luck using sounds that the dog doesn’t know. Most dogs react to any sound that is new.”

One of my secret weapons for getting that what-was-that head tilt is the Looky Looky, a lanyard of enticing, unusual, and hilarious sounds seen around my neck at every session. Dogs just love its blue-lips whistle; it guarantees a head tilt almost every time. Other popular attention-getters come from its squeaker and The Wildly Noisy Wooden Thing.

No Looky Looky? No problem! There are a variety of smartphone apps you can turn to as well. My favorites include Dog Sounds and iHunt by Ruger. Simply play your favorite and get your phone’s camera ready!

Other tilt-inducing sounds can be created with

  • a crunching water bottle,
  • a jingling set of keys,
  • a convincing puppy whine,
  • the squeaking of a favorite toy, or
  • a shaken treat bag.

2. Try Trigger Words.

Have you ever wanted to take a stunning photo of your pup, only to have him turn away at the last second? The secret to keeping his focus and getting that heart-melting expression is all in your word choice!

Different words and tones will capture their attention more effectively than others. Consider saying words that involve hard “K” or “T” sounds (“treat,” “cookie,” and “biscuit” are good examples) along with higher-pitched syllables as these are likely to bring about an eager tilt of the head toward the camera.

Every dog has those words and phrases that trigger unbridled excitement and curiosity. Even familiar ones can become incredibly interesting when you mix up the inflection of your voice or raise the pitch at the end of a word as if you were asking a question.

3. Vary the Volume of Your Voice.

If you’re anything like me, you probably talk to your dog 24/7…and if your dog is anything like mine, he probably presents selective hearing now and then. Varying the volume of your voice can be particularly effective in catching his attention. Bryant has found that speaking at a low volume can cause your dog to tilt his head so that he is better able to hear you.

Are you still struggling to get your dog’s attention let alone capture his head tilt? Head tilts are my specialty and a guaranteed shot that we’ll capture during your session. If you’re imaging your walls decorated with portraits of this sweet pose, I’m ready and waiting to make your dream a reality! Choose your adventure below to begin.

Did you enjoy this post? Great, there’s more coming your way because it’s part of a photography blog circle featuring pet photographers from all over the world! Our weekly theme, “Head Tilt,” will have your head spinning—in the best way, of course— thanks to a huge roundup of tips from the very folks who capture this endearing expression every session. Let’s kick it off with Ono Pet Photography in Fairhope, Alabama. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here. If you get lost along the way, just look for the trail of dog hair. I won’t be far off…

13 thoughts on “How To Get Your Dog to Rock a Head Tilt for Photos

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      Thank you! Yes, the Looky Looky works well for 85% of dogs. I’ll have to get my hands on some duck calls.

  1. Danyel Rogers says:

    Isn’t it funny all the silly things we as photographers do to get the head tilts?!?! I find all those funny noises make the humans laugh too. 😉

  2. Lynda Mowat says:

    I liked the sound of the Looky Looky, so thanks for the link. Sadly they don’t ship internationally. But I might see if I can make one from a variety of things. Love your head tilt images too!

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      Lynda, I do believe I saw that they are offering shipping to Australia, so it may be worth looking into. I’d inquire as the owner is super nice!

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      It’s great, isn’t it! I definitely want to add a few more of the calls. I got mine when they first came out, so I have mostly the original sounds.

  3. Nancy says:

    I can’t use my cell phone for noises with the shelter dogs since we are in a secure facility, but will have to try the apps with other dogs.

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      Yes, I totally get the shelter thing. The one I volunteer at is the same way. In that situation, the Looky Looky is my lifesaver!

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