Happy National Slobber Appreciation Day: Let Dogs Enjoy It

November 16 is a special day for dogs. Let's delve into the science of slobber.

Posted Nov 16, 2017

Slobber and the science behind it

November 16 is National Slobber Appreciation Day, a very special day for dogs and some other animals, so let them do what they naturally do with no shame or excuses at all. We're quite serious about this. For the purposes of this brief celebratory essay we're using "slobbering" and "drooling" synonymously. 

Free images Dreamstime
Source: Free images Dreamstime

People often ask why do dogs slobber or drool. It's really something about which everyone who knows dogs has seen and often laughs at, but few truly appreciate or understand. All dogs drool so if you don’t like drool it’s best not to choose to share your home with a dog. Drool is just a fancy word for saliva, particularly saliva that’s no longer in the dog’s mouth but is collecting on your pant leg, your cheek, or a wall or floor under the dining room table. A dog’s salivary glands are constantly producing and excreting saliva into the mouth. The production of saliva increases when dogs smell or taste something enticing.

Some dogs drool on the run, when they're having a fit and engaged in zoomies, and they and their dog and humans friends often get splattered (for more details on this please see "It's OK For Dogs to Engage in Zoomies and Enjoy FRAPs" and links therein). Jethro, with whom Marc shared my home for more than 12 years, loved to share his slobber freely and with abandon. His dog friends didn't mind it at all, but some of human friends didn't like it very much. He also, on ocassion, expressed his anal gland when he was very excited, and his dog and human friends didn't much like this at all. These excretions from the opposite end of his body will be taken up in another essay. 

Drooling is a reflex, not a behavior

It turns out that drooling is a reflex and not a behavior per se. Dogs can’t help it, so it's best not to get mad at your dog for prancing around with drool icicles hanging from their lips or shaking their head and spreading it all over the place. Saliva also is a way for dogs to cool down and excessive salivating can indicate a problem with overheating. And while you can wipe down the dog’s face to minimize the mess, there’s no way to prevent it — dealing with drool is just part of caring for your pet.

There also are different techniques of slobbering or drooling including what's called "the Double Shoestring," which "takes a bit of practice to master, but some dogs are just gifted with the ability."  

Drooling is a normal part of being a dog

Dogs drool because they salivate. Drooling is a normal part of being a dog. Like human saliva, dog saliva helps dogs eat and digest so human companions shouldn’t get too upset by it. If you really don’t mind a little drool but don’t like a drool shower, you might avoid certain breeds of dog such as St. Bernards, mastiffs, bloodhounds, and newfoundlands. Dogs of these breeds have loose upper lips, or “flews,” and this anatomic abnormality causes them to drool a lot. 

When dogs drink, they often drool. This is a no-brainer, but there’s more to water and saliva dripping all over the place like icicles than their being uninhibited slobs. There’s normal drooling and there’s extra drooling, which might start dripping from a dog’s jowls when watching their human chow down on food. Saliva production is related to taste and touch sensations in the mouth and on the tongue which activate the part of the brain responsible for these activities.

The downside of drooling: Abnormal slobbering needs to be treated

While we often laugh when dogs are drooling like Niagara Falls, it’s important to know that excessive drool, or hypersalivation, can be a sign of a serious medical problem, such as periodontal disease, nausea, anxiety, oral or dental disease, or motion sickness. Drooling also be caused by pain or injury in the mouth that keeps the dog from swallowing. Ptyalism is the fancy word that veterinarians use to refer to excessive drooling. 

Are there solutions to drooling? Yes, you carry around a towel or bib to wipe the excess. But there's no reason to do anything drastic like buying your dog “mouth diapers” or having surgery to reshape their lips. Dogs should be free to drool normally. In fact, we can celebrate our dogs’ special talents today and all other days. 

All in all, drooling is something all dogs do and they can’t help it. It’s a waste of time to try to stop or to punish your dog for drooling because there isn’t anything they can do about it. It's good to know what a “normal” level of drool is for your own dog. If you see your dog drooling excessively or drool splatter increases in volume, please make an appointment with a veterinarian who can diagnose the situation.  

Let's appreciate dogs for who they are and offer an appropriate place for them to slobber when it gets too much for you to handle. It's a win-win for all concerned when we understand just what slobber is and when it can go wrong. Happy National Slobber Appreciation for all. 

Dog smarts, farts, and all things gassy

Please stay tuned for more on what we're learning about many different aspects of dog behavior including dog emotions and dog smarts, farts, and all things juicy and gassy, and for an essay on National Pass Gas Day that's celebrated on January 7. We know all too well that dogs and other animals, including humans, do indeed pass gas and sometimes they seem to enjoy doing it. Sometimes it freaks dogs out so that they look surprised, check out what's happening at their tail end, and jump up and chase their tail. But excessive gas, like excessive drooling, can mean something's not right.

This essay was written with Psychology Today writer Dr. Jessica Pierce