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Know Your Dog - August 2008

Front Cover


Why does your dog bark at strangers and lick your face?

Unlock the mysteries of your dog’s behaviour with this practical, information-packed book and truly get to understand your dog’s mind.

  • Learn how to read his barks, growls and tail wags.
  • Understand what effect training, petting and other interactions have on your dog.
  • Solve his bad habits, such as chewing, licking and even more embarrassing actions.
  • Read special features on the latest canine research and behavioural science.

Format: 273 x 216 mm (81/2 x 103/4 in)
Extent: 160 pages
Binding: hardback
Words: 40,000
Photographs: 160
Price: £14.99
Publication: August 2008

Dr David Sands is a leading animal behaviour counsellor specializing in the treatment of dogs, cats, birds, horses and exotic pets. He is an internationally established pet author whose books include The Family Dog and Cats: 500 Questions Answered.

Other titles in the series:
Know Your Horse
Know Your Cat


Understanding your dog - 8
Wolf ancestry • Anatomy • The senses • How dogs think • The social pack • Personality

Reading your dog - 26
Early life • Licking, scratching and chewing • Body postures • Bark, growl and yelp • Breedspecific behaviour

Day-to-day life - 40
Sleep • Grooming • Play • Male and female attitudes

Puppyhood - 54
A puppy’s eye view • Physical and sensory development • Weaning • Testing and challenging • Stealing • Neutering and its effects • Training

In the home - 74
Interactive behaviour • Visitors in the home • Visiting family and friends • Behaviour with toys • Territorial-marking and alert barking • Diet and behaviour • At the kennels • Moving house

Out and about - 92
Meeting other dogs • Meeting strangers and children • Selective hearing • Recall and flight response • How dogs view traffic • Scavenging • In the car • Veterinary-related behaviour • Fear and hyperactivity

Bad dog - 114
Recognizing fear and stress • Over-dependency • Separation-related disorder • Sound sensitivity • Aggression • Obsessive behaviour • Faeces-eating • Hiding away • Weight problems • Overprotectiveness • Fear of strangers and other dogs

Health - 144
Warning signs • The pregnant bitch • The aging dog • Canine incontinence • Infirmity

Index 157


Petting your pet

Most of the time your dog just wants to be part of your social scene and craves physical contact. When you reach down to pat and stroke him he views this as his pack leader giving him some much desired attention and this contact is extremely reassuring for him.

Your dog can use physical contact as the first step to gaining more attention from you. He sniffs and licks your hands, encouraging you to become even more involved. It takes only a glance and tail wag from him for you to switch from patting to stroking to a close cuddle. Maybe it will lead to your dog being offered a walk or some food. Either way, the interaction is sociable and that pleases both sides.

Your side of this is enjoying contact with your dog. Humans show affection through tactile gestures too and we pat a dog in much the same way we would pat a child’s head.


It doesn’t take long for your dog to learn that a ‘happy dog’ approach – tail wagging, mouth open and eyes wide and eager – will earn him lots of attention from you and your family. Puppies, in particular, will crave reassurance from physical contact soon after removal from the litter mother and siblings and learn how to get it quickly. A puppy will enjoy plenty of contatct with you, especially prior to sleep periods, because your warmth has the same soothing effect as the closeness he enjoyed with his litter mother and siblings.


Your dog also sees stroking as part of a natural grooming behaviour. Even rougher contact is viewed as desirable. Try holding his scruff and gently rubbing behind the head, under the chin and on his ears. These are very difficult for a dog to groom himself and he will offer himself to encourage your playful scratching and rubbing of these regions. Your willingness to scratch into his scruff (an act that mimics the mother carrying her puppies by the looser skin around the neck) together with any rubbing or tickling you give him is not very different from canine allogrooming – social grooming – behaviour.

Wolf cubs can be carried to safety by the ‘soft’ jaws of an adult when threatened. This behaviour has found it’s way into the domestic dog’s genes and contact around the scruff and back is welcomed by the ‘wolf’ in your home.


Social grooming in animals is known as allogrooming. In nature, dogs groom each other exclusively through licking and this behaviour is part of the process of sociability and trust. This behaviour is thought to act as a form of appeasement in most social animals and has a role in reducing tension and conflict among groups.

A key concept of allogrooming is submission to the dominant pack member. When your dog rolls over and offers his tummy he is being submissive. The reward of receiving a playful rub here is more than enough to encourage your dog to repeat this act of submission to gain the benefit. In nature, the vulnerable underbelly and genitals may be presented to a trusted pack member for sniffing and grooming.


Your dog also has a chemical reason to enjoy a nice petting session with you. Mimicking grooming behaviour has a soothing effect because it triggers the release of hormones into your dog’s brain. There are three key hormones that are triggered:

endorphins – blocking stress, pain and irritations
dopamine – released by the feeling of anticipation triggered by pleasure and soothing contact
serotonin – released as a specific reward giving a feel-good factor.

All these hormones are linked to the brain stem and hypothalamus, which deals with pain, arousal and pleasure.

This region in the brain is also linked to addiction, obsession and compulsion. When he self-grooms your dog triggers these major hormones and this can sometimes lead to excessive grooming in times of stress.


When you stroke your dog it creates a positive effect on your heart’s metabolism and triggers the release of the same wonderful reward hormones that also help to make you content.

Dog ownership has been proven to relax people, reducing their blood pressure and even helping to counter depression. Patients suffering from heart conditions, hypertension, diabetes and many other chronic conditions have shown improvement in health when caring for a dog.

There are schemes in the US – Animal Assisted Therapy Programme – and the UK – Pets as Therapy– that work with this benefit and take dogs into retirement homes, hospices and hospital wards.

Having a dog is good for the head as well as the heart. Psychologists agree that children involved in caring for a dog will improve their IQ as well increasing their responsibility and respect for animals.


Licking your face

LickingYou’ve returned from a shopping trip with a friend and there, with an enthusiastic welcome, is your faithful dog. You both kneel down to say ‘hello’ and your dog begins to vigorously lick yours and your friend’s faces. You love your dog but you find his behaviour a bit embarrassing.

Why does he do this?

When your dog attempts to lick your face he’s performing a canine greeting commonly observed in the wild. In nature, juveniles and the dominant female that has remained behind to care for her cubs will enthusiastically greet the returning pack members that have been out hunting and foraging. The youngsters and other hungry individuals will jostle with each other and try to lick a hunter-pack member around the neck, throat and mouth regions as a form of begging behaviour. Those returning pack members that have eaten prey will often use this interaction as a signal to regurgitate partially digested food because they have an innate or genetic response to this submissive behaviour.

Puppies love facial contact with thier mother. In the wild this is a simple way to stimulate a feed or pay homage to the pack leaders returning from a hunt.

So when your dog licks your face he’s acting out a natural greeting to his ‘pack leader’. It is not therefore a ‘kissing’ greeting full of adoration, but genetically programmed behaviour used to gain food from the male hunters.

What to do

If you think face licking is unhygienic and even embarrassing then you need to put a stop to the habit at an early age. If a dog is talked to or interacted with in any way, this will simply encourage the behaviour and the longer it goes on the harder it will be to stop.

You need to reward your dog when he’s sitting quietly. This applies not only to when he comes to the door, but to any time when he’s climbing on you or jumping up at you. As soon as he stops, reward him. The more often a dog sees that this is beneficial the more likely your dog will view face licking as undesirable and the behaviour will stop.


What should I do when a new puppy first starts face-licking?

Turn away without speaking or giving eye contact and, as soon he stops praise him and give him a quick pat. Your puppy will quickly learn that he can get attention from you without resorting to licking.

Make sure friends, family and regular visitors are asked not to indulge the puppy when he tries to jump up. Any alteration in instructions will either confuse your dog or, worse, undermine your authority.

Is the behaviour detrimental to the dog?

Some insecure dogs become addicted to licking behaviour and, in moments of stress such as separation from their owner, they will repeatedly lick a paw or flank. If this behaviour progresses it can lead to the development of fungal infections and lick granulomas that may require both professional behaviour and veterinary treatment.

Is the behaviour a health risk to humans?

There is a risk to humans in situations where dogs pick up infections after coming into contact with other dogs or animal faeces and then transfer unhealthy bacteria to owners. In most cases it is a low risk, but you should consider this when encouraging face-licking behaviour.


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