Six Surprising Reasons Why Dogs Smack Their Lips


In the human world, lip smacking is something we do when we open and close our mouth loudly to express a strong desire to eat something we like, but in the dog world, lip smacking can take place for many other reasons. Some dog owners may find the behavior concerning especially when a dog licks his lips excessively, while others may find it downright annoying. By the way, if you are terribly bothered by those lip smacking noises your dog makes, there are chances you may have a condition known as “misophonia” which literally means “hatred of sound” and can involve specific noises produced when someone eats, yawns or when dogs smack their lips. Back to dogs, let’s discover six surprising reasons why dogs smack their lips.

dog lip smacking
Yum! Dog licks his chops at the sight of his food.

1) Anticipation of Food

Just like us, a dog’s mouth may water when he sees food, smells food or even thinks about food. This collection of saliva in a dog’s mouth may cause him to drool, which is often seen in dogs with heavy jowls, but sometimes dogs may just discreetly smack their lips to collect the excessive saliva that collects laterally and prevent it from seeping out. In this case, the lip smacking behavior occurs when there is something in the dog’s environment that has to do with food. You’re likely to see your dog smack his lips therefore when you’re cooking something or when you’re prepping your dog’s meal.

Surprising fact: Your dog may even smack his lips when no food is around. When Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov started studying the digestive process in dogs, he noticed how the dogs salivated naturally when food was presented, but what was really surprising is that the dogs started salivating even upon the mere sight of the white lab coat of the experimental assistants! Basically, the dogs started associating food with the lab assistant’s coat so they drooled upon seeing it and at some point even upon hearing the lab assistant’s foot steps!

So if you ever clicker trained your dog, don’t be surprised if he smacks his lips when you get the clicker out or upon clicking it, even before you give a treat. From your dog’s perspective, the clicker is what dog trainers call a secondary or conditioned reinforcer, meaning that the dog has learned to associate it with treats. Its mere presence can trigger a lip smacking event. Same goes with seeing Aunt Molly. If every time Aunt Molly meets your dog she gives him a treat, just seeing her may elicit a lip smacking episode as he anticipates food from her!

2) A Bout of Nauseadog nausea

Just before people or dogs vomit, saliva accumulates in the mouth and this may trigger lip smacking in dogs and drooling or repeated swallowing in humans. Why this saliva accumulates in the mouth before vomiting is not entirely clear, but according to Science Focus, there is belief that it may be a protective measure to prevent the throat, mouth and teeth from being harmed by the highly acidic stomach contents when they’re brought up. Fortunately, most cases of dog lip smacking from nausea resolve after the dog has vomited, but sometimes the nausea may go on for some time and the dog may be repeatedly gulping down saliva.

Surprising fact: dogs can get acid reflux too! Small dogs are particularly prone to it as they have tiny stomachs and their metabolisms are so fast that their stomachs remain empty for some time. When their stomach is empty, they produce gastric acid, but since it’s not absorbed by food, it stays in the stomach, irritating the lining and causing nausea and vomiting of yellow bile, explains veterinarian Dr. Fiona.

dog tooth pain3) A Mouth Problem

When we have mouth or tooth pain, we may look inside the medicine cabinet to address the pain and make an appointment with the dentist. Dogs have no way to tell us about their problem, other than showing signs of discomfort such as lip smacking and drooling, dropping food as they eat and pawing at the mouth. Problems that may affects a dog’s mouth or tooth may include periodontal disease, objects embedded in the dog’s mouth or problems with the salivary glands. If you live in an area where there are foxtails, consider that these pesky awns may have lodged somewhere into your dog’s mouth or throat causing lots of discomfort, lip smacking, drooling and gagging.

Surprising fact: In the world of fairy tales, kissing a frog may turn it into a prince, but in the dog world kissing the wrong type of toad may lead to lip smacking and foaming at the mouth and may even turn life threatening if veterinary care isn’t sought in a timely manner. Problems start when a dog licks a giant toad or a Sonoran desert toad, two species that secrete toxic substances as a defense mechanism. Along with foaming at the mouth, affected dogs may develop a high temperature, red gums, trouble breathing, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures and even death. The Pet Poison Helpine recommends rinsing the mouth out and immediately contacting the vet.

dog smacking lips4) A Sign of Pain/Illness

As a species that relies of words and vocalizations, us humans often assume dogs will show their pain though whines, whimpers and yelps, but that’s not always that way. Many dogs show subtle signs of pain that are often missed by dog owners or attributed to other things others than pain. Other than nausea, lip smacking can be a sign of pain explains veterinarian Dr. Jake Tedaldi in the book: “What’s Wrong with My Dog?” Once the pain is taken care of, the lip smacking behavior should therefore resolve.

Surprising fact: there are several other physical ailments that could trigger lip smacking in dogs. For example, liver and kidney disease can cause lip smacking, and so can dehydration, further suggests Dr. Tedaldi. In some cases, partial seizures may also cause a dog to lick the air and snap, as if catching imaginary flies.

dog lip licking5) A Calming Signal

In dogs, licking the lips can be what Roger Abrantes calls a “pacifying behavior.”  Dogs basically engage in this behavior to diffuse a perceived threat using the lip smacking action as an appeasing signal. It can be seen in dogs who are stressed, anxious or nervous about an interaction or when there is some type of conflict going on.  Many dogs smack their lips when they are being photographed (it makes some dogs uneasy) or when an owner trips on them. As with other behaviors,  it’s important to look at context as things can get blurry at times. A person may assume a dog may smack its lips from nervousness when starting a training session, but it could also mean the dog is anticipating treats.  Patrica McConnell in her blog suggests a way to distinguish the two.

“Usually, (but not always) licking in anticipation of food involves the tongue moving laterally, to the side of the dog’s mouth, while in other types of lip licks the tongue moves straight forward.” ~ Patricia McConnell

Surprising fact: Lip licking behavior has likely evolved with the dog because it has proven to prolong the dog’s life increasing its chance of surviving and reproducing, suggests Abrantes. The behavior must have therefore puts roots as it helped the dog survive conflicts without incurring in physical harm.

6) Attention Seeking BehaviorCapture

Last but not least, lip smacking behavior may occur at times because the dog notices that it gets the owner’s attention. After ruling out any medical causes, this may be a possibility if every time your dog smack his lips, you turn to look at him or talk to him. The lip smacking behavior therefore puts roots because it has been accidentally reinforced by the owner. Dogs who look for attention are often dogs who are socially deprived spending the majority of the day alone and craving any form of attention when the owner comes home.  As with other behaviors, it’s important to look at context. If it happens only in presence in the owner, it’s likely attention-seeking behavior. By recording the dog’s behavior in the owner’s absence, one can probably deduce if it may be attention-seeking behavior or perhaps something else.

Surprising fact: Dogs have been known for engaging in surprising behaviors just for the sake of attention, even pseudo-medical attention-seeking behaviors, like faking lameness or face scratching, explains Dr. Nicholas Dodman. And if you were wondering, consider that even negative attention such as reprimanding the dog telling him to stop may qualify as attention to a dog who is craving attention. The best approach is to totally ignore.

“Even telling your dog to stop, or reprimanding him, can be rewarding for some dogs. The principle here is that some attention, even negative attention, is better than no attention at all.” ~Dr. Nicholas Dodman

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a diagnostic tool or as a substitute for professional veterinary or behavioral advice. If your dog is smacking his lips, see a vet  for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Six Causes of Lip Smacking in Dogs


  • What’s Wrong with My Dog? by Dr. Jake Tedaldi, Fair Winds Press (August 1, 2007)
  • Science Focus, Why do we salivate before we vomit, by Luis Villazon,  retrieved from the web on April 30th, 2016
  • Roger Abrantes, Pacifying Behavior, Origin Function and Evolution, retrieved from the web on April 30th, 2016
  • The Other End of the Leash, What Does Licking Mean? by Patricia McConnell, retrieved from the web on April 30th, 2016
  • Pet Place, Attention-Seeking Behavior in Dogs, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman, retrieved from the web on April 30th, 2016

Yes, Dogs Can Have A Satisfied Look on Their Face!


Among the many fascinating behaviors and facial expressions dogs engage in, the consummatory face deserves a place of honor. While you may have never heard the term “consummatory face” before, you have likely stumbled on this facial expression at some point or another, but perhaps never gave it much thought. Becoming more aware of a dog’s consummatory face though is not only interesting, but also helpful as it makes us more observant of our dog’s body language. It’s one of those things worthy of mentally bookmarking it and providing it a spot in our virtual library of the curious things dogs do.

dog eatingA Matter of Satisfaction

What exactly does consummatory mean? The term derives from the Latin word consummatus, the past participle of consummare which means “to finish up, complete.” What exactly do dogs have to finish up or complete? It’s not like dogs have to finish up their homework or a complete any housecleaning chores as humans do! When the term consummatory behavior is applied to animal behavior it’s mostly associated with the achievement of a goal; whereas, the process of achieving the goal is referred to as appetitive behavior.  Intrigued? More “official” definitions below from

If these terms make you hungry and think about food, you aren’t on the wrong path; indeed, these terms are inspired by the act of eating. Appetitive comes from appetite, and consummatory comes from finishing up, which is why we often say “to consume a meal” or finish up food. So if we now think about a dog’s consummatory face, we can deduce it must have something to do with the dog’s sense of satisfaction derived from achieving a goal, so next, let’s discover some instances when dogs would feel satisfied.

Consummatory behavior: “a behavior pattern that occurs in response to a stimulus and that achieves the satisfaction of a specific drive, as the eating of captured prey by a hungry predator.”

Appetitive behavior: “activity that increases the likelihood of satisfying a specific need, as restless searching for food by a hungry predator.”

Achievement of Goals

Dogs don’t write down their future goals on a planner as their lives for the most part revolve in the present, but for sure there are sure many little things they gotta work for, but they’re mostly down to earth plans with nothing really fancy. Many of a dog’s daily “goals” revolve in engaging in feel- good activities and making slightly discomforting sensations go away. Basically, all things that are pleasurable and reinforcing. Ever felt the pleasure of eating something good or the relief of calming those hunger pangs when you haven’t eaten for a while? The relieving sensation of urinating when you have a full bladder? Or defecating when you gotta go bad? Or taking a bath after a workout? Or making an annoying itch go away by reaching for the back scratcher? For sure you have! When you achieve these little “goals” on a daily basis for you must feel good afterward. Dogs are the same way, eating, urinating, defecating, scratching an itch and rolling in poop after a bath (yes, ’cause those baths we give dogs to make them smell good to us, takes their cherished doggy smell away!) are all behaviors that makes them feel good.

consummatory face in wolf while eating, fox 1969That Satisfied Look

As with other types of body language in dogs such as whale eyes or inguinal presentation, the consummatory face must have some distinguishing traits, so how can it be described? M. W. Fox described it as keeping “the ears partially flattened and the eyes either narrowed or completely closed, or opened and fixed in a “middle distance” stare or glazed daydream.” Dr. Bonnie B. Beaver in her book “Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers” describes it as a dog having “ears partially flattened and eyes partially or fully closed, a pleasure face.” If dogs could talk, they would likely say something in the terms of: “Ahhhh…. this feels so good!”

When Does it Happen?consummatory face

You were likely not imagining things when you thought you caught a satisfied look on your dog’s face when you found him rolling in poop. Consummatory faces are likely to occur when a dog engages in a variety of relaxing, pleasurable activities as long as they’re not disturbed by distracting stimuli around them. You’re therefore likely to see this expression when your dog eats, pees, poops, rolls and rubs in stinky things, says Michael Fox in the book “Behaviour of Wolves Dogs and Related Canids”–well he used a more professional language in the book really, but you get the point! Barbara Handelman in the educational book “Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook” points out that it can be seen when the dog “satisfyingly scratches a particularly itchy itch” and keeps the head tilted upwards, the lips drawn back, the ears relaxed along with squinty eyes.

Five Squinty- Eyed Dogs Saying Yes, That’s The Spot!

That feels soooo good, says Chester!
That feels soooo good, says Chester!
Yes, that's the spot! says Huey
Yes, that’s the spot! says Huey
Ahhhh.. these massages turn me into putty! says Frank.
Ahhhh.. these massages turn me into putty! says Frank.
A soft bed of grass and a belly rub, I couldn’t ask for more!” says Kodiak
Nobody available to scratch my back? I'll take care of it, says Laika.
Nobody available to scratch my back? I’ll take care of it, says Laika.

Did you know? ” Squinting, the way you might squint when you smile, generally reflects relaxation or happy excitement” says dog trainer Jolanta Benal.


  • Fox, M.W. (1970). A comparative study of the development of facial expression in canids. Behaviour, 36, 49 – 73.
  • Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, By Bonnie V. G. Beaver
  • Behaviour of Wolves Dogs and Related Canids, by Michael Fox, Dogwise Classics Edition: 1971 E Book, 217 pages
  • Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook, by Barbara Handelman, Distributed by Dogwise Publishing
    2008 Paperback, 386 pages.
  • Appetitive behavior. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from website
  • Consummatory behavior. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from website

Photo Credits:

  • My Favorite Pet Sitter, Chester loves a back scratch, Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Wayne Silver, Huey, Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Tony Alter, Frank turning to putty, Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Eileen, Kodiak savoring the belly rub–adopted! Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Mike M, Scratching Her Back. Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0

Care Giving and Care Seeking Behaviors in Dogs


Among the many amazing things dogs do, care giving is one of those things that often marvels us when we watch the interactions between a mother dog and her pups. Unlike humans, those talented mother dogs didn’t get to play with dolls or read directions on how to mix formula or learn how to change a diaper. Taking good care of puppies is something that is instinctive in most mother dogs, courtesy of hormones and the care-seeking behaviors in pups which are know to evoke nurturing behaviors (even though there are sometimes exceptions to the rule). Today, we’ll be taking a look at care giving and care seeking behaviors in dogs, or in more technical terms, epimeletic and et-epimeletic behaviors in dogs.

puppies nursingEpimeletic Behaviors in Mother Dogs

Epimeletic behaviors are simply those behaviors that entail giving care to others. These mostly entail those nurturing, care giving behaviors that are carried out by mother dogs and are targeted towards their puppies. Puppies being part of altricial species, strongly depend on their mothers for survival, so maternal instincts in mother dogs are particularly strong. Care giving behaviors are largely influenced by the effect of hormones. In particular, the maternal hormone prolactin, fosters protective behaviors and also plays a role in stimulating the milk let down process.

“Prolactin controls milk production and fosters the feeling of maternal protectiveness. ” ~Nicholas Dodman

Following are some examples of care giving behaviors carried out by mother dogs:

  •  Severing the pup’s umbilical cord with the teeth
  • Attending to distress calls of pups who are hungry, cold or  who got separated from the rest.
  • Licking puppies to stimulate urination and defecation.
  • Lying down on the side to help the puppies nurse.
  • Regurgitating food for the pups when they’re being weaned (still seen in some mother dogs).
  • Protecting the puppies from any perceived harms.

Note: there may be variances in epimeletic behaviors in mother dogs, with some dogs showing exaggerated forms (excessive grooming) and deficits (failure to groom, nurse or care for the pups.)

idea tipDid you know? Mother dogs tend to pick up puppies and carry them around keeping their whole body in their mouth with feet dangling down, versus cats who carry their kittens by the skin, explain John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller in the bookGenetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog.

puppy motherEt-epimeletic Behavior in Puppies

Et-epimeletic behaviors are simply those behaviors that entail seeking care from others. These are often soliciting, care seeking behaviors that are carried out from puppies and are targeted towards their mother.  Following are some examples of care-seeking behaviors in puppies:

  • Distressed calls when hungry, cold or  separated from mother dog and the pups.
  • Licking the lips of mother dog to greet/ get attention/solicit her to regurgitate food for them.
  • Pawing and jumping to reach mother dog’s face to greet/get attention/solicit regurgitation.

Note: according to Steven Lindsay there may also be variances in et-epimeletic behaviors, with some dogs showing exaggerated forms (excessive attention seeking, dependency) and deficits (failure to bond, withdrawn.)

licking faceEt-epimeletic Behaviors in Dogs Past Infancy

Interestingly, the above et-epimeletic behaviors aren’t limited to young puppies. Some of these infantile behaviors are often retained past early infancy in a dog’s interactions with humans and other dogs although in some cases these behaviors are carried out for slightly different reasons.  Therefore these behaviors that started in early infancy  become part of a dog’s behavior repertoire often because they have a history of  reinforcement or they have been inadvertently reinforced by owners. Here are a few examples of et-epimeletic behaviors retained into adulthood:


  • Whining, barking or howling for care and attention.
  • Emitting distress calls when separated from owners as seen in separation anxiety..
  • Yelping out of pain.
  • Begging at the table asking to be fed.
  • Hand and face licking directed towards humans.
  • Licking the lips of other dogs so to seek information or exhibit deferential greeting behaviors.


idea tipDid you know? Karen Overall in the book “Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats” explains that lip licking is sometimes seen in dogs who have been separated from another dog for some time and are trying to gain information. The dog who is licked may open the mouth to provide a respiratory sample that carries neurochemical information such as food and behavior state.



  • Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Etiology and Assessment of Behavior Problems, By Steve Lindsay, Iowa State University Press; 1st edition (2001) 
  • Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, By Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)
  • Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, By John Paul Scott, John L. Fuller, University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Pet Place, Understanding Canine Maternal Behavior, by Nicholas Dodman, retrieved from the web on April 28th, 2016.

Dog Word of the Day: Egg-Shaped Head


According to James Serpell, Professor of Animal Ethics & Welfare at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, the dog is the most variable living mammal on earth, coming in many shapes and sizes, therefore it’s not surprising if there are so many anatomical differences among one dog and another. It’s therefore not surprising that we have quite a variety of different head shapes in dogs including wedge heads, deer heads and apple heads. Today’s spot of honor though is dedicated to the egg-shaped head, which is quite unique and therefore found only in a couple of dog breeds.

dog stopThe Egg-Shaped Head

What exactly is an egg-shaped head? As the name implies, it’s a head that has an oval appearance that resembles the shape of an egg or a rugby or American football. The head’s outline is therefore oval, curving gently downwards and there is a lack of hollows or indentations. Basically, an    egg-shaped head totally lacks a stop.

What is a stop? It’s that indentation that starts from the dog’s forehead and ends at the muzzle that is commonly seen in most dogs. It’s particularly evident when the head is seen from one side. In the picture to the right, you can clearly see a dog with the stop. It’s that dip in the dog’s forehead right between the eyes and the muzzle.

bull terrier egg shaped headBreeds With Egg Heads

What dog breeds have an egg-shaped head? There seem to be only a couple. In the bull terrier, the egg-shaped head is its most recognizable feature along with its triangular eyes which gives this breed its desirable “varminty” expression. According to the American Kennel Club standard for this breed, “Full face it should be oval in outline and be filled completely up giving the impression of fullness with a surface devoid of hollows or indentations, i.e., egg shaped. In profile it should curve gently downwards from the top of the skull to the tip of the nose.”

The other breed that has an egg-shaped head is the miniature bull terrier, which is the smaller version, but categorized as a separate breed by the AKC. The miniature bull terrier shares the same head standard requirements than the standard bull terrier.

A Look BackCapture

One may assume that the egg-shaped head would be a product of evolution, but it’s actually man-made, the product of many years of selective breeding. The bull terrier’s history dates back to an era when in England bull and terrier crosses were used in blood sports and vermin control. These bull and terrier crosses were obtained by crossing Old English terriers with Old English bulldogs. Bull and terrier crosses were soon quite popular as they combined the speed of the terriers with the tenacity and strength of the bulldog.

In the mid 19th century, James Hinks of Birmingham, England, started crossing existing bull and terriers with his white bulldog  “Old Madman” and various”English white terriers” which are now extinct. He also mixed in other dog breeds. The products of his breedings were white dog with better legs and a nicer head. Back at that time, these dogs were called the “Hinks breed” and the “White Cavalier” but they didn’t have an egg-shaped head yet. Hinks aimed for a gentleman’s companion rather than a pit fighter, so he focused on producing white dogs meant to sit alongside gentlemen as they drove their carriages around parks. There is belief that Dalmatian blood was added for elegance, and then borzoi and collie blood was added too so to elongate the head and reduce the stop. The first modern bull terrier produced in 1917 was “Lord Gladiator” which had no stop at all. Soon, most bull terriers specimens were selectively bred to be without stops.

Did you know? At the time the bull terrier was created by Hinks, the British were ruling India and Pakistan and brought along bull terriers and English White Terriers, creating the Indian Bull Terrier and the Pakistani Gull Terr, which many consider as being similar to the original Hinks Bull Terrier without the exaggerated head shape of contemporary show bull terriers. Today, there’s a renewed interest in recreating the old Hinks bull terrier.


  • Live Science, How did dogs get to be dogs? by Remy Melina, retrieved from the web on April 27th, 2016
  • Encyclopedia of K9 Terminology, By Edward M. Gilbert, Jr, Patricia H. Gilbert, Dogwise Publishing; 1st edition (September 18, 2013)
  • United Kennel Club, Bull Terrier Official Breed Standard, retrieved from the web on April 27th, 2016
  • The New Complete Dog Book: Official Breed Standards and All-New Profiles By The American Kennel Club, Lumina Press; 21st ed. edition (November 11, 2014)

What is the Difference Between a Siberian Husky and an Alaskan Malamute?


Sometimes dog breeds may closely resemble each other making them difficult to tell apart, and the Siberian husky and Alaskan malamute are often two dog breeds that are easily confused. Let’s first take a glance at their similarities: they are both Nordic breeds with a history of pulling sleds, they both have a wolfish appearance, and they are both categorized by American Kennel Club under the working dog group. To untrained eyes, these dogs dog breeds may therefore look quite similar, but once you take a look at them side-by-side, you are more likely to notice their differences. So today’s trivia question is: what is one main difference between the Siberian husky and the Alaskan malamute?

A:  The Malamute is larger than the Siberian husky

B: The Malamute has a double coat while the Siberian husky has a single coat

C: The Malamute has blue eyes while the Siberian husky has brown

D: The Malamute has a tail that is always carried on the back while the husky always keeps it low

The correct answer is…. drum roll please!


The correct answer is: A, the Malamute is larger than the Siberian husky.

Differences between the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute

On top of being of a different size, there are some other differences between the Siberian husky and the Alaskan malamute that are worthy of pointing out. While it may be difficult telling these two breeds apart when you see one specimen one day and then the other on another day, once you put these two breeds side-by-side the differences among them become much more evident. So first let’s take a look at the main differences and then let’s put them together so that we can have better picture of a Siberian husky vs. an Alaskan Malamute.

A Matter of Size

One of the most relevant differences between the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute is size. The Alaskan malamute, the largest of all the arctic sled dogs, is quite massive when we compare the two and there is a good reason for this. While the Siberian husky is built to be quick and light on his feet so to carry light loads at fast speeds, the Alaskan malamute is instead built to be powerful so he can carry large loads at slow speeds and over long distances. Malamutes are therefore not designed for speed, but for endurance which is why there are heavy boned and have a well-muscled body; whereas the Siberian husky is lighter to the extent that any appearance of excessive bone is at risk for being penalized if we look at the Siberian husky breed standard. When looking at numbers, just consider that male Siberian huskies are expected to be 21 to 23½ inches tall at the withers with a weight ranging from 45 to 60 pounds, while the desirable male Alaskan malamutes freighting specimens are expected to be ideally 25 inches at the shoulders with a weight of 85 pounds.

husky vs malamuteA Look at the Ears

Another difference between the Siberian husky and Alaskan malamute is ear carriage. In the Siberian husky, the ears are expected to be triangular in shape with slightly rounded tips and they should be placed close to each other and set high on the head.

In the Alaskan malamute the ears are also triangular in shape with slightly rounded tips, but instead of being close to each other, they are set wide apart on the exterior edges of the skull, just lined up with the upper corners of the eyes. According to the American Kennel Club breed standard, when the ears of the Alaskan malamute are kept erect, they give the impression of standing off from the skull. Unlike the husky, high set ears are considered a fault in this breed.

A Look at the Eyeshusky versus malamute eyes

Even the eyes in these two dog breeds are quite different. The Siberian husky has almond-shaped eyes that can be brown or blue in color. Sometimes huskies are seen with one brown eye and one blue one, a phenomenon known as complete heterochromia or they can have parti-colored eyes, a phenomenon known as sectoral heterochromia. Both instances are acceptable according to the Siberian husky standard.

The Alaskan malamute, on the other hand, is required to have almond eyes as well, but they must be strictly brown, the darker, the better. Contrary to the Siberian husky, in the Alaskan malamute breed having blue eyes is considered a disqualifying fault!

husky vs malamute tailA Look at the Tail

Many people rely on the tail the distinguish a Siberian husky from an Alaskan malamute, but if you don’t know exactly what to look for, things can get a tad bit confusing. Some people will say that the malamute’s tail is up over the back and the husky’s tail is down, but both can carry them both ways based on how they feel, so let’s go more into detail. According to the Siberian husky’s standard, the tail should be well furred and of a fox-brush shape. When the husky is calm, it’s carried just below the level of the topline, but when the husky is attentive to something, it’s carried over the back in a graceful sickle curve. In the Alaskan malamute, the tail follows the line of the spine. Unlike the husky, the tail is well furred and is not supposed to be short furred like a fox brush. When the malamute is not working, the tail is carried over the back (but  not curled tightly) and has the appearance of a waving plume.

A Look at the Coat

It’s true that both the Siberian husky and the Alaskan malamute may share some similar coat features, but they also have some differences. The Siberian husky has a double coat that is medium in length, never long, rough or shaggy.  All husky coat colors from black to pure white are allowed and there may be a variety of facial markings. Malamutes also have a double coat that should not be long, but they have areas where the coat increases in length such as around the shoulders and neck, down the back, over the rump, on the hindquarters  and the tail. When it comes to colors, malamutes may have a coat ranging from light gray to black, sable, and shadings of sable to red. A white blaze  on the forehead or a cap over the head is desirable. Because the malamute is mantled, any uneven splashing or broken colors extending over the body is undesirable.

An Overall Look

husky versus malamute size

As seen, the husky and the malamute are quite similar, but yet so different, especially when you put them side-by-side as in the picture above. And it’s not only looks! Temperament wise, the husky is known for being friendly and outgoing. The fact these dogs aren’t overly suspicious of strangers make them poor candidates as a guard dog. They tend to get along with other dogs and are escape artists. The malamute is also friendly and affectionate, loyal and playful. As this breed matures, it tends to develop a certain dignity.

Siberian husky vs Alaskan Malamute Video


  • American Kennel Club, Alaskan Malamute breed standard, retrieved from the web on April 26th, 2016
  • American Kennel Club, Siberian Husky breed standard, retrieved from the web on April 26th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Alaskan malamute portrait., by Giardeto teamOwn work, GFDL retrieved from 
  • Alaskan Malamute Ch.Windchaser’s The Seventh Son, by SCMWOwn work, CC BY 3.0 retrieved from
  •  Siberian Husky – przykład umaszczenia (samica), by Kamil KorbikMy dog photos, CC BY-SA 3.0, retrieved from
  • Black and White Siberian Husky by Utopialandself-made, GFDL, retrieved from

I Am Your Dog’s Stomach


You may not pay much attention to your dog’s stomach other than when your dog brings food back up from there or when you watch him wolf down food like if there was no tomorrow, but your dog’s stomach is sure a fascinating body part. We often take a dog’s stomach for granted when it’s often doing loads of work, from storing food to preparing it for its further journey down the lower digestive tract. So today’s spot of honor is dedicated to Rover’s stomach, so let’s listen to what our dog’s stomach has to say!

Introducing the Dog’s Stomachstomach

Hello, it’s your dog’s stomach talking! Ever wondered where that whole bowl of food your dog ate goes? In his stomach of course! You see, when your dog eats food, it travels from his mouth down to the esophagus where it then reaches a valve-like structure that’s known as the cardiac sphincter or antrum cardiacum. Just like a valve, this muscular sphincter opens and closes as needed. In between meals, the valve is closed, but when your dog eats or drinks, the valve opens so to allow food and water to reach me. Once the food reaches me, the valve closes again, but it can sometimes be forcefully opened when I am full of air (as it often happens when your dog eats too fast!) and the air pressure forces the valve to open causing your dog to burp. When food makes it past the cardiac sphincter, it finally reaches me and then it’s my turn to go to work!

dog eatingI am Storage Unit

I am a sac-like structure located between the esophagus and duodenum (small intestine) and one of my main goals is to store your dog’s food. When your dog eats, I tend to distend and act as a reservoir, but I am also contracting in the meanwhile so to help mix up and churn the food. As food is ground up, the parts that are mostly liquefied (chyme) are sent to the duodenum for further digestion, while the larger parts remain inside me awaiting to become a more liquid form. This explains why liquid medications or poisons are more readily absorbed compared to solid or semisolid foods.

Did you know? According to veterinarian Race Foster, once ingested, most food leaves the dog’s stomach within twelve hours.

I Aid in Digestion

My interior surface is lined up with several folds known as “gastric folds.” These folds are responsible for grinding up the food your dog wolfs down for breakfast and dinner. On top of that, I secrete acids and enzymes to help break down the food further.  The acid I produce is known as hydrochloric acid and it’s very strong! It is thanks to this acid that your dog can digest things that you may not be able to. You would think this acid I produce would harm me, but thankfully, I have a protective lining of mucus that prevents me from auto-digesting myself.

Once I have started the preliminary digestive process, the partially digested food can then be sent to the duodenum (where the main part of the digestion occurs) through the pyloric sphincter. Like the cardiac sphincter, the pyloric sphincter acts as a valve, opening and closing to regulate the flow of food that reaches the duodenum.

When Things Go Wrongdog pain goes away at the vet

Despite being a simple storage sac that can grind up food and initiate the digestive process, many things can go wrong with me. I can get irritated and inflamed, I may produce too much acid, my protective layers may be affected and I can develop growths and dangerous cancers. On top of that, dogs can swallow things that are unable to pass through me, leading to debilitating blockages.


Gastritis comes from the ancient Greek word gastḗr, meaning belly” and itis meaning inflammation. There are many things that can cause me to get inflamed. As in humans, viruses and bacteria, ingestion of spoiled food, abrupt dietary changes, certain medications and overeating can irritate me and cause a bout of gastritis. Affected dogs will be vomiting, refuse food and act lethargic. While in several instances the issue is short term and I recover after being fasted (yes, I too benefit from some rest at times!) and offered a dog upset stomach bland diet, repeated episodes of vomiting are often a red flag that there’s some underlying problem that needs addressed. 

Presence of Ulcers

As discussed above, when a dog’s cardiac sphincter works well, the valve opens when food and water needs to reach me and then remains in the closed position at other times. However, sometimes the valve can weaken or become damaged, and when this happens, it doesn’t open and close as it should causing some of my acid to seep through and reach the esophagus, causing an esophagitis (yes, now it’s his turn to get irritated.)

While as mentioned I have a protective layer of mucus that prevents me from digesting myself, sometimes when I produce too much acid or my local protective force weakens, or both, the acid I produce may manage to harm me, predisposing me to ulcers. What can cause me to produce too much acid or weaken my protective mucosa? Certain conditions such as mast cell tumors, stress or the administration of anti inflammatories, pain killers and corticosteroids, just to name a few. Affected dogs will typically vomit, lose their appetite and there may be fresh of digested blood in it.

Pyloric Stenosis

As with the cardiac sphincter, the pyloric sphincter may also malfunction. In this case, after undergoing repeated muscle spasms its passage may become narrow, triggering what is known as pyloric stenosis. This condition is more common in small nervous dogs in which it may cause them to occasionally regurgitate partially digested food within two hours of eating. In severe cases, dogs may regurgitate more often leading to weight loss.

Bloat and Torsion

Perhaps, one of the problems I am mostly associated with is bloat which most commonly affects large dogs with deep chests. When I fill up too much with air, I tend to dilate and if I fill up too much, I risk twisting on my axis leading to a potentially life threatening torsion that can cause shock and death if not treated immediately. Affected dogs develop a swollen belly, they may be dry heaving, retching and pacing anxiously. This is a medical emergency!

Foreign Bodies

Dogs can eat the strangest things, and sometimes foreign bodies such as balls, buttons or bones can get lodged somewhere in the gastro-intestinal tract. When something gets stuck inside me, it’s important to take prompt action as foreign bodies can cause me lacerations, erosions and even perforations. When help is sought quickly, vets may retrieve the ingested object through endoscopy, via a tube inserted in the dog’s esophagus with attachments that reach me and allow the foreign item to be grasped. If this option isn’t feasible, the foreign object may need to be removed surgically.

Stomach Cancer

Sadly, I can also get cancer. According to veterinarian Dr. Rance K. Sellon, the most common stomach tumor affecting dogs is adenocarcinoma, followed by lymphosarcoma and smooth muscle tumors (leiomyomas, leiomyosarcomas). Usually, stomach cancer happens mostly in middle-aged to older dogs that present with chronic vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss. Like in the case of a blockage, the tumor may grow so big that food cannot pass through me so it’s vomited back up, which leads to weight loss as the dog is no longer able to receive food as it should.

The above are just a few of the many things that can go wrong with me.  I hope this article has helped you understand me better. As you have seen, I do quite a whole lot! If you wish, you can compare my workload to a washing machine, where food is loaded up, rinsed with acids and enzymes and then tumbled out to the intestinal tract. You may want to keep me in good shape so that I don’t make your dog sick and lose his appetite! Keep an eagle eye on your dog to ensure he doesn’t ingest things that he shouldn’t, feed him a easily digestible diet and report to your vet promptly if something seems amiss. Me and your dog will thank you!

Respectfully yours,

Your dog’s stomach.Dog Pawprint

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has a stomach problem, please see your vet promptly.


  • Pet Education, Pyloric Stenosis, By Race Foster, retrieved from the web on April 25th, 2016
  • DVM 360, Gastric ulcer disease in dogs and cats (Proceedings), by Rance K. Sellon, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, retrieved from the web on April 25th, 2016
  • DVM360, Gastric neoplasms in dogs and cats (Proceedings) by Rance K. Sellon, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, retrieved from the web on April 25th, 2016
  • Pet Education, Gastritis and Stomach Inflammation in Dogs, by Race Foster, retrieved from the web on April 25th, 2016

Photo credits:

  • Outline of stomach, showing its anatomical landmarks.Henry Vandyke CarterHenry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below) Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 1046 This is a retouched picture, which means that it has been digitally altered from its original version. Modifications: vectorization (CorelDraw). The original can be viewed here: Gray1046.png. Modifications made by Mysid. Public domain.

Five Ways Dogs Ask For a Back Massage


In the human world, we can get quite creative when we have a sudden itch in our back and use a pen, ruler or anything handy, but how do dogs scratch their backs? It’s not like they can ask you to pass them the back scratcher or verbally let you know that “Hey, I have a terrible itch at the end of my back ,would you mind scratching it for me?” Fortunately, there are some things dogs can do to quench a sudden itch, but since dogs lack opposable thumbs it doesn’t involve anything fancy, rather their way to calm down an itch is quite down to earth… and yes, that often means literally.

dog rollingHard to Reach Spots

Just like us, dogs have some areas in their bodies that are quite difficult to reach. In particular, the back and the rump may be difficult areas to reach and dogs seem to know it. Did you ever see a dog panic when a bug is buzzing nearby their rump? If so, you may have noticed how the dog appears to be particularly worried about the bug landing on their back end or under the tail. The dog may turn his head repeatedly towards his rear while making sudden swooping movements of the back and tail in hopes that the annoying bug decides to go somewhere else.

Most likely, this sheer panic is due to the fact that the back is a hard to reach area, far away from the mouth and in an area that cannot be easily scratched. Sure the tail is there, but it’s not effective as the tails of horses and cows which are meant to deter flies with their swishing movements.

“The reason most dogs like their rears scratched is because that is a very hard area for them to reach themselves. Think about the hardest place you have to reach in the middle of your back, and how nice it is if someone will scratch that for you.” Dr. Bonnie Beaver

1) Rolling On Their Backsdog butt scratch

Perhaps one of the most common ways dogs scratch their backs to relieve an itch is to simply roll on their backs. Before there were groomers and their associated grooming salons, dogs had to figure out a way to get rid of dead hairs from their coats when shedding season was in full swing. By rolling, dogs could groom themselves by shedding some of their undercoat, explains Karen L. Overall, in her book ” Clinical Behavior Medicine for Small Animals.”

Once the dog is on his back, he’ll be moving himself side to side so to create some added friction between his back and the floor. The choice of surface is important here as some surfaces may not be very suitable for the purpose. A rough carpet, grass or hay may be appealing places to get a nice a back rub.

dog back massage2) Rubbing Against Toys

If your dog leaves toys around the room, they might not be there just for gnawing and playing. Many dogs have found an extra creative use for them. Instead of just rolling their back on the floor, these dogs have found that rolling their backs over their toys may prove to be an effective way to ease an annoying itch, and while they are it, get a little bonus massage accompanied by groans of approvement. Preferred “massage toys” are often tug toys and other types of toys with ridges. Some toys though can be painful to roll over, so owners must be careful that their dogs don’t get injured by their vigorous rolling action over them.

3) Walking Against Walls

dog back

Some dogs can get quite creative and use various other items to get relief from their itchy backs. Some dogs will walk and rub the sides of their backs against sofas and couches. Others will rub the sides of their backs against walls as they walk against them. You can readily recognize the homes where dogs tend to do this: the walls over time develop a distinct line made of dirt and debris, right where the dog walks.  And some dogs will borrow an idea from bears when they go camping: they’ll walk up to a tree and then rub their backs against that sturdy tree trunk!

idea tipTip: Some dogs will accumulate many hairs on their rumps when they shed and these hairs may cause itchiness. Dog owners can help by brushing the rump area and removing those tufts of dead hairs which can be easily detected as they’re sometimes of a different color from the rest of the coat.

4) Soliciting Other Dogsdog grooming

Dogs, as some other animals, may engage in what is known as “social grooming. ” A dog may start licking and gently nibbling another dog and the other dog may return the favor by licking and gently nibbling back. These grooming sessions  generally take place with dogs relaxing side-by-side and often involves licking and nibbling gently with teeth. The nibbling action with the incisor teeth acts like a comb, removing any dirt and debris from the coat.”These behaviors are done by individuals closely associated to each other,” explains Dr. Bonnie Beaver in the book “Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers.”

However, when dogs groom each other, their focus is mostly concentrated on the ears, eyes and mouth area, so there’s likely not much luck in getting that back nibbled on. Dogs may therefore try to rub their back against other dogs as they do with walls, furniture and people’s legs.

5) Asking for Owner’s Help Capture

And then you’ll stumble upon those dogs who will bluntly request a butt scratch by strategically backing up with their rears in the owner’s face in hopes of getting the so badly wanted rump scratch. The owner doesn’t get the message? They’ll turn around and look  back wondering what they are waiting for! Some dogs take the back massage to a higher level: they’ll start shifting the weight on their back feet as they are being scratched in a happy dance matter.

Most dogs seem to love having a nice rump scratch, there are however  as always some exceptions to the rule. Some dog may not like having certain areas touched and the back may be one of them. If on the other hand, your dog always enjoyed back rump scratches, and now he is moving away, there may be chances that he may be experiencing some discomfort or pain there. Watch for bald spots, unusual odors, excessive itchiness and other signs of discomfort and see your vet to let him know about your findings. In many instances, excessive rubbing against walls, carpets and other surfaces may be signs of allergies and other skin conditions.



  • Clinical Behavioral Medicine For Small Animals, by Karen Overall, Mosby (Feb. 1 1997)
  • Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, By Bonnie V. G. Beaver, Elsevier Health Sciences, Nov 11, 2008

Twelve Dog Peeing Positions, How Does Your Dog Pee?


Let’s face it, a dog’s elimination rituals are quite interesting to study, especially considering that dogs tend to assume different peeing positions. You’ll see male dogs mostly lifting their legs, female dogs mostly squatting (even though there are exceptions to the rule) and then you’ll stumble on some dogs doing quite some amazing headstands that are worthy as a circus trick! To each their own! The question though that comes to mind is whether those peeing positions mean anything in particular, and some researchers have started actually studying the elimination habits of dogs more in depth. Hopefully, one day we’ll discover more about this. In the meanwhile, following are some interesting peeing positions in dogs. How many peeing positions can you think of?

Male Dog Peeing Positionmale dog marking

Peeing in dogs has been often referred to as being a sexually dimorphic behavior, meaning that there are differences in the urinary rituals based on gender. Male dogs are known for leg lifting, while females are mostly known for squatting. These differences are after all not too astounding since they’re also seen in human beings, with most males standing up in front of urinals and females sitting on the toilet. Talk about the effects of anatomical differences!

There’s belief that leg lifting in male dogs must have evolved as a result of getting splashed too often with pee during elimination, but there’s likely more to that. As with many things dog, oversimplification is often not the answer! Lifting the leg also offers the advantage of directing urine with precision on vertical surfaces so that scent can be left for other dogs to examine. Male dogs are therefore known for lifting their leg and urinating more frequently, precisely directing their urine towards specific locations, generally at a higher rate than female dogs.

squat raiseFemale Dog Peeing Position

In the past, it was thought that female dogs urinated mostly just for elimination purposes, but turns out that research says that female dogs also tend to scent mark. In a study, six intact female Jack Russell terriers (not in heat) were watched as they urinated on walks and areas away from their homes. It was found that female dogs were more likely to urinate more frequently when away from their homes, and that upon urinating, their urine was often targeted to objects in the environment.  This proved that female dogs are interested in scent marking as well, even when they are not in heat. And what about peeing postures? The most common peeing positions noted in the female dogs were the squat-raise posture, but in order of frequency, the squat, arch-raise, combination, and handstand postures were noted as well.

Exceptions to the Rulemarking

In the world of dog behavior, you rarely can make black and white statements as there always seem to be exceptions to the rules. You may therefore stumble on male dogs who squat and female dogs who lift their legs, what gives? According to  Scott & Fuller 1965,  male dogs that were set apart from each other showed a higher incidence of squatting. The strongest trigger for leg lifting appeared to be sensing the odor from a dog that belonged to a different social group. Male dogs who have always leg lifted for the main part of their life and then suddenly out of the blue start squatting, should see the vet to rule out any medical problems.

There are several female dogs who will lift their legs a slight bit when they urinate. Some may presume they do this to keep their leg out of the way from getting splashed, but more research is needed as to why some female dogs are more likely to lift their legs than simply squat. Most female dogs who lift their legs though tend to do it much less than male dogs. Female dogs who raise their legs as male dogs, may have been subjected to a phenomenon called “androgenization” explains Patricia McConnell. Basically, these masculine dogs were flushed with androgen in utero. These female dogs are more likely to display characteristics of males dogs in their behavior repertoire and that includes leg lifting.

“Pre-natal masculinization occurs in mammals that give birth to multiple offspring where the males outnumber the females in the litter and a hormonal transfer occurs during prenatal development.”~Peter Borchelt, PhD,certified applied animal behaviorist.

dog peeing positionsHow Does Your Dog Pee?

How many peeing positions are there in dogs? Turns out, there are several. Sprague and Anisko found a dozen when they researched the topic back in 1973. When they studied a group of beagles, they found that females were likely to use more urination postures compared to males. Call them creative! To be exact, eight postures where found in female dogs while just four were found in male dogs! How does your dog pee?

Did you know? Females dogs may also produce small quantities of testosterone, therefore it’s not surprising if small quantities of testosterone breakdown products  is found in their urine, explains Dr. Nicholas Dodman.



  • Urinary behavior of female domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): influence of reproductive status, location, and age Sharon Cudd Wirant, Betty McGuire, Department of Biological Sciences, Clark Science Center, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA
  • Animal Behavior: Effects of Sex, Social Status and Gonadectomy on Countermarking by Domestic Dogs, Canis familiaris; Anneke E. Lisberg, Charles T. Snowdon
  • Elimination Patterns in the Laboratory Beagle, Randall H. Sprague1 and Joseph J. AniskoBehaviour, Volume 47, Issue 3, pages 257 – 267 Publication Year : 1973
  • Regulation of urine marking in male and female mice: effects of sex steroids. Kimura T, Hagiwara Y, Horm Behav. 1985 Mar;19(1):64-70.
  • Hart, B. L., & Eckstein, R. A. (1997). The role of gonadal hormones in the occurrence of objectionable behaviours in dogs and cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52, 331-344.

Do Dogs Have a Collarbone?


Among the many fascinating facts about dogs one that is truly amazing is the way the shoulders of a dog are structured. It is thanks to the way the dog’s shoulders are designed that dogs are able to romp around with great  stride length and flexibility. On top of walking on their toes, dogs have a special shoulder design that plays a major role in canine locomotion making them the amazing runners they are. So today’s we’ll be discovering how dog’s shoulders are designed compared to us, and what makes them truly remarkable.

collarboneShoulder Design in Humans

When we look at the anatomy of the human shoulder, we notice that it is composed of three bones: the collarbone (clavicle), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus). It is thanks to these three bones and their associated muscles, ligaments and tendons, that we are able to lift, push, pull and swing our arms. The fact that the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body is a double-edged sword considering that this mobility is also what makes us more prone to dislocations. Now you know why it seems like baseball players get so many shoulder injuries!

The collarbone, is the only horizontal bone in our body. See the red bones in the picture? It’s that thin, long bone that’s located at the base of the neck and that’s highly visible in thin people as the lack of fat causes a visible bulge in the skin. This is because, unlike most bones that are covered with muscles, this bone is only covered by skin. As seen in the picture, we have two clavicles, one per side in each shoulder. They are both responsible for connecting our right and left arms to the trunk of our body.

Shoulder Design in Dogsdog clavicle

Dogs being a cursorial species, don’t have a need to lift, push or pull objects or swing their arms as we do, so their shoulder design is for the most part crafted for what predators need the most: speed and agility. Along with a dog’s spine which is capable of bending and stretching with every stride and the powerful hind legs providing forward propulsion, the dog’s shoulders are designed to increase stride length. Unlike humans, the dog’s shoulders are somewhat disconnected from the rest of the skeleton, which is why many people refer to them as “floating shoulders.” However, no body part really floats alone as a particle suspended in space. While the dog’s scapula is not attached to any bones at the top, there are several muscular and ligamentous attachments.

rottweiler dog foodA Rudimentary Collarbone

While humans, have a collarbone connecting the arms to the trunk of the body, dogs have just a rudimentary collarbone that does not articulate with the rest of the skeleton. Darryl Millis and David Levine in the book Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy” mention that a dog’s collarbone is an oval plate that measures about one centimeter or less in length and 1/3 in centimeter wide. This structure is mostly made of cartilage and it doesn’t appear in x-rays. Because of the lack of a fully developed collarbone, dogs are capable of a greater stride length so that they can run and leap, an evolutionary advantage that allowed them to be successful predators. While your dog today is fed food in shiny bowls and no longer hunts for food, you surely have admired his fascinating locomotion as he chases and leaps up for the ball you just tossed!

Did you know? Just because your dog’s collarbone is rudimentary, doesn’t mean it’s useless! According to a study, the dog’s clavicle provides muscle stability and protects the nerves and blood vessels that supply the front legs.


  • Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy, by Darryl Millis, David Levine, Saunders; 2 edition (March 30, 2014)
  • McCarthy, P.H. and Wood, A. K., Anatomic and radiologic observations of the clavicle of adult dogs, Am. J. Vet. Res. 49:956–959, 1988

Photo credits:

Four Dogs That Have Proven Dogs Can Climb Trees


We are used to seeing cats climb up trees like if it’s no big deal, but seeing a dog climb up a tree may seem quite close to impossible. Yet, there are several dog owners who can attest that they own talented dogs who can effectively climb up a tree; indeed, some dogs can climb up trees so well, they have even managed to escape the yard if the tree happened to be strategically close to a fence! How can dogs though manage to climb up a tree? We know that their conformation isn’t very suitable for the task, but apparently for some dogs, when there is a will there is way!

A Matter of Conformation

Is it a dog or a cat?
Is it a dog or a cat?

If cats have amazing tree climbing abilities, they must thank their sharp, retractable claws with curved angles. Cats use their claws like miniature mountaineering crampons (likely these were inspired from them!) which makes them perfect for climbing up. Those same claws though are unfortunately not well designed for climbing down though, which is why cats tend to get stuck in trees– but this is a whole different story! On top of having sharp claws, cats also have agile bodies with very mobile shoulders and hip joints which facilitate them in being proficient climbers. Most likely cats have evolved to climb trees because of their preference for living in wooded environments.

Dogs on the other hand, seem to have lived for the most part in open plains, so their body is built for this environment, suggest Xiaoming Wang, Richard H. Tedford, Mauricio Antón, in the book “Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History.” The do not have retractable claws, nor are their bodies built for being proficient climbers as the cat. Their ancestors were social hunters with bodies built more for long-distance endurance running on open fields rather than short, bursts of speed.

Did you know? The ability to climb trees is known as “arboreal locomotion” and animals who have this skill are known as “arboreal animals.

dog treeExceptions to the Rule

In the dog world, it looks like you can never make any black and white statements. After discovering how the bodies of cats are built to help them climb and how a dog’s body differs from it, you would assume dogs have no good reason for hanging around trees. Even several treeing dogs, that is, dogs selectively bred to chase animals until they end climbing up a tree, stop abruptly by the tree trunk as they bark in frustration and alert the hunters of the “treed animal.”

However, it seems like some very determined dogs manage to climb up too! What dogs are capable of climbing trees? There are just a handful of dogs who have repeatedly proven they can climb up trees.  Here is a list of dogs who can climb trees:

1) New Guinea Singing Dog

This very rare breed is for the most part a wild dog that has originated from the island of New Guinea; however some of these captive bred dogs are nowadays also being kept as companions. These dogs are called singing dogs for a good reason: they emit unique yet, melodious vocalizations. These dogs are relatively short-legged with very flexible limbs and spine which makes them quite agile. It is thanks to this flexibility that they are able to spread their legs sideways in a similar fashion to the Norwegian Lundehund. On top of that, these dogs can rotate their front and rear legs which allows them to climb trees to search for prey! See video below to watch these amazing dogs in action climbing up trees and singing their delightful melodies!

2) Louisiana Catahoula leopard

As the name implies, the Louisiana Catahoula leopard originated in North Central Louisiana nearby the Catahoula Lake. This dog breed with a striking coat has a history of tracking and herding wild hogs that roamed the forests. Catahoulas are known for being well muscled, powerful dogs, that give the impression of agility and endurance. And they sure are quite agile! They may be not as flexible as the New Guineas singing dogs, but there are several owners attesting that their Catahoula dogs are capable of climbing up trees!

3) The Treeing Walker Coonhound

As the name implies, this dog breed is one of those who were selectively bred to hunt raccoon, tracking them down and treeing them. Raccoon weren’t the only animals these dogs hunted though, they sometimes also would hunt down and tree bobcats, cougars and even the occasional bear. While the main job of these dogs is to bay with their distinctive howl to inform the hunter that they have treed their prey, some of these guys (and some other  coonhounds) take their career at a higher level and manage to virtually climb up the tree!

4) Jack Russell Terrier 

For those not familiar with these little feisty dogs, these innocent looking pooches are often labeled as big dogs in little bodies. The saying “when there is a will there is a way” fits these fearless dynamite dogs perfectly. A securely fenced yard is not an option with these fellows, it’s an obligation, as these astute dogs have quite a Houdini reputation. If they can’t jump over the fence, they’ll try to dig under and some owners have reported these little fellow can even climb their way out by using tree limbs as helpful perches to get from point A to point B!

The Bottom Line

There are certainly several other dogs who have shown to be capable of climbing trees as many dog owners can attest. As impressive as seeing a dog climb up a tree can be, it’s important to realize that a fall can prove disastrous no matter how agile the dog. Unlike cats, dogs don’t really stand a chance to land on their four feet when falling from a height ( and cats do not always land on their feet!) Definitively not worth the stunt, as much as it may impressive. For sure though, this is an eye opener, meaning that tree climbing is another of those things dog owners may want to watch for when leaving their dogs unattended in the yard. When there is a will there is way and some agile dog may manage to climb up a tree, whether they’re chasing a squirrel up a tree or planning to evade the yard.



  • Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History, By Xiaoming Wang, Richard H. Tedford, Mauricio Antón, Columbia University Press (August 4, 2008)

Photo Credits:

Flickr, Creative Commons, Haundreis, Climbing dog 1 of 2, (CC BY 2.0)

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