The Sensibilities of the Spinone

Practical Applications for Nonverbal Intelligence and Spotting Emotions in Humans and Dogs

By David Schneer

4-Minute Read

Our last post on the (SMILING SHEEP) elicited a lot of reactions. Most readers believed Hettie is, most definitely, a happy Herdwick. If you liked Hettie, we think you’ll like Frodo and Florence—an Italian breed of hunting dog named, Spinone.

Frodo (an older male) and Florence (two-years old) reside with my friend Sarah-Jane, the CEO of GO-Global Outsourcing a provider of outsourced field sales. When she’s not helping her clients increase their field sales goals, Sarah-Jane also runs an organization called SOFA (Spinone Overseas for Adoption).

This is a charity organization that matches Spinone dogs with suitable homes. Many of the dogs are abandoned either because they show no aptitude for hunting or grow too old to hunt or breed. Like many dogs, Spinone are super emotive. Let me show you.

That’s Frodo with me at a local pub in England. Why was Frodo lip smacking with me (not advised after fish and chips and beer)? Was he being submissive? Enjoying the scent of my breath? Was this learned behavior reinforced from previous humans? Or was Frodo just elated to meet me?  I thought the latter, of course.

I’m no dog whisperer so we consulted Sarah-Jane’s friend Lucy, an animal behaviorist who indicated that I might as well have hung a T-Bone around my neck. That’s what Frodo was after, not me. He was “scenting”; that is, enjoying the smell of what I had just consumed.

Turns out dogs have a small organ, part of the olfactory system, in the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal organ. It’s pea-sized fluid-filled sack tucked in the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth with two tiny pin prick holes to allow scent particles in.  The two tubes leading from the holes go to the olfactory bulb to be processed. That’s right; when dogs lick, they are both tasting and smelling the scent. And during this behavior, you’ll notice a very delicate licking followed by a gentle chatter of the jaws (called flehmen)—it is a sign of arousal, as seen in the video.

This is Florence, a two-year old female Spinone rescued in Italy. She also lives with Sarah-Jane, who says this Diva can be a little moody. Below, Florence is showing signs of playfulness and attentiveness. See how her eyes are engaged and focused? Notice the tilted Head? These are the signs you want to see when interacting with someone.

Below, Florence is not a happy camper. Her eyes are lowered, and I swear I can see a pout, demonstrated by my colleague, Patryk. The context? Florence drew the short straw when asked to sit under the table (Frodo had a better seat with me):

But Frodo can also be a bit of a Drama King. Below he is angry, having been denied access to Sarah-Jane who was busy. See the glare, also demonstrated by my colleague Patryk?

So, the lesson here, if interacting with humans, keep a distance and brush your teeth. With dogs, this step is not necessary. And they will let you know. Nonverbally.

Most Communication is Nonverbal. Are you Fluent?