Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dog Anatomy: That Tongue!

Hello readers! I hope you are enjoying what I have posted so far. Today I'd like to introduce something I hope will turn into a regular series... a series on dog anatomy! I plan on covering eyes, ears, nose, tongue, fur, hips, etc. All those features that make dogs so amazing!

And dog tongues are definitely amazing and surprisingly not just for giving sloppy wet kisses! The tongue is one of the many tools that dogs have that enable them to explore and make sense of the world around them. Let's discover more shall we? :-)

The tongue is made up of 6 major muscles, the Frenulum, which attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth, the Genioglossus, which pulls the tip of the tongue back, the Hyoglossus, which draws the tongue back into the mouth, the Styoglossus, which pulls the tongue back and upwards, and the Mylohyoideus, which supports the extrinsic muscles of the tongue.

Dogs depend on their sense of taste to find resources like food and water. The dog's taste buds are as follows:

1. Salty
2 and 3. Sweet
4. Water- yes water! Dogs have a finely tuned ability to taste water, which comes in handy when looking for something to drink.

Dogs taste sour over much of the top of the tongue towards the back with sweet on the sides and the front. If you use taste deterrents such as Bitter Apple to prevent your dog from chewing inappropriate items like your shoes, I find it helpful to spray it in the dogs mouth first so they associate the product in the bottle with the bad taste, then let them see you spraying it on the forbidden item. Dogs make negative taste associations quickly, so this usually does the trick and they will know the item tastes like whatever is in that yucky bottle. The reason why it is not helpful to spray the item before the dog has tasted it is because when a dog chews, it is usually the sides and front of their tongue that come in contact with the object, not their bitter taste buds, so they do not taste the taste deterrent (I know, weird right?).

Because dogs cannot sweat they depend on their tongue as a major source of heat loss. The tongue is rich with capillaries so when a dog pants, the tongue swells and the rapid movement of cool air from the environment moving over their moist tongue whisks away heat, helping them regulate their body temperature.

One of a dog owner's most enjoyable moments is watching their dog running and playing with their tongue flapping in the breeze. While tongue injuries are rare, they can happen, especially if they are running in tall grass where foxtails can get caught in their mouth. These need to be removed immediately to prevent them from becoming embedded and infected. Cuts on the tongue can also happen, and because the tongue has such a large amount of capillaries, small lacerations can bleed quite profusely. In this case, it looks much worse than it actually is, so if the dog is panting and the tongue is swelled, cooling the dog down will reduce the swelling and allow the tongue to clot quickly and the bleeding will stop.

The tongue is a remarkable organ, but we as dog owners tend to love it more for the kisses it gives us! We tend to look at big wet sloppy puppy kisses as a sign of affection from our dogs, but is it? As puppies, a mother dog uses licking as a way to keep her pups clean, to stimulate them to urinate or defecate, and to encourage bonding between her and her pups. Licking also helps stimulate their mental development. As the puppies grow, usually after 6 weeks of age, puppies begin to return the favor and will lick their mother's lips when they want her to regurgitate food for them to eat (see photo). Licking is also a sign of submission that is used in dog-dog interactions, as well as a part of grooming. Dogs will also lick when they are nervous or as a gesture of appeasement or goodwill (see photo below). In an article by Dr. Nicholas Dodman, dogs "may lick their own lips or may lick a person to whom they wish to signal deference. If the recipient of the licking interprets this behavior as "make-up kisses," that's just fine. Perhaps the behavior is analogous to some forms of human kissing and thus their interpretation may be close to the truth." But what about that excited dog that jumps all over us when we get home and licks our faces with reckless abandon? Dodman explains, "For some dogs, it seems that they engage in face licking because they can get away with it and because it gets a rise out of the person." This might be a case of positive reinforcement where 1. dog licks person, 2. person gets excited and rewards the dog with petting, praise and affection. Lesson learned = giving kisses is good! 

Whether you are a fan of "getting kisses" from your dog or not, or whether you think your dog is simply begging to share what you had for lunch or is giving you genuine affection, we can all agree that the tongue is of vital importance to our dogs. The tongue is a sustainer of life, an air conditioner, a bath, a former of bonds and a great communicator. The tongue is a muscle that really pulls its weight!


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