For dogs, the tongue is one of the primary instruments by which they interact with the environment. Licking is just another way dogs communicate with each other and sometimes with their owners as well. Have you ever noticed how your pup’s kisses tend to increase in number and energy in the morning? Dogs are creatures of habit and they will reinforce their behavior based on the response they get from you. But why do they feel the need to lick more in the morning? Let’s see where this behavior originates from and what you should do about it in return.
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The Root of the Behavior
Whether in the wild, on the city streets, or just lounging around the house with their human owners, dogs lick for various reasons. Licking is a natural behavior which begins in puppyhood. The mother licks her litter to communicate with her new puppies, stimulate them to start breathing, and also to clean them. The same behavior can be found in the wild, where pups lick around the mother's mouth as newborns, as a form of social bonding as well as for grooming. Adult dogs may also lick each other during social interactions in order to communicate their desire to “reconcile.” At the same time, they might do it to show a submissive attitude. This means that the subordinate members of a pack will lick the more dominant members in order to “keep the peace.” How about licking your face in the morning?
Well, apart from greeting you with a “good morning” or “hello,” dogs will lick your face simply because… they like the way you taste. Your skin secretes sweat and oil during sleep and your pup may become very drawn to the taste of salty skin. So he jumps right at your face, trying to shower you with his affection. If you respond positively or negatively to the behavior, you reinforce this type of reaction, so don’t expect him to grow out of it anytime soon. It’s their way of showing affection as well as an effective way of getting your attention. Another reason dogs do this is because you might have food remnants on your face, which they can easily taste and smell, regardless of whether you are aware of them or not. This can also apply to wearing potentially tasty creams or lotions, as you’re getting ready to go to work. They can immediately sense the new “flavors” and will probably… go for a kiss.
Encouraging the Behavior
As we mentioned earlier, whatever you reinforce will continue. In other words, if you respond to your puppy’s morning kisses with giggles and hugs, you can expect the same type of reaction with each new sunrise. Whether you are a huge fan of them or prefer not to engage your dog in this type of activity, can also depend on the breed of your pup. For example, a Chihuahua or a Yorkshire Terrier kiss will feel completely different than that of a very large dog like a Newfoundland or Great Dane.
Either way, you need to make sure not to inadvertently reinforce this behavior so that it becomes excessive. It can be detrimental to both you and your pup. If it limits your enjoyment of time spent with your dog or vice versa, then it should probably stop. The best you can do is try to ignore the behavior and only allow kisses when asked for. Yes, this can be tough to achieve but it’s worth it in the long run. Consider the fact that this will also have an impact on his socialization and the way other people respond to his kisses. If he can’t control his reactions whenever someone new approaches he will most likely end up being avoided.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Once again… training can do wonders. If you notice your dog is becoming a kissing fanatic, you can start to teach or reinforce basic behaviors such as sit, down and hand targeting. This will be especially helpful in maintaining control over your pup’s reactions and also, a way to help your dog build confidence in itself and in his relationship with you. Some people suggest less confident dogs are more likely to lick people excessively, so you should teach your pup to respond reliably to your requests. Most of all, be calm and patient with your little furry friend and never reject their affection by using a reprimand.
From self-grooming to displaying affection, dogs lick to communicate their feeling and emotions towards the environment as well as their owners. Yes, your pup’s kisses are the sweetest, but sometimes it can just get to be too much for some people. The best you can do is ignore them and walk away. Eventually they will learn to stop and you will be… kiss free.