Can Dogs Look Up: Truth or Myth?

a chocolate labrador looking up at the camera

Dogs are known for their intelligence and ability to follow directions, but can they look up? I’ve seen this discussion numerous times in Facebook groups and some online forums, and it’s always been a heated debate. While we all love our doggies, we can’t help but wonder if they’re really capable of looking up.

What’s with the question?

It’s simple, really. Dogs have shorter necks than we do, and their eyes are set differently in their skull. This gives them a range of motion that’s different from ours, and because of this, some people believe that they can’t look up.

But there’s more to it than just the physical differences. Dogs also have a different way of processing information than we do. They’re more in tune with their surroundings, and they have a better sense of smell than we do. This means that they’re not as focused on visual cues as we are.

So, can dogs look up? In a nutshell, the answer is both yes and no. The answer, unfortunately, is a little bit complicated. 

Dogs can technically look up, but it’s not as easy for them as it is for us humans. Their range of motion is more limited, which means they can slightly tilt their heads up as if they were looking up, but they have to put more effort into it than we do. And because they’re not as focused on visual cues, they might not be looking up at things as often as we are.

While a dog’s neck is not as flexible as a human’s, they are still able to tilt their head back and look up to some degree. However, they cannot look straight up like we can. This is due to the fact that their eyes are set more towards the sides of their head, giving them a wider field of vision but making it difficult for them to focus on one specific thing above them.

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Anatomy Of A Dog's Head And Neck

Dogs have shorter necks than we do, and their skulls are shaped differently. This gives them a range of motion that’s different from ours, and because of this, some people believe that they can’t look up.

The canine neck is made up of seven cervical vertebrae (compared to the human spine, which has 33 vertebrae). This means dogs have a much more limited range of motion in their necks than we do. They tilt their heads upward, but not for the same reasons that we do as humans. They do this because they’re trying to get a better sense of their surroundings.

While dogs don’t have the ability to look straight up like humans, they make up for it in other ways. Dogs have a wider field of vision than we do because their eyes are set more towards the sides of their head. This gives them the ability to see things that we can’t, but it also means that they can’t focus on one specific thing above them.

beagle looking up

What It Means When A Dog Looks Up

Dogs are often looking up at their owners while out on walks, and it can be difficult to tell what they’re thinking. Are they admiring our cute hats? Searching for squirrels? Or maybe they’re just trying to figure out what we’re saying.

The answer is probably a little bit of all three. But there’s one main reason dogs look up at us, and that’s because they’re trying to understand our emotional state.

Dogs are incredibly attuned to our emotions, and they use a variety of cues to figure out how we’re feeling. One of the most important cues is eye contact. When we make eye contact with someone, we’re conveying a lot of information.

Dogs use this same cue to understand our emotions. When they look up at us, they’re trying to read our emotional state. Are we happy? Sad? Anxious? They’re looking for clues that will help them understand how we’re feeling.

According to a study conducted by the University of London, dogs are more likely to look up to their owners when they feel uncertain or anxious. The study found that dogs who were shown a series of unfamiliar objects were more likely to look up at their owners for reassurance.

This makes sense when you think about it from the dog’s perspective. If they’re feeling uncertain or anxious, they’re going to want to check in with the person they’re closest to. And who are they closest to? Their owners!

So next time your dog is giving you those puppy eyes, remember that they’re not just trying to get a treat. They’re either trying to figure out your emotions or telling you that they need some reassurance.

can dogs look up

Up To What Extent Can A Dog Tilt Their Head Up?

For most dogs, they can move their necks up to 45 degrees from horizontal. Some breeds are able to move their necks even further than that. For example, the basenji dog breed can tilt their heads up until they’re almost perpendicular to their body.

While all dogs can tilt their heads up to some degree, not all of them can look directly upwards. Because they also have a stronger sense of smell, dogs don’t often find the need to look up like we do. Instead, they use their noses to gather information about their surroundings.

While dogs may not be able to look up like we do, they make up for it in other ways. Their sense of smell is far superior to ours, and they can use this to gather information about their surroundings. They also have a wider field of vision, which allows them to see things that we can’t.

The way they perceive things may be different from us, but that doesn’t make them any less amazing. Most people, however, expect dogs to react the same way humans do – but that’s simply not the case. So don’t expect your dog to have the same reaction. If you’re calling from above and they don’t look up, don’t worry – they have their own means of perceiving their surroundings.

Why Can't Some Dogs Tilt Their Heads?

We’ve noticed that smaller dogs can easily tilt their heads while the bigger ones can’t. It’s not because they’re trying to be stubborn. It all has to do with anatomy. Older bones usually have weaker bone density, and doing so can be painful for senior dogs.

Aside from age, other factors can affect a dog’s ability to look up, such as:

Neck Injuries

If your dog has suffered a neck injury, it’s likely that it’ll have trouble moving its head. This is because the muscles and ligaments in their neck are damaged, making it difficult to move their head. Sometimes, a slipped disc can also cause these problems.

Larger breeds are prone to this type of injury because they often engage in activities that put a lot of strain on their necks, such as tug-of-war and fetch. If you have a larger breed dog, it’s important to be aware of the risks and take precautions to prevent injuries.


Arthritis is a common problem in older dogs, and it can make it difficult for them to move their head. This is because the joints are inflamed, which makes it painful to move. If your dog is showing signs of arthritis, it’s important to take them to the vet so they can get the treatment they need.

Cervical Spondylomyelopathy

This is a condition that’s seen in dogs with long necks, such as the Great Dane. It’s caused by a malformation of the vertebrae in the neck, which puts pressure on the spinal cord. This can cause problems with movement and sensation in the legs.

Depending on the severity of the condition, it can be treated with medication or surgery. Speak to your vet if you’re concerned that your dog may have this condition.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

This is a common problem in dogs, and it occurs when the discs between the vertebrae start to degenerate. This can cause pain and paralysis in the legs, and it’s often seen in older dogs. Often, this is one of the reasons why some dogs may have difficulties looking up, as the discs in their neck are degenerating.

If your dog is diagnosed with this condition, there are a few treatment options available. The first is conservative treatment, which involves pain medication and rest. If this doesn’t work, then surgery may be necessary to remove or realign the discs in the neck.

can dogs look up

Neck Exercises For Your Dog

Strengthening the muscles in your dog’s neck can help to prevent injuries and make it easier for them to move their head. While most dogs are generally active and won’t require neck exercises, some breeds are more prone to neck injuries. If you have a larger breed dog, it’s a good idea to include neck exercises in their routine.

Here are a few exercises you can try:

Neck Stretches

Gently stretch your dog’s neck by moving their head from side to side. You can also try gently pulling their head up and down. When doing so, make sure to support their head, so they don’t strain their neck.

Head Lifts

This is a simple exercise that can be done with your dog in a sitting or standing position. Gently hold their head and lift it up, so they’re looking at the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds before lowering their head back down. Repeat a few times.

Cervical Retraction

This exercise is similar to the head lift, but you’ll need to use a towel for this one. Wrap the towel around your dog’s neck and gently pull their head back. Hold for a few seconds before releasing. Repeat a few times. Remember that you should only pull their head back as far as they’re comfortable with.

Play Time

One of the best ways to keep your dog’s neck healthy is to let them play. Playing tug-of-war or fetch are great exercises for their neck and whole body. Just make sure that you’re using a toy that’s appropriate for their size, so they don’t strain their neck.

Along with proper exercise, their diet can also contribute to their neck health. A diet that’s rich in nutrients and antioxidants can help to keep their muscles and joints healthy.

can dogs look up

Final Thoughts

Dogs have the physical ability to tilt their heads and look upwards. Their neck anatomy and the range of motion in their joints allow them to look up to the sky, at tall objects, or even at a treat held above their head. Claims that they can’t, often circulated in pop culture or through myths, are simply not accurate when taking into account their physiological capabilities.

However, what differentiates the way dogs look up from the way humans do is their perspective and reliance on other senses. While humans primarily rely on their vision, dogs depend heavily on their sense of smell. This means that while they can and do look up, their primary means of investigating the world is often nose-first, close to the ground. It’s essential to differentiate between a dog’s physical ability to perform an action and the frequency or context in which they choose to do so.

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