Dog Word of the Day: Carnassial Tooth


Today’s Dog Word of the Day is “carnassial tooth.” Puppies have 28 teeth, and just like human babies, they are prone to losing baby teeth and replacing them with permanent adult teeth. Adult dogs are equipped with 42 teeth comprising 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars and 10 molars. More precisely, there should be 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 pre-molars and 4 molars in the upper jaw, and 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 pre-molars and 6 molars in the lower jaw. Understanding dog teeth is helpful so we can better comprehend their important roles and recognize early signs of trouble. Today, we will be focusing in particular on a dog’s carnassial teeth.

a dog's carnassial toothWhat Sharp Teeth You Have!

Just by taking a look at the term “carnassial” we can get a grip on the important role these teeth may have played and continue to play in a dog’s life. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the term carnassial  derives from the French word “carnassier’ which means carnivorous. The term carnassial teeth therefore refers to teeth specifically designed for shearing flesh. Which dog teeth are considered carnassial teeth? If we look at a dog’s mouth, the carnassial teeth comprise the fourth upper premolar and the first lower molar. These teeth are particular for the fact that they have self-sharpening edges that are designed in such a way as to pass by each other in a shearing manner. This is why these teeth are sometimes also referred to as “shearing teeth.”

“The maxillary fourth premolar is the upper carnassial tooth (meat cutter) which, along with the mandibular first molar (the lower carnassial) acts as a pair of scissors to cut meat from prey.”~ Hale Veterinary Dental Clinic  

Shearing of Fleshcarnassial tooth

For a good reason, the dog’s carnassial teeth are the largest of all. The carnassial teeth in dogs are purposely crafted so dogs could shear through flesh, tendon and muscle, and crack bones. Carnassial teeth allow a scissor-like motion occurring when the inside of the fourth upper premolar aligns with the outer surface of the first lower molar. The action is very similar to how shearing blades work. When you see your dog gnawing on a bone and moving it to the sides of his mouth as he tilts his head, he’s using his carnassial teeth to cut off meat or crush through bone.

Fun fact: Acording to Pet Education, a dog’s carnassial tooth has three roots, while the rest of a dog’s teeth have only one or two.

Keep an “Eye” for Trouble

As other teeth, the carnassial teeth in dogs may be sources of problems especially in older dogs. When dogs develop problems with this tooth though, there may show symptoms that may not be readily recognized as a tooth problem by dog owners. Dogs with an infected upper carnassial tooth may develop an abscess or a draining pustule right under the eye that dog owners often fail to recognize as a tooth problem. Dog owners often confuse it for an eye infection or a bite from some insect.

“What has happened is that an infection has spread from an infected fourth upper premolar tooth.” explains veterinarian Ronald Hines on his website. The dog’s carnassial tooth likely has a crack or fracture which may cause bacteria to enter and migrate from the long roots of this tooth to the dog’s facial area causing the swelling and infection. Even though antibiotics may help temporarily treat the infection, the problem is likely to recur until the problem tooth is treated either through removal or root canal treatment.

Did you know? There are veterinarians specializing in dentistry too! If you ever need specialized dental care for your dog, look for a veterinarian who is certified by the American Veterinary Dental College.

Preventing Cracked Carnassials

What may cause a carnassial tooth to fracture in the first place? When dogs chew hard objects they exert enormous biting forces with their carnassial teeth. If a dog chews something that’s hard or harder than the tooth, the tooth may get fractured, explains Daniel T. Carmichael, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in veterinary dentistry. Objects that may cause a fracture of a carnassial tooth include bones, hard plastic toys, cow hooves, rocks, and cage bars. However, chewing on hard objects isn’t the only way dogs may fracture a tooth. Trauma to the carnassial teeth may also occur from a car accident, a kick from a horse, a hit from a baseball bat or  when catching a flying object. While accidents may not always be prevented, it’s important protecting those carnassial teeth by not allowing dogs to chew on hard objects!



  •, Carnassial Tooth Abscess in Dogs, by  Dr. Ronald Hines retrieved from the web on March 23, 2016
  • Dvm360, Dental Corner: Dental fracture treatment options in dogs and cats, by Dr. Daniel T. Carmichael, retrieved from the web on March 23, 2016
  • Pet Education, Infections of the 4th Premolar (Carnassial Tooth) by Dr. Race Foster retrieved from the web on March 23, 2016

Dog Word of the Day: Gay Tail


It’s Wednesday Word day and today’s dog term is “gay tail.” With a vast array of dog breeds populating the planet, there are many different dogs blessed with different types of tails. Tail carriage refers to the way dogs carry their tails and tail set refers to the placement of the tail. The way a tail is carried may therefore be a matter of anatomy or temperament or even both. Knowing the typical way dogs tend to carry their tails can help us understand them better. For instance, certain dog breeds like the Italian greyhound or whippet tend to carry their tails low naturally, and sometimes these dogs may give the impression of acting fearful when it’s just their normal clamped-down posture.

A Matter of Heightbeagle tail

No, just in case you were wondering, a gay tail has nothing to do with your dog’s sexual preferences. Instead, as the term may imply (we’re talking happiness here), a gay tail is a tail that is carried high, but in this case, it’s carried very high, often arching upwards. According to The Kennel Club, a gay tail is a tail that’s carried higher than what the breed standard approves. The American Kennel Club instead describes it as ” a tail that is carried above the horizontal level of the back.” This may sound like a fault, but it really depends on which dog breed you’re talking about. In certain breeds, a gay tail may actually be desirable and it may even be mentioned in the standard. In other breeds it may be frowned upon and sometimes even considered a serious fault.

Undesirable Gay Tails

In many dog breeds, the gay tail is not appreciated much perhaps for the simple fact that it raises above the dog’s topline, the flat line of the dog’s back. In certain dog breeds, the presence of gay tail or high tail set, therefore disrupts the flow of the outline from the head to the tip of the tail. In some other breeds, it may simply be though a matter of the tail not adhering to the dog’s original function. Breeds where a gay tail is undesirable include the American pitbull terrier (gay tail is considered a serious fault, not to be confused with challenge tail), Doberman pinscher (fault: gay tail or terrier tail) Italian greyhound (serious fault: gay tail) and dogo Argentino (serious fault: gay tail.)

“Breeds in which tail carriage may be too high can present a problem. Tails carried over the back or “gay tails” can totally ruin the outline of these dogs.” D. Caroline Coile  

wirefox terrier tailDesirable Gay Tails

In what dog breeds is a gay tail desirable? In several small working terrier breeds it’s a welcomed trait.  The Lakeland terrier standard mentions that the tail must be set high on the back, and when carried, a slight curve towards the head is desirable; however, a tail that’s tightly curled over the back is considered a fault. The Yorkshire terrier standard mentions ” tail carried slightly higher than the level of the back.” The wirefox terrier standard instead mentions that the “tail should be set on rather high and carried gaily but not curled.” Consider though that the tails in these breeds are usually docked to a medium length which helps attain this position. Another breed where a high tail carriage is desirable is the beagle. The standard asks for a tail that is “set moderately high; carried gaily, but not turned forward over the back”

Did you know? In several small working terriers the tail functioned as a “handle” should the dog need to be extracted from a hole in an emergency situation. According to the New Zealand Kennel Club in the wirefox terrier “a tee-quarters dock is about right – since it affords the only safe grip when handling working Terriers.” This explains why at some dog shows handlers are sometimes seen lifting certain terrier dogs up partially by the tail.

Unethical Cosmetic Surgerycollie tail

An eagerness for fame and make money in the show ring can sometimes reach certain unethical levels. There are stories of handlers resorting to surgery to fix a gay tail so to be able to compete and possibly win in the show ring. Caroline Coile in her book “Show me, A Dog Showing Primer” talks about unscrupulous people who purposely have the ligament of their dog’s tail cut so that the tail is carried according to standard.

If the gay tail is due to the dog’s conformation, cutting it won’t prevent the dog from passing down the “gay tail” to his offspring, which may lead to more problems if the goal is producing “show quality” puppies.  Caroline Coile though points out that dogs undergoing this procedure are easily spotted because the tails end up being perpetually carried like “a limp rope.”


collie tail carriageClicker Training Tail Carriage

Did you know? In some cases, a “gay tail” may just be a matter of habit rather than anatomy. These are basically dogs who have normal conformation for the breed, but in the show ring they carry their tails too high. Some people have succeeded in training their dogs to carry their tail low using a clicker. World-known trainer and author Karen Pryor, mentions clicker training as a method to train dogs to carry their tails in a certain way on her Clicker Training website.

A dog can be clicker trained to hold the tail in a certain position when asked to stand, but things can get a tad bit complicated when a dog carries a tail high and curled over the back during trotting. However, for those willing to try, Karen Pryor offers a guide on how to shape “lower your tail” and “raise your tail”  making the dog conscious about his tail movement! The power of clicker training!



  • Show me, A Dog Showing Primer, by D. Caroline Coile, Barron’s Educational Series; 2 edition (January 1, 2009)

Photo credits:

  • Elias ´t Beuke Jagerken, Simona Nováková, ownerOwn work, public domain

Dog Word of the Day: Pointing


Pointing in dogs is a behavior that has been cherished by hunters for many centuries. Not all dogs are suitable for the task, which is why we have specific dog breeds who specialize in pointing, but how did pointing develop in the first place? If we asked the average dog, the sight of birds would maybe trigger the impulsive chasing instinct causing the birds to flee prematurely, something not very helpful for hunters who wished to just aim and shoot! Pointing behavior as seen in pointing breeds therefore must have required a certain level of constraint, something that must have happened over years of selective breeding.

pointer dogUnderstanding Pointing Behavior

What exactly is pointing behavior in dogs? If you ever saw a dog holding very still after spotting prey, that’s an example of pointing. You may have seen some paintings from the past depicting a dog pointing with his muzzle extended forward, and one paw raised up. Perhaps behind the dog was a hunter aiming with his rifle at a bird. This is an example of pointing. Before rifles were invented, hunters were using nets to capture birds. The dog’s pointing behavior grabbed the hunter’s attention and indicated where the birds were so they could toss their nets. The pointing was very valuable because dogs are better than humans in detecting prey. Several pointing breeds that specialized in this style of hunting were therefore developed.

A Look Backold spanish pointer

Pointing dog breeds date back to the 1650s when in Europe hunters were still using nets. There is belief that the first pointing dogs breeds originated from Spain and then spread to other parts of Europe. Each region developed its own pointing dog with characteristics meant for that particular region and with its type of prey, but most of these dogs likely derived from a single, common ancestor. There is belief that the Old Spanish Pointer is one of the great ancestors of most pointing dogs, but more research is needed.

Did you know? The University of California Davis has been collecting DNA from pointing dogs in hopes of tracing a  “Pointing Dog’s Family Tree” and unlocking the origins of pointing behavior.

CaptureInstinct or Training?

When we look at predator animals, we might notice a pattern of pausing before pouncing on prey. During this moment of hesitation, the animal’s eyes fix on the target, and if the target prey is moving, the animal will also measure speed, angle, height above the ground and size right before the attack is launched, explains Buz Fawcett in the book “Instinctive Shooting: The Making of a Master Gunner.”  This “stop-listen-look” behavior is likely a way the animal can focus on his sensory receptors so to quickly collect data before making that pounce that makes the difference between dinner or perhaps another day of starvation.

There are chances that thousands of years ago, hunters may have observed the same behavior in certain dogs and they must have refined it through training so to put it to good use. For many years, they must have selectively bred dogs based on their natural ability to hold longer and longer pauses in their pointing behaviors. Eventually, at some point, they must have stumbled on dogs who would freeze at the mere scent of prey without even being prompted to do so.

“The act of pointing is probably, as many have thought, only the exaggerated pause of an animal preparing to spring on its prey.” ~Charles Darwin.

A List of Pointing Breedsdog pointing breeds
While pointers generally find game and silently point, several pointing dog breeds were selectively bred to be versatile, multi-tasking dogs who will  find, point, and sometimes even flush. Here is just a short a list of several dog breeds with a history of being used for pointing:
  • Pointer
  • German Longhaired Pointer
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • German Wirehaired Pointer
  • Pudelpointer
  • Pachon Navarro
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Spinone Italiano
  • Vizsla
  • Weimaraner
  • Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
  • English Setter
  • Gordon Setter
  • Irish Setter
 “We speculate on the possibility that the pointing trait exhibited by several hunting breeds may have two different origins: (1) a prolonged ‘‘halt before the pounce’’ exaggerated through artificial selection, and (2) a pointing stance which appeared spontaneously and much earlier in chasing dogs.” ~SM Schmutz & JK Schmutz
 Pointing Behaviors in Non-Hunting Dogs
CaptureWhy do dogs point even if they don’t belong to a pointing breed? As we have seen, the behavior is natural and even if your dog isn’t a pointing breed, you may occasionally stumble on him “pointing” by default when he spots an animal. While the behavior of pointing was selectively bred for in certain breeds, several dogs will also exhibit it to some extent, perhaps though in a more “amateurish way” compared to the experts in the field. This may be just natural behavior, or if the dog is a mixed breed, it could be that somewhere back in time there may have been some hunting dog’s bloodline mixed in the dog’s heritage.
“Dogs are just dogs, and there are certain behaviors that probably any dog that’s a dog can do. Even dogs bred and trained for one trait can often exhibit other talents. You’ll see a sporting dog who circles like a herding dog, and you’ll get some herding dogs who point.” ~ Dr. Vindell, Veterinary Behavior Consultations in Pleasant Valley, N.Y
 Dogs Lifting A PawCapture
On the other hand, you may see a dog lifting his paw up when no critters are around, what does it mean? It really depends on context. Generally, paw lifting behaviors are seen when something is about to happen, explains veterinary behaviorist Lisa Radosta. It could be the dog is anticipating a treat from the owners or it could be he’s even getting ready to lunge and bite! That paw lift is signaling that something is about to happen and the dog’s accompanying body language should give a hint as to what. A paw lift can also be seen when dogs feels uneasy or mildly stressed such as when a small dog is surrounded by unfamiliar dogs or a person approaches too fast.
  • The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, by Charles Darwin, Penguin Books Limited, 1985 

Photo Credits:

  • Detail of  the painting “The Spanish Pointer” by John Buckler, public domain{{PD-1923}
  • English Pointer, Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh)The Dog in Health and Disease, public domain{{PD-1923}}
  • Small Munsterlander on staunch point, by PCullomOCC BY-SA 3.0

Dog Word of the Day: Ratter


It’s Wednesday word day and today we’ll be getting more acquainted with the word “ratter.” What do dogs have to do with rats? Last time we checked, cats were the role models par excellence when it came to chasing rats. Interestingly, it turns out that there are several dogs breeds with a history of taking over the unglamorous task of killing rats and excelling at it too! It may be surprising for you to find certain types of breeds among the list of dogs with a history of being ratters.

rat catcher
Jack Black the rat catcher and his dog.

The History of Ratters

In its most simple definition, a ratter is dog who was selectively bred for catching rats and other types of vermin. Generally, ratters were dogs who were small to medium in size. In ancient times, keeping the rat population under control was of primary importance due to the spread of fatal diseases such as the black plague in Europe. Rats were also often damaging food supplies, leading to great losses.

Several types of dogs were found suitable for the task, and some were known to routinely accompany the “rat catcher” a person who made a business out of catching rats. Jack Black was a popular rat catcher from Victorian England who was often accompanied by his furry helper.

Did you know? The earliest record of dogs used to kill rats comes from the retrieval of the body of “Hatch,” a mongrel dog whose body was found on the Mary Rose, an ancient ship that sunk in 1545.  Hatch was purposely kept on board to control the rat population.

A Bloody Sport 

billy rat baiting

What did rat catchers do with all the rats they caught? Jack Black was known for supplying thousands of live rats for the purpose of rat-baiting, a bloody sport that became popular towards the end of the 19th century. The sport consisted of placing several rats in a pit, and then dogs, usually terriers, would be sent out to kill them. People would bet on how long it would take for the dogs to exterminate them all.

Not all dogs were up for the task, rat baiting required agile dogs with fast reflexes. A good ratter was expected to take five seconds to kill a rat, and dogs who killed fifteen rats within a minute were considered excellent ratters.  It wasn’t unusual for some rats to bite when they were cornered which led to injuries to the dog and some dogs even lost their eyes. Fortunately, the bloody sport of rat baiting has become illegal in most countries. The last rat-baiting event was held in 1912 in Leicester.

Did you know? The world record in rat baiting was held by Jacko, a black and tan bull terrier who managed to kill 100 rats in 5 minutes and 28 seconds on 1 May 1862.

ratter dogDogs Used to Kill Rats

Many dogs bred to control the population of rats were working terriers developed in England, Ireland and Scotland. Following is a list of several dog breeds that were commonly used as ratters:

  • Bedlington Terrier

Don’t be fooled by this breed’s lamb-like appearance. Under their innocent looks hides a feisty terrier with a history of catching a wide variety of vermin ranging from mice, rats, badgers, hares and foxes. Bedlington terriers originated in England and were named after the mining town of Bedlington, in Northumberland, North East England. In the mines, this dog was able of clearing many tunnels of rats with a tenacious determination. Their looks aren’t casual, it’s said that the fur on the bottom parts of their legs was crafted in such a way as to protect them from the bites of vermin.

  • Yorkshire Terrier

Don’t let the lap dog with pink bows looks fool you, the Yorkie is a ratter by heart. Originating in Yorkshire, a region in Northern England, the Yorkie was employed for killing the many rats populating the mines and cotton mills in the mid 1800’s when England was at it’s peak production during the Industrial Revolution. But that’s not all! Soon, the Yorkie was also used to hunt down animals living in dens and burrows such as foxes, badgers and other small wild animals. These dogs were admired for their bravery and determination, a trait that’s often seen in many working terriers.

  •  Manchester Terrier

In England, the 19th century was a time when rats were consider a health risk and killing the rats was a popular sport. John Hulme, a fan of the rat baiting sport decided to cross a whippet with a cross-bred black and tan terrier in hopes of developing a tenacious dog that was suitable for the sport. The ancestors of the Manchester terrier succeeded so well, that the breed was established. The ears were cropped to prevent them from getting torn. Despite the fact that the sport of rat-baiting was banned, the small terriers managed to continue their work in the many public inns that were infested with rats. At night, they were turned loose to snatch as many rats as they could.

  • Rat Terriers 

And what about rat terriers? As the name implies, the name rat terrier stems from this dog’s main occupation. The rat terrier’s ancestors were introduced in the US by English miners and other working class immigrants. This dog was particularly cherished for his ability to kill vermin on American farms in particular from the 1920s to the 1940s. Their numbers though declined sharply from the 1950s with the advent of chemical pesticides.

The list of ratters goes on. Other dog breeds who were used to kill rats included: Jack Russell terrier, dachshunds, cairn terriers, Norfolk terriers, Sealyham terriers, border terriers, papillons, schipperke, Affenpinschers, Patterdale terriers, Lakeland terriers, and Prague ratters.

Ratter Dogs Todayratter dogs

Most breeds with a history of ratting are kept as house pets today. Because of their past, these dogs tend to not do too well with small critters. According to the Rat Terrier Club of America, any small, quick moving animal is considered “fair” game from a rat terrier’s perspective and therefore the chase is on. Many ratters are attracted by toys that make sharp, squeaky noises, and given the opportunity, they’ll just break them apart. Nowadays, may previous ratting dogs are “put to work” by engaging their bodies and minds in earth-dog trials, but in some places they are still being used as ratters. According to Wikipedia, some dogs are still be used as a form of pest control in many major cities around the world as a more humane alternative to rat poisons.


  • Wikipedia, Rat Baiting, retrieved from the web on March 2nd, 2016.

Photo credits:

  • Jack Black, rat catcher, 1851, Mayhew, H. (1851). ‘London Labour and the London poor’, Volumne 3, pg. 11 at The Perseus Digital Library, public domain
  • Billy, the rat killing dog,  public domain.

Dog Word of the Day: Watchdog


The term watchdog is often used interchangeably with the word guard dog, but there are clear distinctions between the two. Unlike the guard dog (which should only be trained by professionals as it requires an extremely high level of refined training), the watch dog is not meant to physically restrain or attack intruders. Generally, the term watchdog is used to depict a dog who simply keeps an eye on his surroundings and who will sound the alarm if something is amiss. Ideally, a good watch dog should be able to discriminate between normal and abnormal activity. Not all dogs have what it takes to make a good watch dog.

A Look Backdog

For centuries, mankind has relied on a dog’s barking behavior. Back in time, when humans lived in ancient campsites, dogs were used as an effective warning system, alerting humans of invading tribes and dangerous predators. Unlike wolves, coyotes, foxes and jackals which rarely barked, humans likely appreciated the fact that the early dogs were capable of emitting loud and persistent vocalizations. Most likely, humans,back then, must have selectively bred dogs for their watchdog capabilities. The dogs with the louder barks were allowed to reproduce while the ones that rarely barked were disposed of.

This may explain the divergence in barking behaviors between dogs and wild canines, suggests Stanley Coren in the book “How To Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication.” Interestingly, selectively breeding dogs for barking wasn’t likely an arduous task. When it comes to passing down the barking trait, barking appears to be a dominant gene. When the for-the-most-part silent basenji was bred with the noisier cocker spaniel in an experiment by Scott & Fuller, the result was a litter of dogs with a vivid predisposition to bark.

the boy who cried wolfDogs Who Cry Wolf

Did you ever hear about Aesop’s fable,”The Boy Who Cried Wolf?” In this fable, a shepherd boy repeatedly tricks villagers into thinking that a wolf is attacking his flock of sheep. “A wolf, a wolf!” the boy would scream as all the alarmed villagers gathered. After several repetitions, the villagers learned to no longer pay attention to the boy’s false alarms. The day though when a wolf really appeared, none of the villagers believed the boy’s cries so all the sheep ended up eaten by the wolf. Moral of the story? Dogs who are hyper alert and constantly bark at every single leaf falling from a tree don’t make good watchdogs. Bark after bark, just like the villagers of Aesop’s fable, the owners learn to ignore the constant senseless barking, even on that infamous day when a burglar is entering the home. Often, being hyper alert is based on fear and is seen in dogs who haven’t been socialized enough.

A Movie and Pop-Cornpopcorn

On the other side of the spectrum are dogs who are overly placid and sluggish, making them poor watch dogs. Should a burglar make it into their property, they might greet him like a long-lost friend and maybe even invite him over for a movie and some popcorn. Some dog breeds have a reputation for making poor watchdogs with a too friendly “feel free to come over” attitude. They may not bark at the intruder fiddling with the lock, but they may go bonkers when they see the neighbor’s cat. Some dog breeds were selectively bred for certain tasks and keeping an eye on their surrounding may be on their low end of their “to-do list”. Stanley Coren in his book the Intelligence of Dogs lists a dozen dogs breeds with a reputation for making poor watchdogs.

top twelve worst watchdogThe Top 12 Worst Watchdogs

  1. Bloodhound
  2. Newfoundland
  3. Saint Bernard
  4. Basset hound
  5. English Bulldog
  6. Old English Sheepdog
  7. Clumber Spaniel
  8. Irish Wolfhound
  9. Scottish Deerhound
  10. Pug
  11. Siberian Husky
  12. Alaskan Malamute.

The Ideal Watchdog

The ideal watchdog is alert and will sound the alarm when something really deserves the owner’s attention. A good watchdog will keep an eye on people walking by, but will only bark if something unusual happens. It’s as if these dogs were saying  ‘Hey, owner something’s up!” Barking for the most part when something is out of the ordinary is a fundamental quality of a good watchdog. Hypervigilance or sluggishness are not good traits in a good watchdog. Stanley Coren in his book the Intelligence of Dogs lists 15 breeds with the best watchdog capabilities. The list is in descending order with the best watchdog breeds at the very top.

yorkshire watchdog
Size doesn’t matter in a good watchdog.

The 15 Best Watchdogs

  1. Rottweiler
  2. German Shepard
  3. Scottish Terrier
  4. West Highland White Terrier
  5. Miniature Schnauzer
  6. Yorkshire Terrier
  7. Cairn Terrier
  8. Chihuahua
  9. Airedale
  10. Poodle (Standard or Miniature)
  11. Boston Terrier
  12. Shih Tzu
  13. Dachshund
  14. Silky Terrier
  15. Fox Terrier.

A Grain of Salt

While lists of best and worst watchdog breeds may be helpful, they must be taken with a grain of salt. Dog behavior is the result of many variables and a dog’s ability to make a good or poor watchdog varies based on genetics, level of socialization, life experiences and training. Dogs are individuals, and as such, their watchdog capabilities vary even within a certain breed.

While many watchdogs are naturally inclined to sound the alarm, some dogs may benefit from some guidance to learn how to discriminate what’s worthy of barking from what is not. The best way to reinforce good watchdog barking is to acknowledge the stimulus and thank the dog for a well-done job!


  • Scott JP, Fuller JL (1965) Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 273-276.
  • Stanley Coren, How To Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication, Atria Books; New edition edition (September 21, 2010)
  •  Dr. Justine Lee, It’s a Dog’s Life…but It’s Your Carpet: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know, Three Rivers Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Stanley Coren, The Intelligence of Dogs,  Atria Books; Reissue edition (January 5, 2006)


Photo Credits:

Francis Barlow’s illustration of the fable, “The Boy who Cried Wolf”, called by him DE PASTORIS PUERO ET AGRICOLIS, 1687, public domain,

Dog Word of the Day: Whale Eyes


Today’s dog word of the day is whale eye. What do dogs have to do with a whale’s eyes?  The term “whale eyes” was labeled by author, dog trainer and expert on dog aggression Sue Sternberg. It’s used to refer to when the white portion of the dog’s eye shows (not to be confused with a dog’s third eyelid). Also known as “half moon eye” whale eye in dogs is mostly seen when the dog turns his head slightly, but his eyeball remains turned to the side, fixed on something. When this happens, the white part of the eye, the sclera, appears as a  white crescent-like shape in the corner of one eye. You don’t normally see much of the white of a dog’s eyes other than in certain particular circumstances.

human eye scleraAnatomy of Eye

Interestingly, when it comes to the white portion of the eyes, humans come well equipped compared to dogs and other animals. In humans, the sclera of the eye is very visible, not only because of its contrasting white color, but also because the iris is relatively small compared to other animals.

Ever wondered why we don’t have the whole eye of the same color? There are theories that our sclera is so visible for communicative purposes so that others can see where we are looking and we can use our eyes as a form of non-verbal communication.

Interestingly, research on dogs has revealed that during the process of domestication, dogs have relied on picking up visual cues from our eyes too! Indeed, when it comes to picking up visual information, dogs seem to rely more on human eyes than the eyes of one another. After all, dogs don’t rely much on eye contact among each other (steady, direct eye contact may mean trouble in the dog world), therefore that may possibly explain why a dog’s sclera is just a narrow rim of white connective tissue that’s much less conspicuous than in humans.

A Look a Context

Many dogs show whale eyes when photographed.
Many dogs show whale eyes when photographed.

Paying attention to what is occurring when the dog shows whale eyes is important so to keep tabs on preventing putting the dog in a similar situation in the future. What is happening when the dog shows whale eyes? Is the dog being hugged? Photographed?  Is a person or dog getting too close to his toy or bone? Is another dog invading his personal space?

Whale eyes are often seen when the dog is in a situation that makes him feel uncomfortable. The dog doesn’t want to stare directly, so he’ll avert his head the other way, but at the same time he doesn’t want to take his eyes off from what is concerning him.

You may see it when a dog is cornered, guarding a possession or in an uncomfortable situation such as when being photographed or hugged. The dog may feel stressed, anxious, fearful or defensive.

Whale eye “is thought to occur because the dog is so afraid that he is not looking at you, but he’s too afraid to take his gaze away from you entirely. The result is a dog who is looking at something with his eyes while not facing it.” ~ Karen London  Ph.D.

half moon eye dogJust A Puzzle Piece

As with other canine body language, it’s a good idea to look at the context that evokes it, but it’s also worthy paying attention to the overall accompanying body language versus singling out only one signal.

Whale eye is often accompanied by tense facial muscles, a mouth tightly closed, dilated pupils, a stiff body, and there may also be more evident signs such as some growling and a curled lip.

Whale eye may be seen just a split second before a dog is about to snap or considering to snap should things escalate.

If you notice the half-moon eye in your dog, it’s time to give the dog space and plan how to avoid putting the dog in a similar situation in the future. Consult with a behavior professional for guidance on how to reduce stress in the dog and prevent situations from escalating.

“If you see the half moon eye when the kids approach the dog or are interacting with the dog, it’s time to intervene and give them all something else to do.” ~Doggone Safe

No Rule of Thumbdog sclera showing

Paying attention to context and other accompanying body language can tell us a whole lot of what may be going on. Just because we notice the white of our dog’s eyes doesn’t necessarily mean though that our dogs are stressed, fearful or uncomfortable.

Dogs may show whale eyes for several other reasons. Whale eyes may appear just because dogs are moving their eyes to look at something, but they don’t feel like moving their head.

For instance, a dog may be lying down with his head resting on the floor and he may not feel like moving his head, but may still want to keep an eye on what his owners or other dogs are doing around him.

A dog may show whale eyes as a sign of a pinched nerve in the neck as dogs with this painful condition are reluctant to turn their head. Some dogs are also anatomically built in such a way that their eyes have the sclera that shows more without anything stressful happening. For example,  dogs with short snouts and shallow sockets may have a more visible sclera compared to other dogs.

dog tipDid you know?  How did the word “whale eye” end up relating to dogs? Patricia McConnell, in the book “For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend” mentions that the term “whale eye” first came from a client of dog trainer Susan Sternberg who noticed how the eyes of whales she had been observing showed their whites no matter in which direction their head was pointing.


  • The Eyes Have It –What Can Be Seen in a Dog’s Eyes, by Karen London, retrieved from the web on February 17th, 2016
  • 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)
  • Director and Producer: Dan Child, Executive Producer: Andrew Kohen (2010-01-06). “The Secret Life of the Dog”. Horizon. BBC. BBC2.

Dog Word of the Day: Lapdog


Today’s dog word of the day is lapdog. You have likely heard this term many times already as other dog owners may have jokingly referred to their large dogs as “lapdogs” to depict their tendency to want to climb into their laps regardless of their size. Today’s term though does not refer to those large dogs who think to be lapdogs, but the lapdogs par excellence, those little dogs which generally had a history of having no particular working purpose (other than providing companionship) and that were quite popular in many societies around the world.

History of Lapdogs

Lapdogs aren’t a specific breed of dog, but are simply small dogs that would easily fit on a person’s lap. These dogs were often associated with the wealthy and the aristocrats with ample of leisure time. Many lapdogs weren’t purposely bred to carry out any specific tasks as working and hunting dogs did. The lapdog’s main job was simply providing companionship and warming up the laps and feet of aristocratic ladies in royal households. In some cases, lapdogs were perceived as “fashion accessories” for fashionable women and sometimes even status symbols. There are many portraits by old masters featuring the aristocrats with their small dogs. Many lapdogs featured puppy-like, neotenic traits such as folded ears, large eyes and high foreheads. Still as of today, these traits make us want to pamper them and that’s why many people are so tempted to treat lapdogs as surrogate babies!

The great majority of lapdogs boast members of the toy group, petite dogs known to have a friendly disposition. People often think of lapdogs as lazy dogs who would rather prefer lounging on a comfy pillow all day rather than romping outside in the yard or going on a walk. Despite their fluffy, cute looks and reputation as lap warmers, lapdogs have still a need for walks, play time, mental stimulation, socialization and training. It’s important to keep this in mind to prevent behavior problems! Also, due to their small size and fragility, lapdogs may not be the most suitable candidates for families with children. Following are some example of lapdogs known for charming the aristocrats with their appealing looks and delighting their days with their charming antics.

Seven Lapdogs Loved by the Aristocrats

Queen Sophie Dorothea of Prussia with a Papillon 1737
Queen Sophie Dorothea of Prussia with a Papillon 1737, by Antoine Pesne.

1) Papillon

According to the UK’s Papillon Club, there is belief that this breed descended from the European Toy Spaniels. This breed’s name derives from the French word for butterfly courtesy of this breed’s characteristic butterfly-like hair on the ears. Not all papillon though come with these characteristic ears! The ones who have ears that drop are known as phalene, the French word for moth. Both varieties are accepted by the AKC breed standard and they are judged in the same classes.

These pooches were portrayed in many paintings of royal families around Europe as early as the 13th century. There’s belief that the papillon must have been pure for at least 700 years, at least since Renaissance times, according to the United Kennel Club.  The papillon is therefore considered one of the oldest toys breeds.

2) Pekingese

Two women playing with a lap dog, China, 8th century
Two women playing with a lap dog, China, 8th century

More than lap dogs, these dogs were better known as “sleeve Pekingese” for the ancient practice of concealing these small dogs in the large sleeves of the robes worn by members of the Chinese Imperial Household. The smallest and most ferocious ones were meant to scare off anyone who dared to threaten the courtiers. Talk about “having something up your sleeve!”

Back in time, Chinese mythology considered the Pekingese a cross between a lion and a tiny monkey known as the marmoset. According to the Pekingese Club of America, the breed became a passion of the Chinese Emperors and courtiers to the extent that anyone who was caught smuggling one for sale suffered a terrible fate by torture. Only members of the Chinese Imperial Palace were allowed to own one. Interestingly, DNA analysis has established the Pekingese as also one of the oldest dog breeds.

3) Pug

A portrait of Princess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna
A portrait of Princess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna

Pugs originated in China around 400 AD and were cherished by the Shang Dynasty. Like the Pekingese, these pooches were prized possessions of the emperors of China, so much that they were often guarded by soldiers. They were often found in Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. According to the Pug Club of America, it is thanks to Dutch traders that these dogs were brought from the east all the way to Holland and England. Soon, they become a favorite by many monarchs of Europe.

In nineteenth century England, Queen Victoria owned many pugs and her passion was passed down  to several other members of the Royal family including her son and grandson. According to the American Kennel Club, Joesphine, wife of Napoleone owned a pug names Fortune. When Napoleon was imprisoned in Les Carmes, she used her pug to carry messages in his collar to him. Pugs are known for charming their owners with their clownish personalities.

Portrait of Elizabeth I
Portrait of Elizabeth I with bichon at her feet.

4) Bichon Frise

The bichon frise along with the Havanese, Bolognese and Maltese, has been a favorite among the royals and aristocrats for a very long time. The breed became particularly favored in France, Italy and Spain where they were carried around, perfumed and pampered, sometime around the 13th century. According to the American Kennel Club, Henry III of France was particularly fond of this breed and he carried his beloved bichon with him everywhere he went in a little basket. Several portraits attest the great love many royals felt for this small dog. A Renaissance painting by Titian shows Federico Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, with a bichon at his side while Sir Joshua Reynold’s portrait shows a bichon warming up the lap of Miss Beatrix Lister. Bichon are featured in several other important paintings, from famous classic artists, like Sustermans and Goya to the impressionists Renoir and Monet. When bichons weren’t warming up the laps of the aristocrats, they were impressing audiences with their circus tricks and antics.

Five children of King Charles I of England featuring a spaniel of the era at the bottom right
Five children of King Charles I of England featuring a spaniel of the era at the bottom right

5) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This European toy dog was likely the result of mixing small spaniels with Oriental toy breeds such as the Japanese chin.  Also known as comforter spaniels, these precious lapdogs worked well not only as great lap and foot warmers but sometimes also as great surrogate hot water bottles too! We often think of lapdogs as favorite among aristocratic ladies, but men loved them too. As the name implies, this breed gains its name from King Charles I, who was so enamored with this breed that he was sometimes accused of giving more importance to his dogs than to matters of state! After his death, the Duke of Marlborough took over as an advocate of the breed. He was particularly fond of the red and white coat which he called “blenheim” in honor of his estate. This breed continued to appeal to the homes of the wealthy for many generations. A smaller version with a rounder head and flatter nose was produced to cater to those looking for an eye-catching lapdog. These smaller specimens were called by American breeders “English Toy Spaniels“.

6) Pomeranian

Portrait of Mr and Mrs William Hallett with larger Pomeranian
Portrait of Mr and Mrs William Hallett with larger Pomeranian

This breed’s ancestors were the large, Spitz-type working dogs deriving from Arctic regions. It is thanks to two members of the British Royal Family that the breed became popular. In 1767, Queen Charlotte brought along with her two Pomeranians from England. The poms were immortalized in some painting by Sir Thomas Gainsborough. As seen in the painting, back then these dogs were much larger than what they are today, weighing as much as 30 to 50 pounds.

Queen Charlotte’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria also became enamored with the breed. She owned a smaller Pomeranian than average and when she exhibited him, more and more breeders were interested in producing smaller specimens. During Queen Victoria’s lifetime, the size of the Pomeranian was reduced by an astounding 50 percent, turning into a popular lapdog. Royal owners include  Joséphine de Beauharnais, wife of Napoleon I of France, and King George IV of England.

7) Japanese Chin

Portrait of Alexandra of Denmark with her Japanese Chin called Punch.
Portrait of Alexandra of Denmark with her Japanese Chin called Punch.

The history of the Japanese chin is a bit shrouded in mystery, but one thing is for sure, these dogs captured the hearts of Japanese royalty and, like the Pekingese, their ownership was restricted to the nobles. They say that this breed’s name is a misnomer, as it likely originated in China and arrived in Japan as gifts from the Emperor of China to the royal court.

According to the Japanese Chin Club of the UK, these dogs were bred to be small so they could fit in the sleeves of the kimonos of royal ladies. The breed became popular in the West when in 1853 Commodore Matthew imported some specimens into Britain and the United States where they became particularly popular with the noble and wealthy.

Did you know?  In the middle ages, lapdogs had the less noble task of attracting fleas off of people, but along the way, people started noticing how having these dogs around made them feel better, explain D. Caroline Coile, and Catherine Leary in the bookHow Smart is Your Dog?: 30 Fun Science Activities with Your Pet.


Photo Credits:

  • Queen Sophie Dorothea of Prussia with a Papillon 1737, by Antoine Pesne, public domain, PD-1923
  • Two women playing with a lap dog, China, 8th century, Beauties Wearing Flowers by painter Zhou Fang, public domain
  • A portrait of Princess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna, by Louis-Michel van Loo (1759) Moscow, public domain
  • Portrait of Alexandra of Denmark with her Japanese Chin called Punch, public domain
  • Five children of King Charles I of England (1637) by Anthony van Dyck, featuring a spaniel of the era at the bottom right, public domain.
  • Portrait of Mr and Mrs William Hallett by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785. The painting features a larger type of Pomeranian than is now common. public domain

Dog Word of the Day: Treeing


It’s Wednesday Word Day! So we casually opened our encyclopedia and landed on a page featuring a tree, so we decided that today’s dog word of the day will be treeing! What do trees have to do with dogs? Well a whole lot when we discover what treeing dogs precisely do and their roles as working partners. Turns out, not all dogs are born for the task and it takes a certain talent to excel in the art of treeing. Indeed, there are several dog breeds that were selectively bred with the task of treeing in mind, so let’s discover more about the art of “treeing” and what it exactly entails.

A dog treeing
A dog treeing

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Treeing dogs, as the name implies, involves  both dogs and trees. Treeing is a hunting method where the dog’s main task is chasing animals up a tree so that they can be easily spotted by hunters. The task doesn’t end here though. In order to make good treeing dogs, the dogs must be willing to bark, bark and continue to bark after the animal has escaped up the tree. This barking is what allowed the hunters on foot to successfully locate the dogs so that they could shoot the treed animal. However, not always the animals hunted in this matter had such a dire ending, treeing can also be used so that the animal is radio-tagged for tracking purposes. If you ever wondered where the famous saying “barking up the wrong tree” came from, well, here you have it,  the famous idiom stems from this practice!

The Elite Team 

A redbone coonhound
A redbone coonhound

As mentioned, there are certain dogs specifically bred to bark up trees. While foxhounds excelled as hunters when it came to tracking quarry, they were found to be inadequate in hunting animals that climbed up trees such as raccoon, opossums, bobcats and large prey such as bears and cougars. The foxhounds ended up feeling confused when they were unable to hold scent while these animals took for the treetops. So a special type of scent hound was needed for the task and the first treeing dogs were born. These dogs had a keen sense of smell, strong tracking skills and an independent streak which allowed them to hunt at a distance from their hunters without specific guidance or directions. What dogs excelled in these tasks?

Introducing The Coonhounds

Many coonhounds were employed as these fellows had a good ability to alert the hunters of the whereabouts of treed animals with their distinctive baying until the hunters arrived. Bloodhound blood was sometimes added to their lines so to increase their ability to track. A breed specifically bred for the purpose is the Treeing Walker Coonhound, which was responsible for tracking and treeing wild raccoons. Other breeds commonly used for treeing include the black and tan Coonhound, the bluetick coonhound, the American English Coonhound, the redbone coonhound and the plott hound.

Feist treeing
An example of a Buckley Mountain Feist

Introducing The Feists

Another type of hunting dog used for treeing animals is the feist, a small low-maintenance hunting dog used in the rural southern United States for the purpose of locating, chasing and treeing squirrels. The term “feist” refers to small, noisy dogs. As coonhounds, they’ll circle the tree and bark loudly once the squirrel is treed. Unlike coonhounds though they are rather quiet hunters when they track, limiting their barking to only once the animal is treed. Despite their furious chasing, which often involves wading through streams, leaping over logs, and running across roads and fields, these dogs rarely get to the squirrels. Feists, which are often misidentified as Jack Russells, are mixes of various hunting breeds. According to the United Kennel Club, treeing feists are the result of generations of crosses between hunting hounds and terriers.

Introducing the Curs

Curs are several types of mixed dog breeds which are generally known for being closely related to several North American treeing hounds. They are similar to feists, but the term feist refers to small dogs, while curs are large. Curs have a history of being versatile multipurpose farm dogs capable of herding, hunting and treeing small and large game. The treeing cur is currently recognized by the United Kennel Club and is know for its ability to tree squirrels, raccoon, opossum, wild boar, bears, mountain lions and bob cats.


  • Wikipedia: Treeing, retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 3rd, 2016.
  • Wikipedia: Coonhound, retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 3rd, 2016.
  • Wikipedia: Feist, retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 3rd, 2016.
  • Wikipedia: Curs, retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 3rd, 2016.
  • United Kennel Club: Treeing Feist,  retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 3rd, 2016.
  • United Kennel Club: Treeing Cur,  retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 3rd, 2016.

Photo Credits:

Dog Word of the Day: Babbler


It’s Wednesday Word Day! Today we opened our encyclopedia and ended on the letter “B” and the page had the word “babble” which is a term we often use to depict somebody who talks rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited way, uttering words imperfectly. So we thought to make “babbler” our dog word of the day. What does babbling have to do with dogs? Last time we checked, dogs weren’t able to talk, let alone babble, so what does it mean? Turns out, this word is part of hunting terminology and the term is sometimes used by hunters to depict certain “vocal dogs.” What are these dogs babbling about? Interestingly, they have something to say, but as the term implies, their excessive “talking” is considered disruptive both by their hunting pals and huntsmen.

fox hunting“That Hound is a Babbler!”

So what do hounds have to babble about? According to the book by David Hancock, Hounds: Hunting by Scent, a babbler is described as a “noisy hound; one giving tongue when not on the line.” What does that mean exactly? Well, if we take a look at how hounds hunt, we will notice that they tend to “talk” when they’re hunting, especially when they are on the trail of the fox scent (line).  Hunters remark the “hounds are giving great tongue” when they give out cries when on a hot trail. Well, turns out a “blabber” is a hound who “talks” inappropriately and freely when exposed to all sorts of scents, when there’s no need to. Many hunters talk about these dogs in a derogatory manner, sometimes describing them as “liars” or as “having a lying tongue.”

Other Hound’s Reactionsbabbler hound

With dogs who hunt in groups like hounds, it’s interesting observing how the other members react to “blabbers.” Frank Sherman Peer in the book “Cross Country with Horse and Hound” says that the other hounds may initially rush to the babbler’s side, but then fail to confirm him. He claims that their disgusted expression after discovering the false alarm is “something almost human.” The hounds may be fooled once or twice, but soon learn though how to deal with such babblers. Indeed, J. Otho Paget in the book “Beagling and Beagles” mentions that the other hounds soon “find out so that when they hear his voice they will utterly ignore him!”

“Whereas a distinctive voice is an important asset, it is linked with the wisdom of knowing when and where to use it. ” ~Stuart A. Marks,  Southern Hunting in Black and White

hound cry
“Hounds at full cry” by Alfred Wheeler

A Word of Caution

Before labeling a hound as a “babbler,” it’s important to rule out other possible phenomena going on. For example, a hound who is blessed with a more acute sense of smell than other hounds may be confused for a “babbler.” The scent of a hare that walked through overnight may linger for several hours and may be picked up by a hound with a sensitive nose while the other hounds may not sense it, cautions J. Otho Paget. Other times, some hounds are accused of babbling when they’re turned loose from their kennels. In reality though, these dogs aren’t “loose mouthed,” they are just showing their joy and delight in going out for a hunt!” ‘And what’s more marvelous than dogs doing what they love best?

Did you know? The baying noises hounds make when excitedly running is known as “giving tongue” or “throwing tongue”.  Hounds who fail to “give tongue” are known as “mute hounds.” These will take off on their own, running mute without “speaking.”


  • J. Otho Paget, “Beagling and Beagles” Read Country Book, April 16, 2013
  • Frank Sherman Peer, “Cross Country with Horse and Hound” New York,C. Scribner’s sons, 1902

Photo credits:

  • Painting of the Royal Rock Beagles by John Dalby in 1845, public domain
  • Detail of painting Releasing the Hounds by John Wootton, circa 1745, public domain
  • Painting Hounds at full cry” by Alfred Wheeler, public domain

Dog Word of the Day: Neoteny


It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for our weekly Dog Word of the Day! So today we opened up our encyclopedia on a random page and landed on the letter “N.” On that page we saw a picture of a baby and noticed the word “neonate,” which means “a newborn child or mammal” so we decided that our dog word of the day had to be the term “neoteny” which is closely related to the term neonate. What does a baby have to do with dogs? There are actually some interesting relationships between the looks of babies and how we perceive dogs. Read on to learn more.

The cuteness factor...
The cuteness factor…

So What is Neoteny?

So what is neoteny, and most of all, how does this term relate to dogs? Let’s first take a peak at the etymology of this term, shall we? The word neoteny is composed by the Greek word “neos” which means “young” and the word “teínein” which means “to extend.” According to Science Daily, neoteny is the retention of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity. Also known as juvenilization, in evolutionary biology neoteny refers to the process behind the retention of baby-like, “neotenous” features such as larger eyes, bulging craniums, higher foreheads, smaller noses and smaller mouths. Some like to call it the cuteness factor!

Neoteny in the Human World

Humans versus chimp skull
Human versus chimp skull

When it comes to humans, we can say that we are quite neotenous if we compare our facial features and overall bone structure with our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. According to Scientific American, more than resembling an adult chimpanzee, for decades scientists have noted instead how adult humans resemble infant chimps, but why would we retain infantile, baby-like traits? Interestingly, our looks could be a matter of a delay in development. When the development period of humans is compared to the development period of  chimpanzees, humans showed marked differences.

For instance, while chimpanzees become sexually mature by the age of 8 or 9, humans take five more years, explains Ed Yong, in Science Blogs.  Neoteny, the retention of juvenile traits, therefore occurs because of such delays in development, explains Philipp Khaitovich, molecular biologist  of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. And it isn’t only a matter of looks, because neoteny also translates into an extended childhood, a time when our brain is particularly plastic, which provides the opportunity for our brains to further develop.

Grey wolf versus Chihuahua skull

Neoteny in the Dog World 

Interestingly, dogs also are quite neotenous creatures, especially when we compare their facial features and overall bone structure with their closest, ancestor, the wolf.  Just as in humans, dogs appear to be more similar to wolf puppies than adult wolves, retaining puppy-like looks and behaviors well into adulthood. Their prolonged and slower juvenile period compared to wolves, allowed for a higher degree of plasticity and higher “trainability” compared to their wild relatives. As in humans, the juvenile period allows more flexibility and a better response to learning,  explains Edward O. Price in the book “Animal Domestication and Behavior.” These neonatal traits have been cited as a result of domestication. (Fox, 1968) It’s important to note that these differences in developmental stages have set dogs and wolves so far apart that nowadays comparing dogs with wolves is somewhat like comparing humans to chimps. “Dogs possess social intelligence far beyond that of their wolf ancestors, and in many ways they’re more like us than our own primate relatives,” explains Brian Hare, founder of found the Canine Cognition Center at Duke University.

"Humans feel affection for animals with juvenile features: large eyes, bulging craniums, retreating chins (left column). Small-eyed, long-snouted animals (right column) do not elicit the same response."--Konrad Lorenz[1]

Further Changes Along the Way

As dogs shifted from the role of working dogs, to the role of companions, neonatal traits were further emphasized. Dog fanciers selectively bred for appealing traits such as flattened faces, large eyes, bulging craniums, shorter muzzles and floppy ears. All traits that make us ooohh and ahhh and that evoke all those warm and fuzzy feelings of dealing with cuteness and care taking. These traits are more pronounced in certain breeds such as the cavalier King Charles spaniel, Pekingese, pug and French bulldog.

“Humans feel affection for animals with juvenile features: large eyes, bulging craniums, retreating chins (left column). Small-eyed, long-snouted animals (right column) do not elicit the same response.”~Konrad Lorenz

While the effects of neoteny are quite interesting, one must remain with an open mind as the subject is still under scrutiny as we gain more and more insights about the developmental process of both humans and dogs. Different theories abound as we await more clarifications about the exact genetic mechanisms.


Mitteroecker P, Gunz P, Bernhard M, Schaefer K, Bookstein FL (June 2004). “Comparison of cranial ontogenetic trajectories among great apes and humans”. J. Hum. Evol. 46 (6): 679–97.doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.03.006. PMID 15183670

Collins, D. et al. (1973). Background to archaeology: Britain in its European setting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20155-1 hard cover

Cognitive and Physical Development and Domesticity in Dogs

Photo credits:

Neoteny and reduction in skull size – grey wolf and chihuahua skulls, photo by Dmccabe, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

“HUMANS FEEL AFFECTION for animals with juvenile features: large eyes, bulging craniums, retreating chins (left column). Small-eyed, long-snouted animals (right column) do not elicit the same response.” –Konrad Lorenz photo by Ephert Wikipedia,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


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