Why Does Your Dog Kiss You?
I enjoy cuddling up with my dog, just like so many other dog owners. What I don’t like is dogs licking people around the face. However, there are a lot of dog owners that want this too. We know it is common for people to share their affection through hugs and kisses, but is it natural for dogs to cuddle and kiss and do they enjoy the experience? Why does my dog lick me?
To get an answer to this, we have to watch our dog and observe their behaviour. The question we need to ask ourselves is “what is our dog communicating when demonstrating this behaviour?”
Often we as dog owner treat and interpret our dog’s actions as humans this is anthropomorphism. When a dog licks people, they often say they are being “kissed”. My first response is what has that dog possibly been doing only moments before, eating a dead rotting carcass whilst outside, eating other animal faeces, or licking parts of their body you wouldn’t want your face near.
Do you still want your dog licking your face or the face of someone close to you?
Here are some reasons that dogs lick each other and humans.
It is a natural thing for dogs to do. Some people have observed puppies of dogs and wolves. Puppies lick their parents around the mouth. Some say it is effection others say submission. Most agree it is related to cleaning and eating. The parent may have food around their mouth, which the puppy cleans or eating. Whatever the reason for this behaviour, it is an instinct that puppies display from an early age.
As the action of licking is instinct, it is possible to teach a dog to associate something positive to “licking”, so they then lick when they feel a certain way, or are stimulated in a given way. If you link the action to affection, you can teach a dog to “lick” or “Kiss” as an affectionate act; to receive positive attention from an individual.
Learning Experience about the world around them.
Dogs senses are different and more acute than ours, and they use them to their best advantage. We all know a dogs sense of smell is acute; sniffing is used by dogs to learn about their environment, and so is licking. When a dog licks your face they can create a picture of what you have been doing without them, for example, your dog can tell what you had for lunch, and who you had lunch with, what perfume they wore and much more, especially when you acknowledge they smell you at the same time.
The bottom line is dogs are curious, and can’t ask questions; they gather information through their senses.
Dogs lick to greet each other, and you.
Dogs will lick each other as a way to say hello, just as we may shake hands. When you are walking your dog, and you meet another dog, you can observe this behaviour. This behaviour can also so hierarchy and who is the dominant dog and which is more submissive.
It is interesting to watch your dog interact with other dogs. You can learn a lot about how dogs communicate and how dog forms their communities or relationships. As dogs may use “Licking as a method of demonstrating submission, they may be doing that to you.
A method of dogs demonstrating affection towards each other.
We can’t deny that dog do lick each other, and it isn’t a sign of aggression, so we could assume it is a sign of affection. If it is a sign of love, there is an argument that dogs do “kiss” by “licking.”
We need to be careful when making these assumptions because the communication between dogs is much more complicated than what I have just stated. The outcome could be severe if we misinterpret their communication. As you lean forward to engage your dog, believing it is communicating one message and you’re mistaken you may be leaning in and are bitten.
They are preventing a violent confrontation.
As I already mentioned, a submissive dog might lick a more dominant dog. A dog may be sending out a message. The dog’s statement could be they submit and don’t want to fight. Dogs may communicate in this way to de-escalate a situation preventing a fight.
Dogs are often emotionally charged when they “lick” especially If the dog is stressed. Licking may indicate levels of discomfort and anxiety, that could be one step away from a bite. You should bear this in mind when your dog is near children. It is not good practice to allow children to hug, kiss and squeeze your dog or any other dog with whom they may have contact. I often see problems like this with family dogs. The owner will say the dog is fine; it likes it, then suddenly the person hugging or squeezing the dog get bitten.
They Enjoy it.
The action of licking causes a dog to have a release of endorphins; this makes licking a pleasurable experience.
When people go out for a run, they also get endorphins released, and exercise becomes pleasurable. People are known to become addicted to the release of these endorphins. Dogs are no different, and they can become addicted to endorphins. The result is they develop nuisance behaviours surrounding licking. They don’t need to exert themselves and go for a run lick your face,
As I have already mentioned, licking can mean more than one thing. You must observe your dog and see the context of what your dogs licking means in a given situation. One of the negative reasons for licking is stress.
Licking can be a de-escalation technique used by dogs in a stressful situation. If you aren’t observant around your dog in this situation, you could develop further problems of aggression.
Licking when a dog is stressed can be a signal they want you to move away, and they want to be left alone.
The Big Question is…
The big question you should be asking is what is my dog thinking when it wants to lick/kiss someone.? Looking at the above reasons for licking, and it is evident that it is part of a complex system of communication. Licking alone does not give you an answer.
The next question I would suggest asking is, should I hug and kiss dogs? The answer is not straight forward. We all love to cuddle our dogs, and it is a good thing for our dogs and our mental health; when it comes to hugging strange dogs or strangers hugging our dogs, I don’t recommend it. As for licking and kissing, I could give similar advice, but I refer back to what I mentioned at the start of this article, regarding hygiene. Do you want a dog licking you on the face when it has had things in its mouth or lick parts of its body before licking your face?
Children should NEVER be allowed or encouraged to hug or kiss dogs.
It is easy for adults to miss the cues dogs give off. A child can easily miss warning signs. Especially when a child is excited and focused on hugging the dog; the dog’s boundaries are easily pushed too far, and the family pet who frequently hugs and kisses you may suddenly turn and bite the child.
Relationships between dogs and children can become a problem in a family home when your dog sees the child as a challenger. That challenge is for your attention. There is only one way to manage this risk, and it doesn’t matter how soft you believe your dog to be. All home should have a rule that interaction between dogs, children are supervised, and no one kisses the dog. Licking on the face is against house rules for everyone.
Can Dogs Be Taught To Enjoy Hugs & Kisses?
I am often asked, “Can Dogs Be Taught To Enjoy Hugs & Kisses?” It is a question I have to answer, but I don’t find it easy. The obvious answer would be, don’t do it, and I would stick to that concerning kissing a dog. But when we get a dog, it is to be a companion, and it offers so many benefits to hug and cuddle your dog. The benefits of hugs and stroking dogs for our mental health are remarkable if this is one of the purposes of your dog, which I guess it is for most people I would suggest getting a puppy or very young dog with a known background. You can teach these dogs to see giving and receiving kisses as a positive show of affection. Dogs adopted as adults from rescues/shelters, or even other private homes should be handled with care.
As for your child, you know their personality and how they interact with your dog. Only you know how they will interact with a dog. Just as all dogs can have a different temperament, so do children.
You will hear comments about specific breeds and that their taits mean that some dogs will NEVER enjoy receiving hugs and should never be around children. From my experience, this is not true. All dogs should be treated with the same amount of caution.
Dogs can learn from your positive feedback that you enjoy their licks and kisses. Dogs can understand that this is a positive and pleasurable experience for them and you. Positive reinforcement can achieve great things.
Enjoy your time with your dog and make all experiences positive for you and them.
Remember to stay safe.