Can Dogs Look Up? Fact vs. Myth About Your Dog!

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Author: Jacob Kay

Dogs are well-known for having excellent senses of smell and hearing, but “Can Dogs Look Up” and see what’s above them? The viral myth states that tossing a ball for your dog to catch is useless – they simply can’t look up high enough to follow it. This makes for a humorous meme but fails to reflect the true nature of canine vision.

This article will explore the facts about dogs looking upward. We’ll bust some myths and reveal precisely what dogs can and cannot see above them. We’ll cover training techniques and potential health issues that may restrict your dog’s ability to look to the skies. Let’s dig into it.

Can Dogs Look Up? Fact vs. Myth About Your Dog!

How Your Dog’s Eyes Work

The canine eye works much like the human eye, with a few key differences. Light enters through the cornea, then passes through the lens which focuses images on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina contains photoreceptor cells called rods and cones.[1]

How Your Dog's Eyes Work

Rods allow for peripheral and night vision. Cones provide central, colour vision. Humans have more cones than dogs, giving us superior daytime, colour vision. Dogs have more rods, making them better adapted for nighttime and motion detection.

Dogs’ retinas also contain a structure called the tapetum lucidum, causing their eyes to glow in low light. The reflective layer enhances night vision even more.

Overall, the canine eye is adept at detecting motion and absorbing more light, while human vision excels at detail and colour perception under bright conditions. But when it comes to looking up, do dogs have any limitations?

Myths About Dogs Looking Up

Myths About Dogs Looking Up

“Don’t bother throwing the ball for your dog to catch – he can’t look up and see it.” – This myth has reached meme status on the internet, but it’s just plain wrong. Dogs can look up. Their range of vertical motion just isn’t as extensive as humans.

Dogs typically have an ocular range of motion of around 43-45 degrees upward, compared to humans, who can look 55-60 degrees skyward simply by rotating their eyes.

Beyond that, humans can tilt their heads back approximately 45-55 degrees to expand our visual field further upward.

Dogs’ ability to tilt their heads vertically is limited by the positioning of their vestibulo-ocular reflex, combined with physical restrictions from musculoskeletal structure. This prevents most dogs from looking directly overhead. But they can still see objects elevated above eye level to some degree.

Why Dogs Rarely Look Up?

Even though dogs are technically capable of looking upward, they tend to not make very extensive use of vertical eye movement in day-to-day activities. There are several reasons for this:

Instinct - In the wild, canines are constantly scanning the horizon for potential prey or threats at eye level. Looking up frequently could cause them to miss vital visual cues in their natural environment. The tendency to look forward is hard-wired.

Limited Need - Our furry pals don't have much cause to look up. Food, toys, humans, other animals, and all the most interesting things are normally positioned right in front of them. So upward gaze goes underutilized.

Balanced and Comfort - Bipedal humans rely heavily on vision for balance. Dogs use other senses like smell and proprioception. Excessive head tilting can disrupt their equilibrium and feel uncomfortable.

So your dog isn’t disinterested in you when they don’t make steady eye contact. They are just instinctively and ergonomically inclined to look at their horizon, not the heavens.

Training Your Dog to Look Up

Training Your Dog to Look Up

While dogs may not be naturally inclined to look up frequently, you can train them to do so on cue. Establishing eye contact is vital for effective training, so teaching your dog to look up at you is time well spent.

Here are some tips for training vertical gaze:

  • Start by holding a tasty treat just slightly above your dog’s eye level and slowly raise it while giving the cue “Look up!” Repeat this in short sessions to shape the behaviour.
  • Once your dog begins following the lure reliably, switch to rewarding with the treat only after they perform the complete head tilt. This will help them learn the full behaviour before getting the reward.
  • Use an excited, encouraging tone when giving the “Look up!” verbal cue to capture your dog’s interest. A squeaky toy can also help grab their attention upwards.
  • Try “laddering” the behaviour by rewarding small increments of process, not just the full head tilt. This will reinforce gradual improvements.
  • Keep training sessions brief to avoid neck strain. And don’t forget to reward your dog with affection, not just treats, for getting the hang of this unnatural movement. They’ll soon be looking to you for approval whenever you give the cue.

Health Conditions Impacting Vertical Gaze

Health Conditions Impacting Vertical Gaze

For some dogs, looking up isn’t just mildly difficult – it’s downright impossible. Certain health conditions severely restrict a dog’s ability to tilt their head back and see overhead.

A few examples of issues that can limit upward vision include:

Vestibular Disease - This condition affects the inner ear and drain. It can cause dizziness, nausea, and a head tilt. Looking up exacerbates vertigo.

Neck Arthritis - Degeneration of cervical vertebrae and discs makes tilting the head back very painful.

Ear Infections - Inner ear issues like otitis media throw off a dog's balance and coordination.

Nerve Damage - Injuries and progressive disease may impede signals between the brain, eyes, and neck.

If your formerly active dog rapidly loses the ability to look up, see your veterinarian promptly. They can examine your dog and recommend appropriate diagnostics and treatment to address the underlying cause. Don’t assume your dog is just being stubborn – their discomfort or disorientation is very real.

When to Check With Your Vet

When to Check With Your Vet

Subtle changes in your dog’s upward gaze ability can be tricky to notice at first. Here are some signs that it’s time to get your veterinarian’s input:

  • Your dog stops catching treats or toys tossed gently overhead.
  • A head tilt persists for more than a day or two
  • Your dog seems reluctant to move their head or neck
  • Loss of balance, nausea, or abnormal eye movements
  • Signs of pain when their chin is gently lifted
  • Increased lethargy or disinterest in normal activities

A sudden inability to look skyward, especially in an older dog, should visit the vet to assess the cranial nerves, vestibular system, musculoskeletal structures, and sensory organs. When a limited range of motion is normal, acute changes could signal serious issues needing attention. Don’t delay getting help.


Can dogs look up to some degree?

Yes, the vast majority of dogs have at least a moderately expansive vertical range of motion. Exceptions are dogs with specific musculoskeletal or neurological conditions severely limiting head/neck mobility.

Why do certain breeds or dogs look up more readily than others?

Physical differences in skull shape, neck anatomy, eye positioning and inner ear vertibular function can all influence how easily and comfortably a dog looks skyward. Individual temperament plays a role too – some pups are simply more attentive than others by nature.

Is it unhealthy if my dog frequently looks up for long periods?

Occasional upward gazes are perfectly normal and healthy. However, excessive extension of the neck over prolonged periods can strain muscles. Use common sense – don’t force or require your dog to stare overhead for excessively long durations.

If my senior dog stops looking up, should I be concerned?

Yes, a sudden loss of the ability to look up warrants a veterinary exam. Pain, vestibular disease, nerve issues, stiff neck joints and other problems can cause this. Don’t assume it’s just normal ageing before consulting your vet.

What health conditions commonly impact dogs’ ability to look upward?

Ear infections, intervertebral disc disease, arthritis, vestibular syndrome, neuropathy, and cervical spondylomyelopathy can limit or completely restrict upward gaze. Diagnostic testing is needed to determine the specific underlying cause.


Can dogs look up to the sky and see the world from a vertical perspective? Absolutely! Their physical limitations simply prevent them from gazing directly overhead. But while your pup may not be staring endlessly skyward, simple training techniques and fun enrichment activities can encourage a more regulated upward orientation.

Understanding why man’s best friend tends to keep their sights on the horizon instead of the heavens will help you better interpret their behaviour. If changes in your dog’s ability to look up do arise, promptly consult your veterinarian to address any medical needs.

With realistic expectations about the scope of canine vertical vision, you can better bond with your pup by seeing the world from their uplifted point of view!


  1. How Do Dogs See The World | petMD
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Jacob Kay
Jacob Kay is a Veterinary Advisor and Editor at WWD. He’s also a dog lover and has two pet dogs of his own. He has extensive knowledge in the field of veterinary medicine and is always happy to share his insights with others.

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