Why do dogs...
licking - Why dogs lick
(Excerpt from How to Speak Dog)
Dr. Stanley Coren
“…As the puppies grow older, they begin to lick and clean themselves and their littermates. This mutual licking and grooming serves social functions. Obviously, it helps keep the puppies clean, but in the process it helps strengthen the bonds between the puppies. The actual mechanism that builds this affection is mutual satisfaction. A puppy can have companions get at those hard-to-reach places, like ears and backs and faces, and can pay them back by licking their littermates in their inaccessible regions. Since friends and familiars groom friends and familiars as a considerate gesture, the very act of licking another dog develops significance as a means of communication. Licking thus shifts from being a utilitarian and useful act to becoming a ritualized gesture. The meaning of this gesture at this time in a puppy's life involves goodwill and acceptance. In effect, each puppy is saying, "Look how friendly I am." As the puppy matures, the message sent by licking continues to be friendly but is widened to also mean, "I'm no threat," and perhaps the submissive plea, "Please accept me and be kind."
Licking takes on a further meaning a bit later in the puppy's life, usually around the time that it is becoming less dependent on its mother's milk. In the wild, when a mother wolf returns from hunting, she will have already fed herself on her quarry. When she enters the den, the puppies gather around her and begin to lick her face. To a romantic, this may look like a loving greeting with all of the puppies overjoyed at mother's return after her absence of several hours. They are seen as simply kissing her in happiness and relief. The actual purpose of all of this face licking, however, is much more functional. Wild canines have a well-developed regurgitation reflex, and the puppies lick their mother's face and lips to cause her to vomit up some food. It is most convenient for the mother to carry food in her stomach rather than trying to drag things back to the den in her mouth. Furthermore, this partially digested material makes ideal dining for young puppies.
It is interesting to note that our domestic dogs actually have a reduced sensitivity for their regurgitation reflex in comparison to wolves or jackals. Puppy-induced regurgitation is not as often seen in dogs unless the pups are not being fed well. When it does occur, it is more likely to occur in sharp-faced breeds that appear to be more similar to wild canines, such as the wolf.
Understanding the development of licking behavior helps to interpret another place where it occurs. Face licking in adult canines can be a sign of respect or deference to a more dominant dog. The dog doing the licking usually lowers its body to make itself smaller, and looks up, adding to the effect of juvenile behavior. The dog receiving the face licks shows its dominance by standing tall to accept the gesture, but does not lick the other dog in return.
Now when your dog tries to lick your face, you should have a better idea of what he's trying to communicate. He may simply be hungry and asking for a snack. Obviously, you won't regurgitate some food at that signal, but you might respond affectionately and perhaps give him a treat, such as a dog biscuit. He may be communicating submission and pacification-the adult version of goodwill in puppies. Basically, he is saying, "Look, I'm just like a puppy who is dependent on big adults like you. I need your acceptance and help." Alternatively, he may be showing respect and deference to you as a more dominant dog in his pack...
.... walk around in circles before lying down?
For the same reason you have an appendix—it’s just an evolutionary holdover. Before they were domesticated, dogs spent a good part of the year roaming the plains and crashing under the stars. Before lying down, they would circle a few times, trampling the grass or snow until it was flat and making nests out of any leaves or underbrush. “Ten to fifteen thousand years later, domesticated dogs still try to build nests out of blankets,” says Stephen Zawistowski, science adviser at the ASPCA. “Sometimes they do it because it’s comforting. And sometimes they do it because there is something to stimulate it, like a loose towel or rug that’s just lying around.” And sometimes they, like their human counterparts, just can’t stop chasing tail..
....wag their tails when
There are several reasons why a dog wags its tail, and not all of them have to do with being a happy-go-lucky puppy.
Since the ancestors of today's domesticated dogs ran in packs, communication -- whether by barking, growling, or wagging tails -- was essential.
A dog with a loosely wagging tail is usually a dog that is friendly or excited. However, a wagging tail is not always a sign of an amiable pooch. An aggressive dog might hold its tail high and wag only the tip, while a submissive or scared dog is more likely to hold its tail low and wag it stiffly.
Some experts believe that a wagging tail is a sign of conflict. When an animal is in conflict, it wants to retreat and advance at the same time. The wagging tail is an indication of this confusion.
When you see a dog wagging its tail, odds are that the dog is in good spirits, probably running after a ball or begging for a treat. However, you should be aware that a wagging tail isn't a definitive sign of a friendly dog; proceed with caution if you think the dog is aggressive.
Howling is a form of communication in dogs. It is a way for dogs to signal their presence to other dogs that are often located far away. It is common in wolves and coyotes, both relatives of today's domestic dog.
Domestic dogs that howl, especially those that howl excessively are usually doing this because they are bored and lonely. Getting extra toys, and giving your dog more attention and exercise will help to stimulate your dog and reduce excessive howling. If you make your dog sleep outside all night, it's no wonder the dog howls a lot. Bring the dog inside!
Sometimes dogs will howl when they hear sirens or other loud higher pitched sounds like clarinets and flutes. These sounds may even come from a television set. Dogs do this as an instinctive response to hearing what they interpret to be another howl (dog in the distance). They are not doing this because it hurts their ears.
Dogs bark to say that there is something strange happening and to be alert. In the wild the barking tells puppies to hide and calls the adults over for action. At home, our dog may bark at us or at a burglar. The barking signals that something is happening; once the new arrival has been identified, either a greeting takes place or an attack.
A fearless dog that is intent on attacking is silent. It doesn't waste time barking, that is, sounding the alarm. It just rushes over and bites. On the other hand, a dog that wants to flee instead will also be silent as it runs away.
A more common occurrence is when a dog is not quite sure -- it is feeling a little fear while it thinks about attacking. This dog will snarl and retract its lips to reveal its teeth. It is the tinge of fear that converts the silent attack into a snarling one. The urge to attack is still strong, however, so this is not a dog to be trifled with!
If the dog is more fearful, it will alternate barking with growling. If fear gains the upper hand, the growling will stop, replaced by loud barking, until either the threatening situation goes away or reinforcements arrive.
Apparently, barking was improved during the process of domesticating the dog. Wolves bark, but not as loudly as dogs, although they can learn to bark more loudly if they live around domestic dogs. It seems likely that humans bred the louder puppies to create better guard dogs. All dogs bark, except the Basenji, which was bred thousands of years ago as a silent hunting dog.
Because dogs do what works. If your dog begs, chances are, that someone in your household or in the dog's past household rewarded the begging behavior to some degree.
Why is rewarding begging behavior a problem? Because the dog will continue engaging in the behavior as long as it works some of the time. And by indulging the behavior, you put yourself in a position of obeying your dog's commands.
Dogs think about relationships in terms of who is in charge. If the dog is challenging authority, he may interpret your giving up food as a subordinate act, which can lead to problems with dominance aggression.
So often, pet owners unintentionally teach dogs to engage in bad behavior by rewarding annoying behaviors such as begging, whining, barking and pawing. Writes Brian Kilcommons in Paws to Consider (co-authored by Sarah Wilson), the dog, in essence, is turning you into a slot machine.
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