Why Do Dogs Give Kisses

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Introduction

We love to show affection to our pets, and it would seem they like to respond to us in kind. Nothing gives us more pleasure than the over-the-top welcome home greetings we receive when we walk through the door after a long, hard day at work. Still, are those happy little licks actually kisses? Canine behavior is often far more complex than meets the eye. Though we attribute our dog's frequent "face washing" to giving us kisses, it's far more likely that there is more to it than that. Nonetheless, whatever the cause, we love it, and it's not a behavior that most families want to discourage. The human-animal bond is a very precious one, and things like "kissing" help us to feel special and connected to our beloved furry companions. Yet it is interesting to explore this topic further to really understand the motivations behind this unique behavior. What is it that motivates our dogs to express themselves in this way? Is there something our dogs are trying to tell us through this action?

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The Root of the Behavior

Some owners love it; others try to discourage it, but one thing is for certain, our dogs like to lick us. Whether it is your face, your hands, or even your feet, dogs like to give us the the full licking treatment. Because dogs cannot speak to us, they communicate with us in a number of different ways. Licking is one of the first experiences a puppy shares with his mother. Mother dogs lick their puppies to stimulate them to urinate and defecate as well as to clean them in the early stages of life. It is an important part of the proper care and nurturing process for neonates. When the puppies are older and able to begin the transition from nursing to food, puppies will often lick their mother's mouth to indicate to her that they are hungry. Mother dogs will often ingest then chew food thoroughly, so they can provide a mush-like substance suitable for their puppies to eat since young puppies lack the requisite tooth and jaw strength and fully developed digestive system to tackle solid foods on their own. In later stages of puppyhood, licking becomes a sign of welcome as well as one of deference.  

Puppies use licking as means of communicating to older and more unfamiliar dogs that they mean the dog no harm, and they will submit to their leadership. It is also not uncommon to see adult dogs licking or "grooming" each other.  In this particular action, it is generally a subordinate dog that will groom the face of a dog with a higher position in the pack. So, how does this translate to the way our dogs interact with us? There is definitely a correlation between these early behaviors and how our dogs use them to communicate with us. Dogs have no choice but to use the only language they know to share information with their caretakers. Canine language is incredibly expressive, and we can learn a great deal from observing it.It is entirely possible that when our dogs lick our faces they are expressing to us that they mean us no harm and that they want to safely interact with us. Dogs also communicate to their humans their anticipation of food through licking. Why? It is a learned dog behavior, but it is also an easily discernible means to get the desired result. 

Encouraging the Behavior

What we can't dismiss is the importance of positive reinforcement. Dogs respond well to both praise and toy and food rewards for behaviors. The leading dog training methodologies of the day embrace these developments and use them to encourage behaviors we like and minimize ones that we don't. Licking is something that we can easily condition our dogs to do. If we express joy when a dog exhibits a behavior, we increase the likelihood that the dog will repeat that behavior for us. However, displeasure does not necessarily seem to decrease the frequency of the action. Licking is not a "trick" we teach our dogs. It is rather a means of expression for them. As a result, it is nearly impossible to stop altogether. It can, however, be redirected if licking is unpleasant for the owner. There are other plausible theories regarding why our dogs choose to interact with us through licking. Since our skin tastes salty, it is entirely possible that dogs lick us because we taste good to them. Don't let this alarm you. Fido is not interested in having you as a snack! Salt is an appealing taste to many dogs just as we enjoy licking salt and butter off corn on the cob. 

Licking is also a very soothing behavior for a dog. Many dogs engage in it because it provides great comfort and stress relief for them.You may also have noticed that dogs like to lick wounds. Dog saliva contains properties that promote cleanliness and healing. It is one of the reasons dogs like to lick their own wounds and even groom themselves. They are easily able to wick away dirt and debris from their own skin and to remove troublesome bacteria. It is even possible that your dog thinks you could use a little freshening up, so he is helping you along!

Other Solutions and Considerations

Still, we can't get away from the thought that dogs DO enjoy the closeness they experience with us through licking. It is soothing for the dog and it increases the human-canine bond for many owners and their pets. Whether you choose to limit this behavior or encourage it is a personal choice. It can easily be encouraged through positive reinforcement in the form of praise or other material rewards. Discouraging the behavior is more challenging, but the simplest method to do is to redirect the behavior to a toy or other rewarding treat or challenge.

The most important thing to take away from the act of your dog licking you is that your dog is trying to tell you something. Pay attention to the times he licks you and the frequency and intensity he uses when doing so. All of these things are clues to what your dog is looking for from you. Since dogs cannot speak to us, they use the language they have to tell us their needs, and it is our job to listen and provide for them as best we can. 

Conclusion

Is your dog a kisser? Licking or kissing can be one of our favorite ways of interacting with our dogs. Whether your dog is hoping for a snack, trying to give you a quick clean up before dinner, or letting you know that he's very happy you're home, licking is a wonderful communication tool for our dogs. Take the time to understand what your dog is trying to tell you to promote a strong and close bond with him. Who knows? Maybe a dog kiss a day keeps the doctor away!