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  • Canine faces

    Could dogs have the best poker faces in the world? Unlike humans who express so much of what they are thinking or feeling through facial expression, dogs seem to have a “dead pan” look most of the time. So, let’s dig deeper into dogs’ faces and see what’s going on.

    The fact is that dogs have less facial muscles than humans because they don’t rely simply on facial movements to communicate but rather a combination of facial and other body signals, such as tail movements, mouth, hackles and posturing. 

    A dog’s mouth is very expressive and a key factor to understand so as to avoid potential negative situations. If a dog is baring his teeth, particularly when accompanied by growling, then be wary of aggressive behaviour. Some dogs can simulate a human’s smile by showing their teeth but be careful that his “smile” is not the prelude to an attack. Because dogs rarely show their emotions through one aspect of body language only, once you understand the combinations of body language that a dog shows, the easier you can understand the emotion your dog is expressing.

    In previous weeks I have written about the significance of a dog’s nose, being its primary sense. A healthy dog should have a wet, cold nose. The reason the nose should be wet is that a dog can smell better if the membranes in the nose are moist. One of the many uses that a dog’s tongue has is to be able to lick the nose to keep it moist. To have the ability to lick your own nose means that a dog’s tongue is longer than a human tongue. You will notice as well that a dog’s tongue is coarser than a human’s, thus enabling it to move liquids and solids into its mouth a lot easier.

    Moving up the face, we come to a dog’s whiskers (technical term is vibrissae). Unlike facial hair on humans, which is mainly a cosmetic preference, the whiskers on a dog play a key sensory role. If you’ve ever walked through a dark room with your arms outstretched, you understand what whiskers do. Dogs use their whiskers to sense their environment, feeling different surfaces and getting a sensory understanding of their surroundings. The whiskers above the eyes are there for protection when a dog has its head in a tight spot or in the bush. Dogs are quite vulnerable to being poked in the eye. When these whiskers come in to contact with something or sense something near the eye, they cause a reflexive blinking. This causes them to close their eyes thereby avoiding injury. An owner’s choice to have their dogs’ whiskers clipped for appearance purposes only is doing their dog a huge disservice by reducing their sensory capability.

    So, what about eyebrows? The function of eyebrows in humans is to prevent sweat from running down your forehead and into your eyes. As dogs don’t sweat through their head, why would they even need eyebrows? Technically speaking dogs don’t have eyebrows but a ridge where you would expect eyebrows to be and the fur is thicker and bushier in that area. As with so much about dogs, the eyebrow/ ridge is used to help with communication. Keep an eye out for the following:

    • Your dog raises his brows, to indicate he sees something of interest.
    • Lowered eyebrows mean they are confused by a sound or trying to figure out what you want. This can also express your dog is a bit angry.
    • One eyebrow raised says your dog is questioning or puzzled.
    • A pouting dog will lower their eyebrows, showing their feelings are hurt.
    • An angry or suspicious dog will have his eyes partly closed, with his eyebrows pulled down.

    So much more is happening on a dog’s face than we first imagine so take time out to study your dog and understand the nuances of our furry friends.