Can Dogs Feel Human Kisses?

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Introduction

The cuteness factor is real! You can't say you've ever seen a snuggly, tail-wagging fur baby and NOT wanted to just kiss their squishy face. Giving kisses is a very human way of expressing love to our dogs. But does your pooch understand what smooches really mean? 

As it turns out, dogs don't really know at first, but they can come to learn kisses as a gesture of our everlasting affection. So, let's look at the facts behind the lovin' and learn how our pooches really feel kisses.

Signs Your Dog Can Feel Human Kisses

For the most part, dogs are quite responsive to human affection. Your pup may jump up on you or your lap, or even lick you back immediately after hearing kissing noises. It is important to ensure that your pup's body language suggests a relaxed state of mind. 

Inevitably, not all dogs are created equal, and while some pups may love being hugged, kissed and nuzzled, others may not enjoy those kinds of close interactions. Try to take notice of when your pup does and does not want smooches and cuddling. 

Understanding your pup's behaviors and knowing if kisses are welcome could make the difference between a healthy cuddle or going to the doctor's office. We have to remember that hugging and kissing are not innate behaviors to dogs, and it may take some time for your sweet pup to understand your expressions of love.

Body Language

There are some subtle warning sings you can look out for to determine whether your pup is less comfortable with nuzzles and kisses:
  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Head turning
  • Ears back

Other Signs

If these subtle signs are ignored, they may escalate to:
  • Air snaps
  • Leaving the room
  • Eventual biting


The Science Behind Dogs Feeling Human Kisses

So why do we like to kiss our pups anyway?

Pooches have something called "neotenous traits." From the Greek origin, neos means "young" and teinein means "to extend." Together, this means your pup has an extension of young or juvenile traits. This "extension of juvenile traits" refers to the retention of baby-like features (think large, bulging eyes, or itty bitty noses). Sometimes referred to as the "cuteness factor," neotenous traits make us gush over our pups because they are just so adorable and need our care. So from an evolutionary standpoint, it is in our DNA to see these cute doggos as irresistible! 

Even further, there is a hormone we produce called oxytocin. Studies have shown that every time we look into our puppy dog's eyes, this hormone is released. This is the same urge we get when we see an adorable baby, and just want to squeeze its cheeks! One expert has even gone so far to say that dogs originally "hijacked the human bonding system" which ultimately helped lead to their domestication!

However, dogs do not have an innate understanding of kisses. We may see dogs lick one another, and it is true that slobbery licking and nose bumping are how dogs interact affectionately. A puppy's first experience is likely being licked by its mother after birth. But while dogs tend to lick one another, these gestures are not necessarily kisses as us humans understand them to be. 

For instance, dogs will lick each other to express affection, to show submission, and to gather information; not primarily to express love. Even further, when a dog licks itself or another fur-baby, endorphins are released. These stress-relieving hormones make licking a pleasant experience and encourages dogs to lick over and over again.

Humans and dogs simply have different methods of communication. The language our pups "speak" does not include kisses in the same understanding as humans know and relate to. Dogs often share gestures of affection, like rubbing against each other or licking each other in a social way. However, most dogs are adept at figuring out what our human communications mean; a trait they have developed through domestication.

Training Your Dog to Feel Human Kisses

Although dogs don't necessarily understand our human modes of communication, it is possible to teach your pup how to "kiss" you.

Dogs are able to study our body language and vocal inflections, learning how to recognize these behaviors. Most dogs are simply interested in our attention, so basically any encouragement will cause them to come nuzzle any part of you that is available for nuzzling. 

You can train your pup to "kiss" you, with either a lick or a nuzzle by holding a treat near your face (or what you want nuzzled) and encouraging your pup to lick it. You can even smear a bit of peanut butter on your cheek to encourage your pup to lick you (what dog has ever resisted peanut butter!?). As soon as your dog understands what you want, you can try adding the command, " Give kisses."

For those pups that are well-behaved and receptive to human kisses, it's best to remain calm, as our energy can be perceived by our pups. A calmer, confident energy could reassure a dog that tends to be more skittish and wary.  

Remember that the more kissing exposure that is given to your pup, the easier it will be for your pup to enjoy human affection. Exposure can normalize the behavior as non-threatening, and encourage your pup to be receptive to "Give kisses."

Safety Tips For Kissing Your Dog:

  • Never kiss unknown dogs.
  • Understand that most dogs don't like cuddles during meal time.
  • Remember that not all dogs like having their faces close to human faces. If your pup feels threatened by a human face up close, do not force them to lean in and kiss you.
  • If a pooch isn't into "giving kisses," they will give you warning signs such as turning their head, whining, or growling.
  • Children specifically should be taught the warning signals of a dog not into giving kisses!