Dewlaps: They Have a Purpose

One feature that contributes to the “typiness” of certain breeds is the “dewlap.” Laymen will refer to it as the loose skin hanging around the neck and throat on breeds like the Basset Hound or Bloodhound, but other breeds have dewlaps, too, and they have a purpose.

Certain breeds, like Neapolitan Mastiffs, were once war dogs, and in those dogs, the loose folds served to protect the dog’s jugular vein in the throat.

In breeds that rely on scent, the dewlap helps trap smells. As the dog breathes in/out, his breath stirs up the dust, so to speak, and directs scent molecules towards the nose. The Clumber Spaniel’s standard addresses this: The Clumber “should have a long neck with some slackness of throat or presence of dewlap not to be faulted.”

In other breeds, such as the Saint Bernard, the loose skin provides a layer of fat as protection for the trachea in the winter. Extremely cold air is taken in and warmed to above freezing before it gets to the lungs or else the lung tissue could be damaged.

Virginia Devaney and Beth Harris wrote the following in Chapter 12 of the book, “The Complete Alaskan Malamute.” “This fatty dewlap warms the air descending to the lungs.  When a dog pants, air descends directly to the lungs.  The dewlap prevents the shock of cold air from being taken directly into the body.  The shock of cold air would injure the delicate lung tissues.When in repose, the dewlap is laid across the thorax, protecting the vital heart and lung area from the cold. Many dogs also fold their forelegs under the dewlap when in repose. Thereby keeping the forelimbs warm and preventing muscle damage that would occur should they become cold and the animal be required to work immediately.”

Dewslaps are sometimes called “chops” or ‘jowls,” but when a dog’s neck has no excess loose skin, it is called a ‘clean throat’ or ‘dry throat’ which is wholly appropriate in breeds where excess skin in the throat area would be considered a fault.

Image: Clumber Spaniel by Katja Turnsek
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6 thoughts on “Dewlaps: They Have a Purpose”

  1. if dewlaps protected jugular veins in dogs, fighting dog breeders wouldve bred them into their dogs. stop being silly

    • War dogs fought differently than dogs fighting in a pit where typically, the opponent went for the neck, and a snapping jaw could grasp one or both jugular veins starting distally at the base of the neck and moving towards the head. A bit of research suggests that war dogs in Constantine’s time primarily spooked, harassed, and bit at the legs of enemy horsemen, as well as the enemy himself.

  2. Imagine if a charger/ warhorse reached out to take a chunk out of a dog’s neck, with all that extra flesh, it could not find purchase except on the skin itself – and that would probably slip free of the horse’s bite

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