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Yes, Dogs Can Have A Satisfied Look on Their Face!

Among the many fascinating behaviors and facial expressions dogs engage in, the consummatory face deserves a place of honor. While you may have never heard the term "consummatory face" before, you have likely stumbled on this facial expression at some point or another, but perhaps never gave it much thought. Becoming more aware of a dog's consummatory face though is not only interesting, but also helpful as it makes us more observant of our dog's body language. It's one of those things worthy of mentally bookmarking it and providing it a spot in our virtual library of the curious things dogs do.

dog eating

A Matter of Satisfaction

What exactly does consummatory mean? The term derives from the Latin word consummatus, the past participle of consummare which means "to finish up, complete."What exactly do dogs have to finish up or complete? It's not like dogs have to finish up their homework or a complete any housecleaning chores as humans do!

When the term consummatory behavior is applied to animal behavior it's mostly associated with the achievement of a goal; whereas, the process of achieving the goal is referred to as appetitive behavior. Intrigued? More "official" definitions below from Dictionary.com.

If these terms make you hungry and think about food, you aren't on the wrong path; indeed, these terms are inspired by the act of eating. Appetitive comes from appetite, and consummatory comes from finishing up, which is why we often say "to consume a meal" or finish up food.

So if we now think about a dog's consummatory face, we can deduce it must have something to do with the dog's sense of satisfaction derived from achieving a goal, so next, let's discover some instances when dogs would feel satisfied.

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Consummatory behavior: "abehaviorpatternthatoccursinresponsetoastimulusandthat achievesthesatisfactionofaspecificdrive,astheeatingofcaptured preybyahungrypredator."

Appetitive behavior: "activitythatincreasesthelikelihoodofsatisfyingaspecificneed,as restlesssearchingforfoodbyahungrypredator." ~Dictionary.com

Achievement of Goals

Dogs don't write down their future goals on a planner as their lives for the most part revolve in the present, but for sure there are sure many little things they gotta work for, but they're mostly down to earth plans with nothing really fancy. Many of a dog's daily "goals" revolve in engaging in feel-good activities and making slightly discomforting sensations go away.

Basically, all things that are pleasurable and activities that make discomfort go away are reinforcing. Ever felt the pleasure of eating something really good or the relief of calming those hunger pangs when you haven't eaten for a while? The relieving sensation of urinating when you have a full bladder? Or defecating when you gotta go bad? Or taking a bath after a workout? Or making an annoying itch go away by reaching for the back scratcher? For sure you have!

When you achieve these little "goals" on a daily basis you must feel good afterward. Dogs are the same way, eating, urinating, defecating, scratching an itch and rolling in poop after a bath (yes, 'cause those baths we give dogs to make them smell good to us, takes their cherished doggy smell away!) are all activities that makes dogs feel good.

consummatory face in wolf while eating, fox 1969

That Satisfied Look

As with other types of body language in dogs such as whale eyes or inguinal presentation, the consummatory face must have some distinguishing traits, so how can it be described?

M. W. Fox described it as keeping "the ears partially flattened and the eyes either narrowed or completely closed, or opened and fixed in a "middle distance" stare or glazed daydream."

Dr. Bonnie B. Beaver in her book "Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers" describes it as a dog having "ears partially flattened and eyes partially or fully closed, a pleasure face."

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If dogs could talk, they would likely say something in the terms of: "Ahhhh.... this feels so good!"

When Does it Happen?

consummatory face

You were likely not imagining things when you thought you caught a satisfied look on your dog's face when you found him rolling in poop. Consummatory faces are likely to occur when a dog engages in a variety of relaxing, pleasurable activities as long as they're not disturbed by distracting stimuli around them.

You're therefore likely to see this expression when your dog eats, pees, poops, rolls and rubs in stinky things, says Michael Fox in the book "Behaviour of Wolves Dogs and Related Canids"--well he used a more professional language in the book really, but you get the point!

Barbara Handelman in the educational book "Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook" points out that it can be seen when the dog "satisfyingly scratches a particularly itchy itch" and keeps the head tilted upwards, the lips drawn back, the ears relaxed along with squinty eyes.

Five Squinty- Eyed Dogs Saying Yes, That's The Spot!

That feels soooo good, says Chester!

That feels soooo good, says Chester!

Yes, that's the spot! says Huey

Yes, that's the spot! says Huey

Ahhhh.. these massages turn me into putty! says Frank.

Ahhhh.. these massages turn me into putty! says Frank.

kodiak

A soft bed of grass and a belly rub, I couldn't ask for more!" says Kodiak

Nobody available to scratch my back? I'll take care of it, says Laika.

Nobody available to scratch my back? I'll take care of it, says Laika

Did you know? Squinting in dogs, "the way you might squint when you smile, generally reflects relaxation or happy excitement" says dog trainer Jolanta Benal.

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References:

  • Fox, M.W. (1970). A comparative study of the development of facial expression in canids. Behaviour, 36, 49 - 73.
  • Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, By Bonnie V. G. Beaver
  • Behaviour of Wolves Dogs and Related Canids, by Michael Fox, Dogwise Classics Edition: 1971 E Book, 217 pages
  • Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook, by Barbara Handelman, Distributed by Dogwise Publishing
    Edition: 2008 Paperback, 386 pages.
  • Appetitive behavior. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from Dictionary.com website
  • Consummatory behavior. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved April 29, 2016 from Dictionary.com website

Photo Credits:

  • My Favorite Pet Sitter, Chester loves a back scratch, Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Wayne Silver, Huey, Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Tony Alter, Frank turning to putty, Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Eileen, Kodiak savoring the belly rub--adopted! Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0
  • Mike M, Scratching Her Back. Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0

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