How It Works

Can dogs look up?

This question rose to fame in the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead, where Simon Pegg’s character proclaimed that pub landlord ‘Big Al’ was not to be trusted as he wrongly believed, according to Pegg’s character, that dogs couldn’t look up (quote: “Yeah, but Big Al says dogs can’t look up!”). Interestingly, though, Big Al may not have been entirely wide of the mark.

Dog owners will assert that dogs can clearly look upwards, as they often gaze up towards their owners. However, this does not mean that a dog has the same level of head movement as a human; the structure of a dog’s neck and spine prohibits extreme movements. A dog is able to point its head upwards, but only to a certain degree, and they can move their eyeballs upwards much less so. For this reason they often ‘look about’ by moving their heads rather than their eyes. When lying down, though, the level of head-tilting a dog can perform increases, which is why a dog may often lie down to observe an overhead bird or other elevated object. In addition, it is very rare for a dog to be able to look straight upwards without lying flat on its back or standing upright.

Another reason that this question is so popular is that many dog owners often observe that a dog may fail to look up towards their owner when they are called to from a height, leading them to believe the dog is unable to move its head out of a horizontal position. In actuality, a dog’s perception of up and down is very poor, and they are often unable to discern the height of a noise source, although they can ascertain its direction in a flat plane.

So, can dogs look up? Yes, but only to a certain degree. ‘Big Al’ was almost right.

  • Amy

    My dog loves to look up at birds flying overhead. He will be laying on the deck and see a shadow pass overhead and jump up barking and chasing the bird in the sky. Not all dogs do this. Some you can not coax into looking up at the sky. they just don’t get it. but my dog loves looking at birds in the sky and chasing them barking!! Inside you can see him moving his eyes within a certain radius just as we do.

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  • Velocet 8

    You’re an idiot. Dogs can tilt their heads up about the same amount a human can. Same with rolling their eyes up. “Big Al” and you are both idiots with no critical thinking skills. All animals have limited mobility in their upper vertebrae. Even owls can’t tilt their head straight up. The joke in Shaun of the Dead went right over your head. The joke was that Big Al was just talking a load and that only an idiot (like Nick Frost’s character) would believe a load of bullocks from a bar owner. Congratulations…you’re an idiot of the precise specified caliber. Dogs can tilt their heads up, can roll their eyes up, and not to an extremely limited degree as you would posit. Besides that, the fact that Big Al said they “can’t” when they in fact “can”, means he was wrong.

    Or to put it more simply:
    There is no such thing as “almost right”. You are either right, or you’re wrong. “Almost right” is just an idiot’s way of saying “wrong”.

    In this case, Big Al was wrong…and you’re an idiot for saying the words “almost right”.

    • David Pountain

      You’ve provided absolutely nothing to back up anything you’re saying, meaning that it’s basically just your word against theirs. As it stands, you’re not exactly looking like the more credible of the two sources, random weirdly angry comments section guy.

      • GuccizBud

        He *did* provide information. At least two virtually certain facts, as I see them. One, he’s socially inept; two, he has no friends.