Dog Word of the Day: Brachycephalic


You may occasionally stumble on the term “brachycephalic” when hearing discussions about dogs. Learning more about this term is important because brachycephalic dogs are prone to certain medical conditions so if you ever own a brachycephalic dog or have one in your care, special attention is needed. By tinkering with genetics, the practice of selective breeding has generated a vast array of dogs of different shapes and sizes. Brachycephalic dogs have a distinctive shape of the skull which can be appealing to people, but that comes with several serious drawbacks. In a past post, we talked about dogs with dolicocephalic features, which is the total opposite of brachycephalic.

brachycephalic dogA Matter of Head Shape 

The term brachycephalic derives from the Greek word “brachy” which means short, and the word “cephalic” which means head. Put the two words together, and you have “short head.” The term brachycephalic is therefore used to depict dogs who feature a short and wide skull and a distinctive pushed-in face. There are several brachycephalic dog breeds such as boxers, pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Pekingese, Boston terriers, Pomeranians and shih-tzu. The looks of these dog breeds are often cherished due to their neonatal traits. A concerning trend is the widespread practice of breeding dogs with more and more extreme brachycephlic traits which has caused a host of significant problems.

“The serious welfare problems suffered by brachycephalic dogs like Pugs are easily prevented – if breeders consciously avoided selecting for such extreme head shapes, the welfare problems highlighted would not exist.” ~RSPCA

Prone to Major Problems

dog stenotic nares picture

Dogs (and cats) featuring brachycephalic features are prone to a variety of problems, so much so, that veterinarians started categorizing them under the umbrella term “brachycephalic airway snydrome.”  Dogs suffer from this syndrome to varying degrees. First off, the nostrils reduced to tiny slits predispose them to what is known as “stenotic nares,” which makes it difficult for them to push air through their nostrils either because of the small openings or the fact that they tend to collapse inwards during inhalation.

Then, comes the elongated soft palate, which is what causes them to snore, snort, gag and have trouble breathing since their long soft palates protrude into the airway interfering with the movement of air into the lungs.

Some dogs even have quite narrow windpipes, which leads to hypoplastic trachea, while everted laryngeal saccules, which are soft tissue masses, can cause respiratory problems since they can be pulled into the dog’s windpipe. Several of these conditions can be corrected through surgery. Small nostrils can be widened, excess tissue from the soft palate can be removed and so can laryngeal saccules.

Did you know? According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, many dogs suffering from an elongated soft palate develop a preference for sleeping on their backs for the simple fact that this position likely causes the tissue to fall away from the larynx.

Exophthalmos in pug
Exophthalmos in pug

More Than Trouble Breathing

On top of their respiratory problems, several  dogs with smushed-in faces are prone to developing eye problems. Because their eyes bulge so much and their eye sockets are shallow, dogs with these eyes are more prone to trauma and the eyes can even pop out of their socket, a condition known as exophthalmos, often seen in pugs and Boston terriers.  In some dogs, the eyelids may not be closing properly which can also lead to eye problems down the road.

Enclosed in a small space, the teeth of brachycephalic dogs are often crowded and the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw which predisposes these dogs to malocclusions and the formation of plaque. Not to mention skin problems due to the skin folds in the face which provide the ideal environment for bacteria and yeast. If these dogs need to undergo surgery, special precautions are needed when undergoing anesthesia. According to board-certified veterinary surgeon Harry W. Boothe, anesthesia in brachycephalic dogs  requires meticulous pre-anesthetic preparation and attention to detail both during and after anesthesia.

“When we have to intubate brachycephalic dogs for surgery (which involves placing a soft, plastic tube into their trachea to deliver oxygen and anesthetic gases), they will often wake up with the tube in place after the procedure and seem quite happy to have an open and bigger airway for the first time in their lives. Most other dogs can’t wait to get the dang tube out!”~Dr. Tony Johnson

Things to Be Aware ofdog brachycephalic breed

The physical features of brachychephalic dogs makes them prone to several problems that impact their daily lives. These dogs may overheat easily and develop trouble breathing when stressed, which is why many airlines have implemented embargo rules that do not allow these breeds to travel in the cargo compartment. The brachycephalic features make it difficult for these affected dogs to effectively cool down by panting which predisposes them to heat stroke. Too much exercise may also cause respiratory problems.

Many brachycephalic dogs appear to be suffering from respiratory problems, but owners often dismiss them as being normal for the breed. According to research conducted by the Royal Veterinary College, 58 percent of surveyed owners stated that their brachycephalic dogs were not having trouble breathing despite over two thirds of them showing signs of respiratory issues during exercise. These respiratory difficulties prevent several brachycephlic dogs from enjoying all the simple pleasures of a dog’s life such as exercise, play, food and sleep, further points out the Royal Veterinary College at University of London.

brachycephlic dog harnessTips for Exercising and Training

Because of the anatomical features of brachycephalic dogs, these dogs should wear a chest harness (all dogs really benefit from one). Collars put pressure on their trachea and even on their eyes if they pull enough.When exercising these dogs, it’s important keeping an eye that they don’t overheat or exercise too much. Short, slow walks are ideal avoiding the warm and humid peak hours of the day. Keeping brachycephalic dogs fit and trim is important as  obese dogs tend to have much more serious respiratory difficulties. Owners should also be informed that the wrong types of muzzle can be dangerous in brachycephalic dogs since they rely a lot on open mouth breathing. Last but not least,  keeping these dogs’ life as stress-free as possible considering that stress can exacerbate their problems.

“Dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome should be fitted with a harness that does not tug at the neck area. It is not advisable to use a regular neck collar for these dogs, since the collar can put undue pressure on the neck.”~Cheryl Yuill, DVM


  •  American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Brachycephalic Syndrome, retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016
  • VCA Animal Hospitals, Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs, retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016
  • RSPCA, The Pug: an Example of Exaggerated Features, retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016
  • DVM360, Brachycephalic airway syndrome (Proceedings) retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Wikipedia, Boxer Stenotic nares before and after surgery CCBY3.0 by Gatorvet01
  • Wikipedia, Exophthalmos in a Pug, CCBY3.0 by JoelMills

Where Do You Find a Pulse on a Dog?


It’s important to know how to check a pulse on a dog and this is something that must be practiced when dogs are feeling well, so to know what to do in case of an emergency. The best way to learn this is by taking a pet first aid class and pet CPR certification which are now offered by many organizations. Also, asking the vet for a practical, hands-on demonstration can come handy. Checking a pulse on a dog is fairly easy if you know what to do and you have a collaborative dog. There are a couple of places where you can find a pulse on a dog, but there’s a specific location where the dog’s pulse is strongest and is considered more reliable. So today’s trivia question is:

Where is a common place to find a pulse on a dog?

A Under the tongue

B By the femur

C Inside the ear

D In between the toes

The correct answer is: drum roll please….




The correct answer is B, the pulse of the dog can be found by the femur. In order to practice taking a pulse, you will simply need your dog and a stop watch. Following are some instructions on how to measure a dog’s pulse.

dog femoral arteryRight by the Artery

The femur is a preferred site for taking the pulse on a dog because the dog’s femoral artery passes right there. Also known as thigh bone, a dog’s femur is a bone that is located between the hip and the knee joint.  The femoral artery is the main artery that runs by the internal part of the thigh traveling to the bottom of the dog’s rear legs so to supply blood to them. It can be accessed by finding the femoral bone and then sliding the index and middle fingers about a finger-length behind it while pressingly gently.

If you are having a hard time locating this artery, feel around until you feel pulsing. It may be easier to find the femoral artery when your dog is standing by simply feeling where the rear leg meets the abdomen. It’s important to avoid using the thumb to feel the artery as the thumb has already a pulse on its own. Once you locate your dog’s femoral artery when your dog is standing, you may then want to practice locating it when your dog is lying on his side, as in most emergencies the pulse is checked when a dog is unconscious. A video is worth 1000 words, so we have included a video at the end of this article for a demo by a vet.

Counting the Pulse

check dog's pulse

Once the pulse is located, it’s time to start counting using your stopwatch. When you look at most average timings for a dog’s pulse it will be given in minutes (bpm). If your dog can hold still for a minute, that’s great, but if he can’t, here’s a quick trick to make taking your dog’s pulse much quicker: Simply count your dog’s pulse up to 15 seconds and then multiply the number you obtained times four.

So if say, you counted 15 pulses in 15 seconds you would multiply it by 4. Since 15 x 4 equals 60, now you have your dog’s pulse for a minute. Now that you have your dog’s pulse for one minute, you can compare it with the average “normal” pulse number for dogs that match your dog’s size as outlined below.

“Because “normal” varies so much, it’s difficult to assess abnormal without a baseline, so take your dog’s heart rate a few times and make notes. If you’re concerned about what you’re finding, discuss your results with your veterinarian.” ~Dr. Marty Becker

chest wall dog pulseThe Right Numbers

When you are listening to the dog’s pulse, you are basically feeling the expansion of the femoral artery which basically reflects the contraction of the left ventricle of the dog’s heart. A dog’s pulse in therefore, the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently throughout the dog’s body. The pulse rate in dogs tends to vary, with small dogs having higher pulse rates compared to larger dogs. Generally,  puppies and small dogs have a pulse ranging from 120 to 160 beats per minute, while dogs over 30 pounds tend to have a lower pulse, usually between 60 to 120 minutes, explains veterinarian Dr.  Debra Primovic.

Did you know? Another option to get a pulse is to listen to the dog’s heart “directly” by feeling it through the chest wall. Simply place one hand behind the dog’s elbows and the other hand right under the chest and squeezing a little.

dog pain goes away at the vetSigns of Trouble

It’s a good idea to get accustomed with how your dog’s normal pulse feels so to quickly identify signs of trouble. Normally, a dog’s pulse is rhythmic and strong. A fast pulse can be indicative of  anxiety, exercise, pain or a  fever. The presence of a fever can be further confirmed by taking a dog’s temperature.  In some cases, a fast pulse can be indicative of a heart problem. A dramatic change in the dog’s pulse is often a sign of problems that require immediate attention. For example, a slow, weak pulse can be indicative of a serious heart problem or even shock. If your dog has an abnormal rate and/or if you notice any worrisome symptoms, please see your veterinarian at once!

Did you know? A good way to access a dog’s circulation is to check a dog’s capillary refill time. 

Pulse Rate VS. Heart Rateheart

Did you know? There is a difference between pulse rate and heart rate. Every heart beat causes a flow of blood that travels to the dog’s body through his arteries causing a ripple effect similar to a stone thrown in the water. This “ripple effect” causes us to feel a pulse in certain parts of the dog’s body where the arteries travel closer to skin. Therefore, a heart rate is the number of times a dog’s heart beats in a minutes; whereas the pulse rate is the number of times that the arteries expand and contract as a response to the heart. In most cases, the heart rate will be the same as the pulse rate, but when the two rates don’t match up, it could be a sign that the blood, for some reason or another, is having a hard time reaching or passing into the arteries.

“Pulse deficits are present when the pulse rate is less than the heart rate. This occurs because a cardiac contraction or several contractions take place prematurely not allowing enough time for ventricular filling (preload). This results in heart beats that do not eject enough blood to generate a palpable pulse.”~Michael R. O’Grady DACVIM, M. Lynne O’Sullivan, DACVIM

Vet demonstrates how to get a dog’s pulse

 Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has an abnormal heart rate or is showing concerning symptoms, please see your vet immediately.

I Am Your Dog’s Hippocampus


Among the many structures of the dog’s brain, the hippocampus plays several important roles. If your dog sits when you ask him to or he comes running to you when he hears you calling him, you must thank this tiny organ which stores tons of long-term memories. This structure also helps your dog navigate so he can find his way through the doggy door and it helps your dog form emotional reactions along with several other important cognitive functions. So today, let’s discover more about a dog’s hippocampus by listening to his story.

dog hippocampusIntroducing Your Dog’s Hippocampus

Hello, it’s your dog’s hippocampus talking! Yes, I am tiny, but don’t underestimate me based on size, I do a whole lot! My name derives from the Greek word “hippo,” which means horse and “kampos” which means sea. Put those two words together and you get “seahorse.” I am called this way because people think I am shaped like a sea horse, do you notice any resemblance in the picture on the right?

I am part of the limbic system and am surrounded by important neighbors such as the amygdala and the pineal gland.  People often think of me as a single structure, but in reality I am found in the left and right sides of your dog’s brain. Like other brain structures, I am known for being quite plastic.  I am just like a muscle, enlarging when used and shrinking when not in use.

”  It may even be possible to assess training efficacy by seeing how large the hippocampus becomes after a few weeks of the right type of training or how severely affected fear centers are when punitive training is employed (there is already evidence that even mild/unpleasant electric shock has long lasting (like forever) detrimental effects on these centers in rodents .  ” ~Dr. Nicholas Dodman

I Form Memoriesdog sit

When an event takes place in your dog’s life, his brain determines whether information about this event is worthy of saving. If the brain determines that the information is important, it will be saved in your dog’s “memory storage files.” I therefore play an important role when it comes to the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Yes, feel free to call me the storage and reception area for your dog’s memories!

Did you know? According to a study, it takes about 3 to 4 years for London taxi drivers to memorize all the route maps of the city. When the brains of these taxi drivers were scanned with an MRI, their memory center, the hippocampus, showed an increase in size. When the taxi drivers though retired, the hippocampus then shrunk back to its normal size.

dog fearI Encode Contexts

Since I often store memories that are important for survival purposes, when your dog is exposed to something that he has associated with a traumatic event, I encode such context and send an alert to my neighbor, the amygdala, the critical initiator of fear, which responds to threats triggering the dog to react. When the amygdala and I work together, through our teamwork, we can identify threatening contexts and “flag them” while discarding those contexts that aren’t threatening.

“One of the jobs of the hippocampus is to encode contexts. Those London cab drivers with oversized hippocampuses have countless contexts encoded to represent many different locations around London. The hippocampus of the puppy who had a tough time at playgroup encoded the room where playgroup happened as a context.” ~Jessica Perry Hekman, DVM, MS

I Help With Navigation dog navigation

If your dog knows how to navigate through your home, it’s thanks to me too. I help with spatial memory and navigation. Interestingly, according to data collected from Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods at Duke University, male and female dogs employed different navigational skills when it came to finding food hidden under a bowl. Female dogs were found to be more successful by using their hippocampus in what’s known as :”allocentric navigation“a  landmark-based strategy similar to forming a mental map; whereas, male dogs were found to use their basal ganglia in what’s known as “egocentric navigation.”

When Things go Wrong

I am a structure that may suffer the effects from aging. When dogs develop Canine Cognitive Dysfunction as they age, I am known to deteriorate and shrink, possibly playing a role when dogs start to forget important things such as learned obedience behaviors or how to navigate through the house to reach the doggy door. As it happens with humans, the more extensive the atrophy, the more pronounced the cognitive deficits. (Tapp et al., 2004a; Rofina et al., 2006).

I also can be damaged by certain medical conditions and I also can suffer from the effect of stress. According to veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, stress increases cortisol and cortisol adversely affects my plasticity and my ability to learn. Medications meant to reduce stress, can take the edge off and help dogs gain back their ability to cognitively function.

As seen, I do a whole lot! The famous saying “If you don’t use it you lose it” can apply to me since I increase or shrink accordingly based on how much I am used. So keep your dog health, happy and mentally stimulated!

Best regards,

Your dog’s hippocampusDog Pawprint



  • Dog Star Daily, “Inside a dog’s brain it’s too dark to read” … no more., Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, retrieved from the web on August 29th, 2016
  • Current Biology, Acquiring “the Knowledge” of London’s Layout Drives Structural Brain Changes, Katherine Woollet, Eleanor A. Maguire,Volume 21, Issue 24, p2109–2114, 20 December 2011
  • Tapp, P. D., Siwak, C. T., Head, E., Cotman, C. W., Murphey, H., Muggenburg, B. A., et al. (2004b). Concept abstraction in the aging dog: development of a protocol using successive discrimination and size concept tasks. Behav. Brain Res. 153, 199–210. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2003.12.003
  • Rofina, J. E., van Ederen, A. M., Toussaint, M. J., Secreve, M., van der Spek, A., van der Meer, I., et al. (2006). Cognitive disturbances in old dogs suffering from the canine counterpart of Alzheimer’s disease. Brain Res. 1069, 216–226. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2005.11.021
  • Live Science, Female Dogs Are Better Navigators, By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, Duke University, 

Photo Credits:

The human hippocampus and fornix compared with a seahorse (preparation by László Seress in 1980), Hippocampus_and_seahorse.JPG: Professor Laszlo Seress derivative work: Anthonyhcole (talk) Hippocampus_and_seahorse.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ten Reasons Why Dogs Sneeze


Sneezing is a forceful expulsion of air from the dog’s lungs through the nose and mouth. There are several reasons that cause sneezing in dogs, but they might not always be quite obvious. An occasional sneeze or two in an otherwise healthy and happy dog may not be something to worry about, but repeated sneezing or sneezing in a dog that appears unwell is something that should prompt a dog owner to seek immediate veterinary attention. Today we discover several reasons as to why dogs sneeze, and interestingly, sneezing in dogs is not always due to a medical problem!

dog sneezing1) Sneezing due to Irritants

With dogs sniffing around for a good part of their days, it’s normal for them to inhale some dust, pollen and debris. Sneezing is an involuntary action that helps dogs expel mucus containing irritants from the dog’s nasal cavity. Here’s what exactly happens: a dog’s nose is equipped with special sensors that are meant to detect any foreign particles. When these sensors detect something that shouldn’t be there, the cilia (special broom-like structures lining the dog’s nose and lungs) spring into action, and with the help of a sneeze, sweep the irritants out of the dog’s lungs and out of the dog’s body through his mouth and nose.

In order for cilia to effectively work well, they need the aid of mucus which is produced by the dog’s nose. While mucus is far from being something glamorous, it helps moisten and warm inhaled air and keeps the “cilia” nicely lubricated.

So mucus helps trap inhaled particles such as dust, dander and debris or residue from household irritants such as perfume, cigarette smoke, household cleaners, carpet powders and deodorants,while the cilia through a potent sneeze help expel them all out, how cool is that?

2) Sneezing Due to Allergiesdog flowers

While dust and debris can cause occasional sneezing when the irritant in inhaled, allergies generally cause seasonal sneezing caused by grass or tree pollen. Affected dogs develop a strong immune response to the allergen and typically sneeze, develop discharge from both nostrils, their eyes water and they may also start chewing on their paws. While doggy seasonal allergies are nowhere as common as in humans, it does happen and veterinarians can prescribe medications to help these dogs out.

3) Sneezing Due to Foreign Items

Repeated sneezing in dogs may mean that there’s something more going on than just a bit of dust or presence of pollen creating havoc. Sometimes dogs may get dead bugs, paper clips, grass awns or even a foxtail stuck up their noses which will cause violent sneezing fits in dogs. If your dog is sneezing repeatedly and violently or the sneezing is accompanied from a bleeding nose, it’s important to see the vet. The dog may need sedation to look up his nose using a rhinoscope so to check for any foreign items stuck up there. It’s important for dog owners to recognize that this type of sneezing won’t stop until the foreign body is removed from the dog’s nose.

dog teeth4) Sneezing Due to Teeth Problems

At times, sneezing may be due to some tooth problem affecting the dog. This may sound a tad bit odd, but in reality it makes sense if we take a little lesson in canine anatomy. The root of a dog’s teeth are located next to the dog’s nasal cavity, and therefore, when dogs develop a tooth root abscess, they may develop bouts of sneezing and drainage from the nostril.

In many cases, the problem tooth may need to be removed. Left untreated, the infection will tend to progress and may spread to the dog’s sinuses too.

5) Sneezing Due to Parasites

Yes, sometimes pesky parasites can play a role in those sneezing bouts too. In this case, sneezing could be caused by the presence of nasal mites, which go by the scientific name of pneumonyssoides caninum. Nasal mites, as the name implies, live in the dog’s nose and are transmitted from nose-to-nose contact with other infected dogs. In severe infestations, affected dogs will sneeze, develop nasal discharge and in some cases may also have nose bleeds. Fortunately, a swab of the dog’s nasal lining can detect their presence and these mites can be eradicated for good with vet-prescribed medication. And if you’re wondering, no, nasal mites are not that common, and fortunately, don’t seem to like to infest human noses. 

 6) Sneezing Due to Viruses/Bacteriadog cold sneezing

Just as the presence of dust and dander trigger bouts of sneezing, the presence of bacteria or viruses will trigger sneezing in dogs too. When virus and bacteria multiply out of control in a dog’s nose, sneezing will help sweep the nose clean. While the types of viruses affecting dogs are quite different from those infecting humans, the symptoms remain quite similar: sneezing, watery eyes and coughing, possibly accompanied by other debilitating symptoms such as loss of appetite, fever and lethargy.

According to veterinarian Ron Hines, the two most common “cold viruses” affecting dogs include parainfluenza virus and the Type-2 Adenovirus. These viruses are transmitted by sneezes from other sick dogs and are therefore more likely seen in dogs who have been around other dogs such as when  being recently boarded, hospitalized or at the local dog park.

7) Sneezing Due to Fungal Infections

Fungal infections may cause bouts of sneezing too. In particular, the nasal form of Aspergillus causes an infection that is localized to the dog’s nose and sinuses. Affected dogs inhale the spores of the fungus when sniffing and then develop symptoms such as pain in the nose, sneezing, nose swelling and bleeding, reduced appetite and discharge from the nostrils.

8) Sneezing Due to Tumors

Sometimes, the presence of a tumor in a dog’s nose may cause repeated sneezing in dogs just as when they have a foreign item stuck there. Chronic sneezing that increases in frequency over the coarse of weeks or months in an older dog can be concerning, as it may be indicative of the presence of a tumor, even though not very common, explains veterinarian Race Foster. On top of the sneezing, affected dogs may have bloody discharge from a nostril. Nasal tumors can be malignant, but there are also benign ones too such as nasal polyps.

dog lip licking sneezing9) Sneezing as a Calming Signal

Here’s a brief story about a young Labrador going by the name of Buddy being taught to do attention heeling once in our training classes. This dog would get these sneezing bouts almost every time he was asked to heel. It was almost as if this dog was “allergic” to heeling! We soon figured out that these context-based sneezing bouts had nothing to do with allergies as they appeared only during training sessions.

With time, the owners confessed that they were often running out of patience at home and on walks when the dog was not heeling as they wanted. Once we suggested applying kinder training methods at home and on walks, and introduced a clicker, those sneezing fits soon disappeared! After all, Buddy could not get a treat if he was sneezing at the same time! What does this tell us? Like other calming signals such as yawning and lip licking, this behavior tells us that sneezing may not always have to do with something physical going on, but may involve emotions too!


“Sneezing: probably not a cold, but a way of diffusing a worrisome situation.” Gill Garratt

10) Sneezing Due to Excitement

Ever seen dogs sneezing to their heart’s content when they are excitedly playing? Well, here’s a possible reason. When dogs are excited or playing, they may tend to curl their lips and wrinkle their noses. Wrinkling the nose is something that makes dogs sneeze, explains Dr. Bruce Fogle, veterinarian and author of the book “If Your Dog Could Talk.”

“Dogs that like to curl their lips and “grin” as they play often sneeze after having their nose wrinkled up for a while.”~Debra Eldredge DVM, Kate Eldredge

Did you know? Sometimes dogs also sneeze when they receive a bug bite, when they wake up or when they’re rolling on floor.

Disclaimer: if you are wondering “why is my dog sneezing?” please consider that this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is sneezing, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.


  • Pet Education: Sneezing & Nasal Discharge in Dogs & Puppies, by Race Foster DVM, retrieved from the web on August 28th, 2016
  • Second Chance Info, Why is my dog sneezing? Sneezing and upper respiratory tract problems in dogs and cats, by veterinarian Ron Hines, retrieved from the web on August 28th, 2016
  • Your dog and you: Understanding the canine psyche, By Gill Garratt, Hubble & Hattie; 1 edition (May 1, 2015)
  • Idiot’s Guides: Dog Tricks, By Debra Eldredge DVM, Kate Eldredge,  Alpha (June 2, 2015)


Surprise, Dogs Have Different Sniffing and Searching Styles


We are used to seeing our dogs sniff with their powerful noses, but did you know that dogs have different sniffing styles when it comes to putting their powerful sniffers to work? In the dog world there is sniffing and sniffing, meaning that dogs resort to different sniffing styles to learn more about the world surrounding them. The dog’s ability to detect the direction of a track was of vital importance back in the olden times when they were hunting for prey or scavenging. Today, dogs are much cherished for their tracking, trailing, air scenting and scent discrimination abilities which are all helpful sniffing methods employed in several fields. So today, let’s discover more about these different sniffing styles in dogs.

tracking dogDog Tracking

In tracking, the dog lowers his nose and carries it close to the ground most of the time so to track any scents left behind from other animals or people. Many dogs are nowadays employed to detect the scent of mechanical environmental disturbance and broken vegetation caused by footsteps.

What smells are tracking dogs exactly following? It appears that crushed vegetation and disturbed ground tends to give off a different odor that dogs readily detect.

Since the dog is following the scent trail left by a human, it’s important that the dog stays always “on track.” When being trained or tested, tracking dogs are therefore penalized or even disqualified should they be straying too much from the track, explains Kat Albrecht, in the book “Dog Detectives.

Considering that ground scenting dogs focus on foot steps and the effect of the weight of the person causing ground disturbances and crushed grass, this style of sniffing works best if the trail is still relatively fresh.

idea tipFun dog nose fact: when a dog is calm and breathing normally, he breathes in an out about 15 to 30 times a minute. When he’s actively sniffing though, he inhales and exhales anywhere between 140 and 200 times a minute!

Example of Dog Foot Step Tracking (Love the Praise!)

Dog Trailingtrailing dog

Trailing is often confused with tracking; however, the difference appears to be  what exactly is being tracked. While in tracking the dog mainly focuses on following foot steps by detecting the scent of broken vegetation, in trailing, dogs focus on detecting flakes fallen off the surface of the skin.

It is estimated that a human loses about 40,000 skin cells per minute, explains  Vivane Theby, a veterinary specialist for canine behavior and author of the book “Smellorama: Nose Games for Dogs.“Since these flakes are prone to drifting with the wind, dogs may not follow the exact path the person being followed used but may be just about several yards away.

In trailing, dogs will keep the head low to the ground or higher depending on how old the scent is and the weather conditions. For instance, when the scent is very fresh, the scent particles may still be suspended in air so the dog will keep the head high; whereas, when the scent is old, the scent particles would have fallen to the ground causing the dog to keep the head low.

Also, when the the sun is shining, warm air rises, and along with it, scent particles rise too so that the dog no longer needs to bring his nose to the ground. Both tracking and trailing dogs are often kept on a long line to prevent them from wandering away or outrunning their handlers in their eagerness to follow scent.

“Trailing is the most common way that dogs follow scent paths, by scenting the flakes of scurf shed by the body rather than the foot steps themselves.”~ Stanley Coren

Tracking vs. Trailing — What’s the Difference? Tracking dogs follow footprints, whereas trailing dogs follow the scent wherever it has drifted, regardless of where the feet are placed (or not).~Jen Bidner

dog tipDid you know? After following a trail for some time, the dog’s sensory cells may “adapt” and cause what’s known as “nose fatigue.” By lifting the head from the ground for a bit or leaving the area, the dog may “reset his sense of smell” so that he can start from fresh again. When given a “fresh start,”  scent dogs may be better able to pinpoint scents. (K9 Scent Training p. 77)

Dog Air Scentingdog air scenting

In air scenting, dogs are running with their heads kept up high in a straight line as they are going after scent molecules wafting in the air. This sniffing method is mostly used in disaster areas such as collapsed buildings.

Air-scenting dogs are also often used as avalanche dogs since they must focus on catching airborne scent from possible trapped victims rather than following a specific track. These dogs aren’t usually looking for a particular person, they’ll just follow any human scent which is why they work best for disaster areas.

There are dogs who specialize in finding live people and dogs who specialize in finding the dead (cadaver dogs, specialized in sniffing decomposing flesh). Weather can affect the dog’s ability to catch the scent with the best conditions being humid and with a light, steady breeze. If the scent is ever lost, air-scenting dogs will walk in widening circles in hopes of gaining it back.

Dogs often utilized for air scenting include German shepherds and Labrador retrievers. Generally, air scenting dogs will zig-zag back and forth and work without harness. These dogs may alert about their discoveries by performing a behavior such as barking or sitting.

dog tipDid you know? When dogs are air scenting, they perform one long inhalation lasting about 20 times longer than a normal breath and then exhale through the mouth. This allows the odor molecules to better reach the scent receptors in the dog’s olfactory epithelium, explain Dr. Resi Gerritsen and Ruud Haak in the book “K9 Scent Training.”

Watch this dog air scenting with nose up and running in circles to get the scent back.

Dog Scent Discriminationdog airport

In some lines of work, a dog’s ability to discriminate scents is fundamental for accomplishing certain tasks. These dogs must therefore specialize on focusing exclusively on a particular scent while ignoring others.

For instance, truffle dogs must learn from a young age to discriminate between the scent of truffles and other odors and same goes with dogs used to detect explosives or drugs at airports. Search and rescue dogs can also be asked to take things one step further by discriminating a particular human odor.

By letting these dogs sniff a particular scent article (a piece of clothing or an object touched by the missing person), these dogs attain an “odor image” and start the trail searching for that particular scent. Bloodhounds excel in this as they are capable of remembering the scent for longer periods of time, without the need for being repeatedly reminded of it.

dog tipDid you know? Interestingly, dogs can be trained to combine sniffing styles so that they can overcome obstacles. For instance, a tracking dog may lose track of a person if the person crosses a stream as they are no more foot steps to follow, but at those times they can rely on their ability to detect airborne scent.


  • How Dogs Think, By Stanley Coren Free Press; 1st edition (August 3, 2004)
  • K9 Scent Training: A Manual for Training Your Identification, Tracking, and Detection Dog, By Resi Gerritsen, Ruud Haak, Dog Training Press; 1 edition (May 13, 2015)
  • Smellorama: Nose Games for Dogs, By Vivane Theby Hubble & Hattie; 1 edition (May 15, 2010)
  • Dog Detectives, By Kat Albrecht, Dogwise Publishing (November 1, 2007)
  • Dog Heroes: Saving Lives and Protecting America, Jen Bidner, Lyons Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2006)
  •, The Bloodhound’s Amazing Sense of Smell, retrieved from the web on August 27th, 2016


Eight Fascinating Ways Dogs Groom Themselves


Left to their own devices, dogs are quite efficient groomers making sure their coats are dry and well-maintained. Dogs might not meet our much more stringent standards when it comes to the grooming department, but they sure deserve an applause for the effort. Unless you own a high-maintenance dog that needs to see the groomer often, your dog will likely engage in several activities that are meant to keep his coat in good shape and remove any dirt and debris that shouldn’t be belong there. Following are eight fascinating ways dogs groom themselves.

Doggy Body Shakedoggy body shake

You have likely witnessed the doggy body shake at one time or another. Your dog wakes up from a nap or has just finished rolling against the floor, he gets up and then shakes his whole body in a wave-like motion, starting from the head, then the whole body and then ending with a slight flutter of the tail.

Blessed with several nerve receptors located on their hair follicles, dogs are quick to detect any pressure or the sensation of something just not “feeling right” on their coat such as the presence of dust and debris.

A full body shake will therefore effectively remove any foreign material from the coat, especially after the dog has slept on a grassy area, dirt or hay as seen in the picture.


dog rinse cycleDoggy Rinse Cycle

We are all familiar with the doggy rinse cycle, that sudden complimentary shower of ubiquitous droplets we receive right after giving dogs a bath. Dogs surely know when their coats are wet, and they will shake their wet fur to expedite drying. A dog shaking the coat when wet may seem like a useless activity from our perspective considering that we have access to towels nowadays, but turns out that dogs know what they’re doing and Mother Nature knows best.

In Nature, getting wet in cold weather can mean serious trouble, considering that animals can easily face hypothermia if unable to dry up quickly. By oscillating their bodies, furry animals are able to dry themselves within minutes, explain Andrew K. Dickerson, Zachary G. Mills and David L. Hu in a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. This quick body shake is therefore far more energy efficient than carrying a heavy load of fur drenched with water and shivering to generate enough heat so to allow the water to evaporate. 

Did you know? The average dog is estimated of being capable of removing about 70 percent of water from his fur in four seconds. Quite remarkable, don’t you think?

Doggy Brushing and Combingdog scratching

Dogs are covered in fur and their coat is kept shiny and healthy courtesy of several oil glands. When dogs nibble on their coats or scratch, they are relying on natural ways to stimulate those oil glands by either passing the nails or their tongue and teeth through the coat. It’s not unusual to see a dog sometimes gently nibbling on his fur. This nibbling action using the incisor teeth in a comb-like fashion is meant to remove any dirt, debris or burrs caught on the dog’s coat.

“Scratching is a natural way to stimulate the oil glands of the coat. However, be aware that excessive scratching suggests the presence of a skin irritation.” ~Dr. Bruce Fogle

dog pawsDoggy Pedicure

Think only people trim nails for their dogs? Think again. Some dogs will take grooming to the next level and will trim their nails on their own by simply chewing them. Many owners are aware when their dogs do this as they make a distinct chewing noise.

Chewing their own toenails can be a normal part of self-care for some dogs, who do it as part of their grooming ritual. However, it can also be a reason to go to the vet, who can tell you if there is an underlying problem.” ~Tracie Hotchner

Doggy Toilet Papermother dog

Deprived from opposable thumbs and manual dexterity, dogs must rely on their tongues to groom themselves, and that includes their private areas.  It’s one of the first things newborn puppies experience: unable to eliminate on their own, momma dog uses her tongue to stimulate them to go potty and cleans after them the same way.

Once grown up, dogs learn to use the same technique for cleaning up those hard to reach places. Courtesy of their flexible backbone, even large dogs are capable of turning and reaching their private areas for a quick lick. Keep an eye on your dog though if this seems to happen too often: a dog licking those private areas too often may be having discharge or irritation. Excessive licking of the under-the-tail area could be a sign of a urinary tract infection, an anal gland problem, and in intact female dogs, a sign of going into heat.

Four-Legged Groomersdog grooming

Sometimes, dogs may take advantage of having other doggy friends who are willing to do the grooming. Among animals it’s known as “social grooming.”

Dogs may be lying side-by-side when one dog may start gentling nibbling one dog and the other may exchange the favor in a cute grooming session involving mostly the ears, eyes and mouth area.

“These behaviors are done by individuals closely associated to each other,” points out veterinarian Dr. Bonnie Beaver in the book “Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers.” 

dog grooming backDoggy Massage

While dog friends are great to get those ears, eyes and face groomed, the back is often a body part that is neglected. It feels good to get a massage on the back, and one of the best ways for Rover to do this is by rubbing against surfaces such as walls, furniture and people’s legs.

Another option for a dog to get some grooming is by rolling on his back. Before dog grooming became popular, dogs had to figure out a way to remove all those dead hairs from their coats when shedding time was in full swing.

What better way to accomplish this than by rolling on their backs? By rolling, dogs get to groom themselves by shedding some of their undercoat, explains Karen L. Overall, in her book ” Clinical Behavior Medicine for Small Animals.” A rough carpet,  dried grass or hay may be appealing areas to roll on so to get a nice a back rub. Even best, why not try asking the owner for a nice back massage? Here are five ways your dog may be asking for one.

Doggy Wash Cloth

While you use a wash cloth to wash your face, your dog may use his tongue and paws instead. Yes, some dogs seem to borrow kitty’s face licking techniques when it comes to facial cleaning. Dogs will lick their paws and then pass those paws on their faces making sure to reach all little those nooks and crannies in their faces. Watch this cute dog washing the face like a cat.

Dogs Still Need Grooming!

Just because a dog is chewing his toenails and rolling on the carpet doesn’t mean that he’s capable of doing all the grooming himself. Actually, often to the contrary, when dogs self-groom themselves it’s often a sign that they need some help. Those toe nails may be getting too long and perhaps he is shedding a lot of hair and could benefit from some brushing. Grooming a dog is important to provide general cleanliness of the dog, but also for the purpose of monitoring the dog’s health by checking for any cuts, lumps, bumps and signs of possible parasites. Not to mention that grooming also play a role for forging a closer bond between dog and owner! A win-win! So don’t let Rover take his grooming needs into his own paws, help him out and lend him a helpful hand!


  • 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
  • If your dog could talk, by Bruce Fogle, Dorling Kindersley, 2006

Photo Credits:

Flickr Creative Commons, Lee Haywood Scratching, Taken during the Mela Weekend at Nottingham’s Arboretum Park. CCYBY2.0


Study Reveals Why Labrador Retrievers are Always Hungry


Owners of Labrador retrievers often wonder why their Labradors are always hungry, constantly looking for food to fill up their seemingly bottomless stomachs. And if you own a Lab, you’re likely not imagining things if you think your Lab is getting rounder and rounder as days go by. Labradors are quite prone to obesity, and it seems like every where you turn, there’s an obese Lab, what gives? If you are considering enrolling Marley into a Weight Watchers Program you may be interested in discovering what this new study has to say.

labrador hungry fatA Gene Alteration

If you’re often blaming your Labrador for being a glutton, take a deep breath and stop; chances are, there is a biological reason for your Labrador’s fixation with food.

According to a study published on Cell Metabolism there is a gene alteration in Labrador retrievers along with their flat coated retriever relatives, and this may be the cause for these dogs’ insatiable appetites and predisposition to canine obesity.

Conor O’Donovan at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues, conducted a study by evaluating the weight and body condition of several Labrador retrievers. Interestingly, the study found that 23 percent carried at least one copy of a variation of a gene called POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin). This means that statistically, about 1 in 4 Labradors has this variation.

“This is a common genetic variant in Labradors and has a significant effect on those dogs that carry it, so it is likely that this helps explain why Labradors are more prone to being overweight in comparison to other breeds.”~Dr Eleanor Raffan.

No Off Switchwhay are labradors hungry

What effect does this variant of the POMC gene have on these dogs? Affected Labradors basically seem to be lacking an “off switch” when it comes to feeling hungry. It’s as if they never get to feel fully satiated.

While not all the affected Labs were reported to be obese, most of them showed signs of being more likely to search and beg for food, according to surveys sent out to the owners. And the more copies of the gene variants these dog had, the fatter and more food-motivated they were.

It was estimated that for each copy of the gene carried, the dog was 2 kilograms heavier. Because some humans also have been reported to show a variation of the POMC gene just as the dogs in the study, further research like this may come handy for human health too.


labrador always hungryWill Work for Food

Why were Labradors found to be more prone to having this genetic variation?  Dr Giles Yeo who was involved in the research has a possible theory. He claims: “Labradors make particularly successful working and pet dogs because they are loyal, intelligent and eager to please, but importantly, they are also relatively easy to train. Food is often used as a reward during training, and carrying this variant may make dogs more motivated to work for a titbit. But it’s a double-edged sword – carrying the variant may make them more trainable, but it also makes them susceptible to obesity.”


  • Raffan, E et al. A deletion in the canine POMC gene is associated with weight and appetite in obesity prone Labrador retriever dogs. Cell Metabolism; 3 May 2016
  • Live Science, The reason your Lab is Fat, retieved from the web on August 25th, 2016


Dog Word of the Day: Back Chaining


Let’s face it: dogs are quite talented when it comes to chaining one event with another. You place your hand on the handle that opens the wardrobe and your dog’s antennas are up, and next you know, he comes running to you as he already has guessed what your next move is. Yes, your dog has learned that most of the time when you open that wardrobe, you’re getting your jacket, and next, you’ll grab the leash and take your dog on a walk. And if you’re wondering, no, your dog is not telepathic, he’s just amazing in paying attention to what you do. Dogs with separation anxiety, know all the routine too well, they chain up all those different pre-departure cues such as brushing your hair, putting on your shoes and grabbing the car keys with you leaving the house. So since dogs are blessed with such an uncanny ability to chain one event with another why not put it to good work?

dog basketForward and Back

When dogs are first introduced to the ABC’S of dog training, they are taught to perform simple, single behaviors such as sit, down and come. In more advanced training, dogs can be taught to chain together several single behaviors.

There are two ways dogs can be trained to chain behaviors: one of them is forward chaining and the other one is back chaining. In forward chaining, the dog learns to chain a series of behaviors starting from the first behavior first and then progressing towards the last in an orderly fashion.

Basically, the behaviors are taught in the exact order they are carried out once the training is complete. So if say, we wanted to train a dog to grab a toy and then place it in a basket, we would follow this sequence: 1) train the dog to go to the toy 2) train the dog to pick up the toy, 3) train the dog to carry the toy towards the box, and then, finally 3) drop the toy in the box. While this method can work well, dogs seem to be respond with less enthusiasm when compared to back chaining.

In back chaining, the dog is taught the last behavior of the chain first, then the behavior before that, moving in a backwards fashion. So back to training a dog to place a toy in a basket, one would therefore start by training the dog to drop the toy in the basket, and every time the toy is dropped in the basket, the dog is rewarded.

This is repeated several times so the action of dropping the toy in the basket has a strong history of reinforcement and the dog performs the behavior reliably. Then, the dog is trained to walk towards the basket and drop the toy in it and is rewarded, and so forth until the whole sequence is completed.

Advantages for Dogsdog ball

What’s the advantage of using back chaining to train dogs? There are several advantages. Firstly, it may feel less overwhelming for the dog learning the behavior in small steps as it’s easier to assimilate and these small incremental successes can help instill more confidence in the dog.

As the dog progresses through the steps, anticipation builds due to the eagerness to complete the final one for the well-deserved reward. Just like a child who visits grandma and eagerly eats the four-course meal just to eat the sundae with the cherry on top, the dog eagerly progresses through the whole sequence of behaviors.

Bach chaining therefore comes very useful when you are training your dog to perform a series of complex behaviors such as seen in the sport of  Canine Musical Freestyle, agility, trick training or as seen in the performance of  several service-dog related tasks.

Did you know? When using back chaining, since you are building on the final behavior of the chain, you don’t need to reward your dog for every single behavior you insert into the front end of the chain, just the final part.

pianoApplied by Teachers

Back chaining works so well that many teachers apply it when teaching children how to pronounce polysyllabic words. For instance, to teach a child how to pronounce the word “hippopotamus” the teacher may start by pronouncing the last syllable, in this case “mus” allowing the child to repeat after her. Next, she would add the prior syllable and would therefore pronounce “a-mus” then, “pot-a-mus,” then “po-pot-a-mus” and then finally the whole word “hippopotamus.”

Even music teachers find it advantageous to use back chaining to teach their students how to put notes together and play a nice piano piece. They’ll therefore focus on teaching the last part first, then they’ll link the second to the last piece and so forth up until the whole piece is played. When the piece is finally played, the musician feels relief from ending the performance and his performance is often further reinforced by the teacher’s praise or people clapping their hands if playing in front of an audience. But there’s more to that from a chemical standpoint, according to the quote below.

“Recent research shows that there is a release of endorphins when the musician reaches the end of the piece… Endorphins are our “treats” at the end of our “tricks”.~Larry McDonald, guitar teacher

Things to be Aware of stacking rings backchaining

While quite effective, there are several things one should be aware of when using back chaining as a training method. For example, in long chains, the performance may become sloppy at times and the dog may start skipping some behaviors so to get to the final chain of  the behavior, the one that is strongly reinforced. What should one do with such a smarty pants dog?

Should this happen, it’s important to not reward as you don’t want to reinforce a sloppy performance that’s missing parts! So take a step back and recognize the “weakest link,” the behavior in the chain that your dog doesn’t perform too well. You can have the dog try again or you can otherwise take this behavior temporarily out of the chain and work on strengthening it separately. Once it’s fluent enough, you can then re-introduce it into the chain.

“The procedure of breaking a task into small steps to facilitate training is called task analysis. A task analysis identifies the stimulus and response for each step of the chain.”~Mary Burch, Jon Bailey


  • How dogs learn, by Mary Burch, Jon Bailey, Howell Book House; 1 edition (May 1, 1999)
  • The Science and Technology of Dog Training Paperback – June 1, 2014, by James O’Heare, Dogwise Publishing (June 1, 2014)


What Dog Breed is Known for Missing Teeth?


Most dogs have 42 permanent teeth with 20 teeth on the upper jaw and 22 on the bottom jaw. To be precise, the dog’s upper jaw has two canines, six incisors, eight premolars and four molars, while the lower jaw has two canines, six incisors, eight premolars and six molars. In some dogs though, there may be variations, and in particular there is a dog breed that is known for missing teeth. So today’s trivia question is:

What dog breeds is known for missing teeth?

A  The Mexican hairless dog

B The German shepherd

C The Rottweiler

D The great dane

The correct answer is: drum roll please…




The correct answer is A, the Mexican hairless dog.

dog missing teethThe Missing Teeth

The technical term for a dog who is missing a few teeth (usually between one and five) is “hypodontia.” Generally, hypodontia is quite common in small dog breeds and the teeth that are more commonly missing are the premolars, especially the first and the second ones, the incisors and the mandibular third molars, explains Brook Niemiec a board-certified veterinarian specializing in veterinary dentistry.

In some cases, the premolars may be missing in some large dog breeds too but in those cases (unless they are missing because of an accident,)  a lack of teeth is often considered a serious fault.

The Mexican hairless, also known as xoloitzcuintli is a breed that is often missing teeth, however, not all specimens miss them.


The Xolo’s Teethxolo missing teeth

According to the American Kennel Club’s standard for the xoloitzcuintli breed, this dog’s teeth must meet in a scissor bite. In the hairless variety, the absence of premolars is acceptable, and while a complete set of incisors is preferred, missing incisors are not considered a fault to be penalized. This is considered normal for this dog, and the missing teeth do not interfere with the dog’s ability to eat. On the other hand, the coated variety of this breed is required instead to have a complete set of teeth.

A Matter of Genes

One may wonder at this point, why does the hairless variety have a tendency to miss teeth while the coated variety does not? It appears to be a matter of genes. There are two types of genetic hairlessness in dogs: dominant and recessive. The Mexican hairless has a dominant gene for hairlessness which means that this breed has a genetic disposition to pass down the lack of hair to their offspring. Dental, skin or other health conditions are often associated with the dominant gene for hairlessness and this includes the missing teeth in the hairless variety. Because the coated variety doesn’t have the dominant hairless gene, it’s therefore not affected and boasts a complete set of teeth.

Did you know? The Xolo’s unique dentition, with its lack of premolars has made the remains of this breed easy to identify at archaeological sites.

Photo Credits:

I am Your Dog’s Tongue


Almost everybody is familiar with a dog’s tongue, whether it’s hanging out of the mouth of a dog on a hot summer day or being used to vigorously lick the owner in a greeting, this organ is sure to play a conspicuous role in a dog’s life and the life of the people living with the dog. Yet, there are so many things to discover about a dog’s tongue such as the tasks a dog’s tongue is responsible for, the various anatomical parts of the tongue, the number of taste buds populating it and much, much more! So today, let’s have the dog’s tongue do the talking and tell us his fascinating story.

dog panting tongueIntroducing Your Dog’s Tongue

Hello, it’s your dog’s tongue talking! Yes, just for today I have been granted the ability to speak and I am honored to be on stage to talk about myself. I am sure you are already familiar with me, I’m that familiar muscular organ that is often seen hanging out from your dog’s mouth when he is hot or tired as after romping in the yard. I am usually kept nicely moist with doggy saliva and my color is normally pink, but in the dog world, there always seems to be some exception. Wanna know something really cool? The chow chow dog breed boasts a fascinating blue tongue that is out of this world!

People are often surprised when they learn that I am an organ, but since I am more than just tissue and am composed by bundles of muscles that are richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels, I think I deserve to keep this “title.” Wanna learn a bit about my anatomy? Well, my upper surface is known as “dorsum” and that groove you see in the center that divides me into two symmetrical halves is called the median sulcus. I am attached to the back of your dog’s mouth by the hyoid bone. While among humans, I mostly aid with chewing, swallowing and talking, in dogs, I carry out some other interesting functions.

I House the Taste Budsdog watermelon eating

Ever wondered why your dog spits out those bitter pills with a disgusting look on his face? Well, I am home of the taste buds, special sensory organs that are scattered throughout my surface. Dogs are estimated to have about 1,700 taste buds, which is a mere number considering that on average, humans have about 10,000! Each taste bud is equipped with special taste receptor cells responsible for transmitting messages to the dog’s brain such as what he should or should not eat. It’s a known fact that dogs are capable of discerning between salt, sweet, sour and bitter.  You see, generally, in nature, most bad bitter flavors, are a warning sign that an animal has likely encountered something that can be harmful or even poisonous, explains Stanley Coren.So no wonder why Rover spits out those nasty tasting pills!

But hey, here’s a dirty little secret: you can fool my taste buds by wrapping up those pills in a piece of low-sodium hot-dog or piece of cheese (ask your vet first as some medications don’t agree with cheese). If your dog is a smarty pants and still detects the pill, you can trick him by giving him a series of cheese or hot dog pieces without the pill in a row and then in the midst of all of these you can give the one with the pill. Chances are, your dog will be so eagerly eating, he won’t hardly even notice!

dog hotI am a Radiator

On top of allowing Rover to enjoy tasty meals and avoid the potentially harmful ones, I also play a big role in helping him cool down. You see, when your dog pants, he’s not just hanging me out to look silly. Dogs are not able to sweat in the same people do, so it’s my turn to take matters into my own hands. Since I am moistened by saliva produced by four pairs of salivary glands, when Rover sticks me out as he breathes heavily (like 300-400 breaths a minute!) I act like a radiator. Basically, along with the rest of the dog’s mouth and upper respiratory tract, I allow moisture to evaporate with the end result of cooling him down during those dog days of summer. Now, don’t I deserve a nice pat on my back?

I Work as a Ladle

Dogs don’t have the manual dexterity necessary to grab a cup full of water, bring it to the mouth and pour it down, so they rely on me when it’s time to drink. When dogs stick me out to get a drink of water, I curl up backwards and work as a ladle, collecting water and quickly bringing it in to the dog’s mouth. The dog then quickly bites down and then rinses and repeats the whole cycle until his thirst is finally quenched. So if you think your dog is messy drinker, don’t blame him, rather, blame me instead as my backward curl can cause some splashes! Now, watch me below to have a better idea on exactly what I do. Quite fascinating, huh?


Did you know? Other than detecting sweet, bitter, sour and salt, a dog’s taste buds are  even capable of tasting water, something quite surprising, isn’t it! Now you know why your dog has a potty mouth. Read more about this here: Dogs have taste buds for water

mother dogI am a Cleaning Device

When you get  need to clean a wound, you can just walk to your medicine cabinet and grab some bandages and a disinfectant, while dogs are left with nothing more than their mouths. This is where I can come handy. Dogs may use me as cleaning device to remove dirt or debris from a wound, and while I am at it, I can even disinfect it a bit too.  My tongue is kept humid with saliva, and that saliva is thought to contain some beneficial compounds capable of destroying the cell walls of  gram-positive bacteria. But as with almost everything in life, moderation is key. Dogs can sometimes get too carried away with licking, and if they sue me too much, my abrasive surface can cause more harm than good. The result can be a moist, raw area, basically, what vets call an “acral lick granuloma.” This is why Rover is sometimes better off wearing that  big satellite dish, also know as the “cone of shame.”

“Pets can get obsessed with licking to the detriment of healthy skin. There’s also a lot of bad bacteria in a pet’s mouth, so as with so many good things in life, licking is an activity best done in moderation.”~ Dr. Patty Khuly

Did you know? I also play a role in keeping a batch of newborn puppies clean and happy. Mother dog uses me to vigorously lick the pups clean and improve their circulation as they take their first gasps of air. Mother dogs also uses me to stimulate the pups to potty, something day-old pups cannot do yer on their own!

I Allow “Dog Talk”dog lip licking

In humans, I play a main role in allowing speech and proper pronunciation, but in dogs I can also “speak volumes,” but this time we’re talking about body language. Those tongue flicks your dog does every now and then may look casual, but there’s likely more to it if you pay attention to the context in which they’re happening. Patricia McConnell in her book ” For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend” explains that those fast tongue flicks can be a sign of low level anxiety or an appeasement signal. So watch what’s going on when you see me in action. It could be your dog is nervous at the vet’s often, not comfortable with a pal he just met at the dog park or nervous about being pat on the head.

If you notice your best friend doing this, take notice of when it happens and then try to find ways to make your dog more comfortable in the future. Consider though that all tongue flicks in dogs don’t always stem from uneasiness or anxiety. You may also see me in action when your dog greets you walking towards you with the head lowered and tongue flicking as a friendly way to solicit attention. And of course, you’re likely familiar with me being used as a greeting tool when your dog submerges you with all those wet “doggy kisses”  when you first come home. 

Dogs like to lick our faces, a behavior that is disturbing for many dog owners and particularly non-dog owners. Yet, this behavior is a demonstration of friendliness, an attempt at pacifying us and themselves, a hand (though not literally) reaching for peace. It’s a compliment a dog gives you, “I like you, you can be my friend.” ~Roger Abrantes

dog sniffI Help With Smells

Have you ever seen your dog chatter his teeth when he sniffs something interesting and perhaps even foam at the mouth? When dogs do this, they are basically gathering large scent molecules and with my help they are able to send them towards their incisiva papilla a behavior known as tonguing. These scent molecules then reach the dog’s vomeronasal organ and finally the dog’s brain possibly eliciting a behavior response such as marking over the sniffed area. Interesting stuff, huh?


When Things Go Wrongwhen to see vet

You don’t hear about me much when it comes to medical diseases and conditions. Even though I am made of muscles, you never hear about me getting sore or a sprain as other muscles do. Something though that dog owners notice a lot is that I bleed a whole lot when I get accidentally cut. A bleeding tongue in dogs indeed can be quite scary at times! Using some ice on the area or offering a bowl of ice, cold water can help in such a case, suggests veterinarian Dr. Christian K. Keeping the dog calm and relaxed is also important as any increase in blood pressure can increase my bleeding. Of course, see your vet if the bleeding is pretty significant! Also, if I start bleeding for no reason, it’s important to see the vet, as there may be some bleeding lump, blister, ulcer or wart hiding somewhere in the dog’s mouth that needs to be checked out.

When I sustain any type of injury such as a bug bite, burn or cut, your dog will usually let yo know by drooling, smacking his lips a lot and sometimes being reluctant to eat. Glossitis is the term used for when I get inflamed and swollen and this can be triggered by several things such as a foreign body (think a burr or grass awn working its way into me), an allergic reaction, a fungal or bacterial infection or exposure to something toxic. Sometimes, immune diseases such as lupus, kidney disease and cancer can cause this too. At times, swelling right under me can be a ranula, a blocked salivary gland that causes saliva to collect under the tongue, explains veterinarian Dr. Kara. And yes, Hanging Tongue Syndrome is not what you see in those world’s ugliest dogs competitions, it’s actually a real medical problem. In this condition, trauma to the dog’s jaw or head can lead to nerve dysfunction which causes affected dogs to carry me abnormally.

As with checking a dog’s gums colors, my color can also be an indicator of health or trouble. I am normally pink in color (except some exceptions such as blue tongues in chow chows and dogs with spotted tongues ) so if you see me turn pale, red, bluish or a yellow/brown tint, please see your vet right away as this can be a sign of a dog not getting enough oxygen as seen in heart and respiratory diseases and internal bleeding, decreased profusion (less oxygen moving through body) or liver problems (jaundice) among other possible causes.

So I hope you enjoyed learning more about me today! As you can see, I can do a lot of talking! I won’t bite my tongue in saying that I play many important roles in your dog’s life, so make sure to take good care of me and keep an eye for signs of trouble. Your dog and I will thank you!

Best regards,

Your Dog’s TongueDog Pawprint

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If you notice any abnormalities in your dog’s tongue, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.



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  • For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D Ballantine Books; 1 Reprint edition (July 22, 2009)
  • American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics. “Fluid dynamics explain what happens when dogs drink water.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 November 2014.
  • Gart, Sean, et al. “Dogs lap using acceleration-driven open pumping.”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112.52 (2015): 15798-15802.
  • Psychology Today, How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste?, by Stanley Coren, retrieved from the Wed on March 4th, 2016.
  •  Ethology Institute Institute Cambridge, Why Do Dogs Like to Lick Our Faces?, by Roger Abrantes, retrieved from the Web on March 4th, 2016.
  • Just Answer, Dog has cut on tongue, bleeding steadily, retrieved from the web on August 22, 2016



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