“Can dogs look up?”

This famous myth got popular in 2004 from a movie, Shaun the Dead, a comedy-horror movie with an IMDB rating of 7.9/10. While sitting in a pub, Shaun, the lead character of the movie, tells Ed, “Yeah, but Big Al says dogs can’t look up!”

This one-line dialogue was just meant to convey a point that Big Al, the pub owner, doesn’t know what he is talking about. But it became so famous that people have searched for it daily up to this year.

So, is ‘Big Al’ right, or can dogs really look up?

So, Can Dogs Look Up?

This myth is partially true and partially false.

Can dogs look up? Yes. Dogs can look up but to a certain level. Ever seen a Husky howling? They usually title their heads upwards to elicit a deep howl. This is what huskies look like when they howl.

Two cute husky dogs howls raising its muzzle upwards on the banks of a river

Similarly, dogs can turn their gaze upwards but in a doggy way. So, don’t expect your dog to look at the sky the way you do.

If you are at a certain height from your dog and call out his name, he won’t look at you immediately. Instead, he’ll adjust himself at a certain angle and will look up to see where you are. Below is proof that dogs can actually look up. If they have to look directly above, they will have to adjust themselves, as is seen in the video below.

To What Extent Can a Dog Turn Their Head Upwards?

This is the relatively right question to ask as compared to “can dogs look up?”

Although dogs can raise their heads and point their noses upwards, they cannot look all the way up to the sky just like humans can. For example, humans can tilt their necks backward at a 90-degree angle while standing to stare directly at the sky above them. But, to do that, dogs must lie down on their backs or stand on their back legs to arrange their spine in a vertical position.

But what’s the reason?

Dog’s horizontal spine it is!

Dogs are four-legged a­nimals, and to support such bone structure, their spines are in a horizontal position—unlike us, who have vertical spines. Their body is naturally designed to either look to the front or down easily without bending—humans can’t look at their tummies without a bend. To look up, your pooch will make some adjustments and obey your order. 

Not only this, they can’t turn their heads to 90 degrees on both sides as well. To look at either of his sides, a dog will have to turn his neck completely. 

According to the evolution theory, humans also had a horizontal spine, but as humans were weaker than other animals, they had to find ways to protect themselves by climbing trees, looking farther to see if there was any danger, hiking in the mountains, and so on. For that, they learned how to stand on their rear legs only. With time, they got used to it, and per evolution theory, their spines changed accordingly. And now we have a vertical spin.

On the other hand, dogs mostly hunted by sniffing the ground or fighting other animals by looking in front. There was no need for them to stand on their behinds. So, they developed a horizontal spine and still have retained it.

Why Do Dogs Look Up?

Dogs look up for a variety of reasons. They look up while barking and howling. They also look up when they have to look at their owner. For example, if you are standing, your lapdog will look up to you with his puppy eyes saying, “Hey buddy, pick me up.” Or, if you are eating at your dining table, your dog will be looking up to you while handing his tongue out to ask you, “Hey, what ya eatin’.”

They also look up while getting in a car, climbing trees and stairs, or if you call them from someplace higher. Usually, in such situations, they don’t need to move their head all the way up—only looking at a 60-degree angle is enough.

But if you want them to move their snouts 90 degrees to the sky, that might be a little tough for them. To do that, they’ll place their legs on a raised surface and then look up.

4. Why Can’t Some Dogs Look Up Even Slightly?

Small dogs can look up more easily than adult and old dogs.

Senior dogs have weak bones. Stressing their bones can cause them severe pain, which is why they can’t turn them slightly.

Other than the age factor, neck problems can also hinder their movement.

a. Neck Injuries

If your dog accidentally fell from a higher place, something heavy hit his neck, or if he has skin dermatitis or wounds around his neck, it would be difficult for him to tilt his head.

Neck pain in dogs can also be caused by a disc slip that presses on the spinal cord, making it difficult for them to move at all.

Neck pain can occur due to different reasons and depends on the breed and size of the dog.

These disorders are atlantoaxial malformation and cranial occipital malformation syndrome (COMS).

b. Intervertebral Disc Disease

In intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), any spinal disc gets ruptured or herniated, and its content is leaked into the dog’s body, causing severe pain and inflammation. In such spinal issues, dogs are unable to look up.

This issue is common in “long-spined and short-heightened” breeds such as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Shi Tzus, etc.

c. Cervical Spondomyelopathy

Cervical spondylomyelopathy is a disease in the spine close to the neck region, resulting in poor nerve signal transmission between the brain and the body.

In such a condition, your dog will appear “wobbly,” not having any control over his body, and ultimately, he won’t be able to look up.

Though Big Al blurbed the facts that dogs can’t look up, there are health conditions that actually support his argument.

What Do Dog Owners Think?

Since the release of that movie, there has been a huge debate about whether or not dogs can look up. Most owners practically showed that dogs could do that. Let’s see how they reacted to the dialogue.

Courtney Schumacher says, “If you stand upright in front of your dog and offer it a treat, he or she will tilt the head up. Since you have more social power than your own dog does in the house, even if you’re not the ‘boss’ of the house, the dog will still look up to you (respect) because of your love.”

So, can dogs look up? Yes, but up to an extent. However, don’t get so indulged in this debate. Just grab something and experiment with your dog to yourself if he can look up or not. That will give you a clearer idea of the extent to which they can look up!

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