You are sitting on your cozy couch, watching a movie and stuffing your face with salted popcorn, essentially minding your own business when suddenly your four-legged couch companion decides to give you a big, wet smooch on your face. Clearly a display of affection, you decide to get up close and personal too and reciprocate by licking your furry buddy back. His response? Rejection or even worse - aggression. There are several reasons why dogs don’t like it when you lick them back, to avoid confusion and potentially getting physically hurt it is best to keep the behavior a one-way street.
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The Root of the Behavior
It can sometimes be difficult to draw the line when it comes to cuddles and closeness with our canine companions. They are so adorable and show their pet parents so much love and affection that it can sometimes even tempt them to mirror their four-legged family member’s behavior. Even though, despite the human curiosity, in the majority of cases, the behavior should not be mirrored. Licking your pet back is a prime example of said behavior. To help us understand why it is wrong to reciprocate certain canine behavior we need to acknowledge that human psychology and dog psychology is different, thus different actions mean and represent different things. In the dog world, face licking is a sign of submission and a show of respect to the pack leader. If you live in a multiple dog household you might have seen this behavior occur between the pet siblings. In most households, there is a clear dominant, alpha-dog or pack leader. This is the dog that all the other dogs follow, respect and submit to.
One of the ways they show their submissiveness is by licking the alpha’s face and making themselves smaller in his presence. The alpha dog never reciprocates the licking as it would lower his rank in the pack and invite the other dogs to challenge him as a leader. Regardless of whether your furball has canine siblings or is just a part of the human family, there is always a pack leader and in most cases, it is the dog’s owner. Since your dog most likely views you as the alpha of the house, he will occasionally lick or attempt to lick your face to show his respect. It might be tempting to return the favor, especially since it seems like an equivalent of high-fiving someone back or reciprocating a greeting kiss on the cheek. Unfortunately, it is not. On the contrary, your dog will most likely get incredibly confused by the situation and not enjoy you licking him back. Moreover, it can completely throw him off, surprise and frustrate him and even result in an unexpected display of aggression.
Encouraging the Behavior
Needless to say, licking your dog back is highly discouraged. Not only will it create confusion, it will also put your relationship in an unfamiliar place or an unchartered territory and even weaken your bond. Dogs communicate through non-verbal cues that are different than a human’s way of communicating. In addition, domesticated dogs are smart enough to realize that we are different from each other and don’t expect mirrored behavior. For example, dogs love to smell each other’s rear ends and smell their owner’s private parts as well whenever they get the chance. That is because they have an incredibly advanced sense of smell and can gather a lot of valuable information through their sniffing.
But our canine companions never get upset that we don’t greet them in the same way, do they? Similarly, dogs will lick their owners to show their submissiveness and expect a pat back or a treat, not a lick that means entirely something else in their language. Licking your dog back will lower your rank and enable him to challenge you as the pack leader of the house. This can completely throw off the dynamics of your relationship, even more so if there is more than one dog in the house. When a dog stops viewing you as his leader but more of an equal or a submissive, he will also stop listening to you. This can lead to further behavioral problems and result in aggression. If you don’t hold the dominant role in the household, consult a professional dog trainer who will help you establish your rank.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In addition to creating confusion, licking your dog can be extremely dangerous. No matter how close you and your canine buddy are, a lick from his owner can be quite unexpected. Unfortunately, a surprised dog is a fearful dog and a fearful dog can become an aggressive dog at a moment’s notice. For your own safety, respect your dog’s personal space, avoid ever lowering your face to your dog’s level or leaning over your dog. Another reason you should avoid licking your dog back is that it is not sanitary and can lead to serious infections. The same goes for sharing an ice-cream cone with your dog or any other snack. Instead, show your affection through petting, belly rubbing, and playing with your dog. Taking long walks together is also another way you can take care of your pet and his health without compromising your own.
As counter-intuitive as it may be to us, dogs really don’t expect or like it when you lick them back.Understanding and respecting mutual boundaries and reading the non-verbal communication cues are two essential elements required to maintain a healthy and balanced relationship with your furry four-legged friend. In case you have doubts or questions about canine behavior, don’t hesitate to contact a veterinarian or a dog trainer in your area who will be able to provide you with a professional opinion and guidance.