Speaking in Tongues

Full Title: Speaking in Tongues

Author: Ashley Stroud

Date of Publication: April 6, 2023

PDF: https://petmassage.com/wp-content/uploads/Speaking-in-Tongues.pdf

Research Paper Text:

Speaking in Tongues
Ashley Stroud
April 27, 2023

Lap, lap, lapping up a cool bowl of water.

Panting in your face after a good game of tug.
Getting those last hard to reach tasty bits of peanut butter in the food puzzle. And who doesn’t love an exuberant slobbery kiss?!

That seemingly inert moist glob that is the amazing canine tongue is such an active background soundtrack to our lives with dogs, it’s easy to forget it is actually a complex muscle that is acutely connected to our dog’s health that can give us clues to behavior state and overall well-being.

In general, healthy tongues are moist and bubble gum pink. There are exceptions to note such as benign pigmentation spots which may appear in any breed, and the required breed standard of a blue/black tongue in Chow Chow and Shar-Pei, but let’s take an even closer look.

The main life-functions of the canine tongue are: moving food and water to the esophagus, aid in mastication, panting, and interacting with their world. A canine tongue is comprised primarily of skeletal muscle, nerves, mucous membrane, and vessels (2). It can also be described as intrinsic muscles (the muscles of the tongue itself) and extrinsic muscles (the muscles that 1 attach the tongue to structures). Its highly vascularized with the main blood supply being the lingual artery, as well as the tonsillar branch of the facial artery and ascending artery. At the most basic anatomical level it consists of a root, long body, and apex, with a dorsal and ventral side (1). The root is attached to the hyoid bone and the mandible via the hyoglossus and genioglossus muscle. The free, dorsal side is divided in two by the median groove. This side is also where the papillae are located which assist in taste, temperature, and touch response itself.

There are many nerves affecting the tongue; for a more complete view of cranial nerve roots please see attached plate from Dog Anatomy: a coloring atlas Plate 80. Some major nerves to note include (2):
glossopharyngeal nerve: taste and touch

hypoglossal nerve: motor function to muscles of tongue

facial nerve: chorda tympani branch joins lingual nerve and senses taste, motor to lacrimal and salivary glands
trigeminal nerve: sensory touch to the tongue and motor to mastication muscles

While technically the tongue CAN be palpated, it is generally not appreciated by your canine client. Being housed in the mouth, which may contain up to 42 teeth, it also may not be safe to palpate or physically handle the tongue. We can however use our powers of observation to glean information about our canine client’s state by taking a moment to consider the nuanced tongue as we go about the business of providing them with aquatic bodywork.

According to Four Paws Five Directions “the tongue is a visual gateway to the interior of the body. The whole body ‘lives’ on the tongue, rather like a hologram”(5)

Color, shape, and texture all give vital information to the state of your canine client. How is the dog holding their tongue…

Is it lolling out the side? Is it slightly curled or spatulate at the end as the dog heavily pants? Is it tucked securely inside a mouth that has tightening at the corners? What color is it—dark pink or purple? Grey? Bubblegum pink?
What texture is it…moist and shiny, dry, cracked?
As they breath in and out, what does their breath and mouth smell like?

How has the tongue position and color changed as you’ve moved though the bodywork session? Has their breathing changed throughout the session?

What are they trying to communicate to you the practitioner, with their tongue?

Licking of the mouth (YOUR mouth) is an indication of submissiveness. Licking their own lips or smcking/chewing motions also “indicate submissiveness, willingness to learn, and to join up with the pack.”(4)

“When he feels discomfort or anxiety when you are working on a particular area, he will distract himself by stimulating another part of his anatomy, licking, or scratching. The licking distraction gives him a sense of comfort and control and can become addictive.”(4) This can lead to self-mutilation.

While we may not be able to directly massage the canine tongue, often form follows function. Remember those basic life functions mentioned earlier? The tongue’s extrinsic muscles have a direct connection to the throat, jaw, palate, and head.
“…dysfunction of activity can occur when either the position of the tongue is disturbed, when structures attaching to the tongue are compromised, or when the tongue’s neurological pathways are adversely stressed.”(3) By providing relief and restoring balance where possible to compromised areas via bodywork, we can have a chain reaction to the form and function of surrounding areas and those further down the chain, like the humble tongue!


1. Anatomylearner.com Dog Tongue Anatomy
2. Dog Anatomy: a coloring atlas Plate 51,80
3. Massagemag.com The Tongue: how cranial sacral therapy can help this important muscle
4. Four Paws Five Directions pgs 47-50


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