Muzzle Grab Behavior in Canids

Muzzle grab in adult wolves (photo by Monty Sloan).

A “Muzzle grab” is a common behavior shown by social canines, e.g. wolves (Canis lupus lupus), dingoes (Canis lupus dingo), and dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)The function of this behavior is to confirm a relationship rather than to settle a dispute. The more self-confident individual will muzzle grab a more insecure opponent and thus assert its social position. The more insecure individual does not resist the muzzle grab. On the contrary, it is often the more insecure individual that shows submissive behavior by literally inviting its opponent to muzzle grab it. Even though we sometimes see this behavior at the end of a dispute, wolves and dogs only use it toward individuals they know well (pack members) almost as way of saying  “You’re still a cub (pup).” The dispute itself does not tend to be serious, just a low-key challenge, normally over access to a particular resource. Youngsters, cubs and pups sometimes solicit adults to muzzle grab them. This behavior appears to be reassuring for them, a means of saying, “I’m still your cub (pup).”

Dog muzzle grab.

Dogs also show the muzzle grab behavior (photo by Marco de Kloet).

The muzzle grab behavior emerges early on. Canine mothers muzzle grab their puppies (sometimes accompanied by a growl) to deter them from suckling during weaning. Cubs and pups also muzzle grab one another during play, typically between six and nine weeks of age. They probably learn through play that the muzzle grab is a good way of stopping an opponent from doing something. Cubs and pups also learn the importance of bite inhibition when showing muzzle grab. If they bite their opponent too hard, they will elicit a fight and will get hurt. A muzzle grab, therefore does not involve biting, just grabbing. This behavior helps develop a relationship of trust between both parties: “We don’t hurt one another.”

When used as a means of settling a dispute, a muzzle grab looks more violent and normally ends with the muzzle-grabbed individual showing passive submissive behavior. However, the participants very seldom get hurt, an occurrence that would counteract the function of the behavior itself.

Wolf cub muzzle grab

Cubs and pups muzzle grab one another during play (photo by Monty Sloan).

A muzzle grab requires self control. Higher ranking wolves and dogs muzzle grab their pack members (team mates) and by doing so confirm their rank and display self control. Lower ranking wolves and dogs invite muzzle grabbing behavior in order to confirm their acceptance of their social position and to reassure themselves that they are still accepted.

The muzzle grab behavior probably originated as both a form of maternal (and later paternal) behavior and as a play behavior amongst cubs. As it proved beneficial to all concerned, it became a factor for natural selection and spread from generation to generation, evolving in the same way as any other trait that increases the fitness of an individual.

In domestic dogs, when the puppies are five to seven weeks old, their mother muzzle grabs them regularly. At first, their mother’s behavior frightens them and they may whimper excessively, even if the mother has not harmed them in any way. Later on, when grabbed by the muzzle, the puppy immediately shows passive submission (lies down with its belly up). Previously, it was assumed that the mother needed to pin the puppy to the ground, but this is not the case as most puppies submit voluntarily. Over time, this behavior pattern assumes variations. Wolf cubs and puppies often invite the alpha male (leader of the pack) as well as other adults to grab them by the muzzle. They solicit a demonstration of their elders’ superiority and self control, whilst at the same time they show their acceptance and submission. This is the most reassuring behavior an adult dog can show a puppy.

Domestic dogs sometimes approach their owners puffing to them gently with their noses. By grabbing them gently around the muzzle, we reaffirm our acceptance of them, our self-control and our control of the environment in general. After being muzzle grabbed for a while, the dog will normally show a nose lick, maybe yawn and then walk calmly away. It’s like the dog saying, “I’m still your puppy” and the owner saying, “I know and I’ll take good care of you.”

The muzzle grab behavior can be difficult to classify. Some researchers classify it as social behavior, others as agonistic behavior and a third group places it in the distinct category of pacifying behavior. Since the function of this behavior is primarily to confirm a relationship between two individuals, this author classifies it as social behavior.

As always, have a great day!

R—

Related articles
Advertisements

Dogs And Children

Dogs And ChildrenDogs And Children

Children and dogs in the same household equals many moments of joy for the whole family, dogs included. There are a few considerations that parents should bear in mind and a few rules that children and dogs must learn. These rules are simple and easy to learn.

This book contains sound advice for parents and dog owners.

This little book was published in Danish by Borgen Publishers in 1986 as one in a series of five booklets that dealt with the most common questions asked by dog owners and the problems they ran into. It was never reprinted after the first edition of 25,000 copies sold out. It became since then a bit of a collector’s item.

“Dogs and Children” was published in Danish, Norwegian and Italian, and never translated into English until now. I have often been asked to write about dogs and children and I have done so occasionally in short articles and blogs, but the advice has never been published as a book, except for this booklet. The other day, whilst dusting off my books, I came across the five booklets and thought it would be a good idea to translate the original “Hund og Barn” into English. I have kept the original photos and layout and it is now available free of charge as a flip-page E-book.

The intention of this little book was to provide dog owners with sound advice that would help them prevent accidents from happening and, as such, I believe that it can still perform the same role today as it did 26 years ago.

Click the full-screen view icon for better reading. Zoom in and out as you please.

 

Sorry, this book is no longer available here. Please, visit Ethology Institute’s Online Bookstore.

 

Related articles