Web Only Article January 16, 2019

Dog Kisses: Is Your Dog Really Kissing You?

Experts weigh in on the meaning behind why dogs lick people.

You either love it or hate it: the wet, warm sensation of a dog licking your face. Many of us seek out this kind of interaction with our dogs (sometimes much to the horror of onlookers) while others try to discourage the behavior. Many dog lovers attribute a lot of meaning to dogs licking us, especially if we’re the sort that enjoy it - we say our dogs are giving us kisses and we interpret that as a sign of affection, but are dog kisses really a sign of affection? Or are they just after the leftovers we forgot to wipe off our chins?

dog kisses

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Chair of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers Nick Hof, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, KPA-CTP, CSAT, explains there are a lot of reasons why dogs lick people’s hands, feet or faces. It might mean your dog wants to show you affection, but it could also be because you taste good or that your dog is struggling with compulsive behavior.

dog kissing feet

If your dog is a foot-licker, chances are he just likes to taste the salt on them.

If you are wearing sweet-scented lotion, or come home sweaty, your dog might be licking you because you taste good. I know my own dogs are very excited to lick my hands if I’ve been eating something greasy or salty, like potato chips. Hof mentions that dog guardians shouldn’t be alarmed by their dogs finding them delicious – they probably won’t take a bite out of you!

While most of the time dog kisses aren’t anything to be concerned about, Hof warns there are times when the kissing might be a sign of something else going on with your dog. He advises that there might be an underlying health issue “if the licking seems to be compulsive, excessive, or self-destructive; if it is difficult to redirect your dog or they are harming themselves, you should consult with your veterinarian for help addressing this issue.”

dog chewing paw

This kind of destructive licking and/or chewing warrants a vet visit. It indicates a behavioral disorder or perhaps allergies.

Are Dog Kisses Actually Signs of Affection?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to dogs’ intentions when licking their people, but it seems to come down to whether your dog is seeking you out, or if you are seeking your dog out.

Hof explains, “It's helpful to look at the context of the licking to better understand and pay attention to other signals besides the licking or the kiss, such as the dog approaching the owner and choosing to engage in the behavior despite having the option to move away or leave; or was the dog thrust upon and looking away and licking his lips as well?” In other words, forced affection on the part of the guardian can warp the true intention of a dog’s kiss – a dog will “kiss” your face to appease you and make go away rather than to display their love for you.

dog kisses

Hof offers the following important reminder: “it's always best to invite your dog to approach you so that you feel more confident they've made that choice willingly. When you begin to respect your dog's autonomy, you see more comfort and confidence in their behavior.” What you can count on as a result is knowing the way your dog behaves with you is genuine.

For safety reasons (and this is a hard one for many of us who share our lives with dogs), Hof states that it is not recommended for people to put their faces up to their dogs’ faces. Although this is often done as a sign of affection from us, it is very commonly invasive to our dogs and they may not appreciate it. This is where we most often see dogs licking or "kissing" their person's face as a way for the dog to avoid conflict.

This "Kiss to Dismiss", as coined by the Family Paws Organization, is often paired with a look away from the person and licking of lips. If you would like to have a close moment with your dog, invite them to do so with you, and if they want to come up to your face, they will - but if not, respect it when they say ‘no’. Obviously we want our dogs to be comfortable so it’s important to be thoughtful of how we physically show emotions to our dogs, so that our dogs don’t feel pressured to appease us through kisses.

dog kisses

This dog is definitely not feeling affectionate right now: look at how the dog is looking away and licking her lips! The human's head is way too close for her comfort.

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Licking You

If your dog is prone to kisses and you or your family and guests aren’t fans of it, Hof explains the best thing you can do is to be proactive with training your dog.

“If you see them approaching and you know they're going to lick you, ask them to sit as they approach, then redirect their affection and energy onto a toy or other activity. If, when you sit down to watch TV, your dog tries to give you a tongue bath, give them a stuffed Kong or a bone to enjoy instead of your sweat or lotion.”

Getting ahead of the behavior is particularly important. “If you wait until they are already licking you to always redirect, you may inadvertently reinforce the licking behavior with a treat or chew,” Hof cautioned. Simply this means your dog may increase his licking in order to get the treats you were using to redirect the licking in the first place.

If you have a hard time redirecting your dog or discouraging licking behavior, it’s a good idea to talk with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to determine if there is something going on with your dog causing what might be obsessive licking behavior. Dog trainer Jill Breitner reminds us that, “Licking as in lip licking or tongue flicks are a sign of stress.” She also points out that it can happen quickly and that dog guardians may not even realize that their dog is stressed.

“Context is always key in decoding the emotional state of a dog,” explains Breitner, creator of the Dog Decoder App in collaboration with artist Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings. This interactive education app teaches users about canine body language and how to better read what your dog is telling you about their emotional wellbeing through body language. The app is available for iPhones and Androids.

Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author and Certified Trick Dog Instructor. Sassafras lives and writes in Portland, Oregon, with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, rescued Cattle Dog mix, young Newfoundland, two bossy cats, and a formerly semi-feral kitten.

Comments (14)

All of our dogs have kissed us on the lips as a sign of affection, but also as a sign of getting attention because they want something. ("I gave you a kiss, so you need to give me what I want.") We don't discourage either kiss! One of our dogs even kisses our veterinarians!

Posted by: Three Dog Mom | March 4, 2019 1:40 AM    Report this comment

It's because he licked his butt and is trying to get the taste out of his mouth.

Posted by: Albaby | March 3, 2019 7:37 PM    Report this comment

One of my most favorite tweets, by @ishcasa, is "dogs lick us because they know we have bones inside n they want em."

Posted by: melis | February 27, 2019 6:41 PM    Report this comment

I rescued a pitbull mix, and she actually licks me quite a bit. However, I know from my experience with her that repeated and somewhat excited licking is a sign that she needs to go outside and do her "duty". It is a good way for her to communicate to me what her needs might be,

Posted by: fran23 | February 27, 2019 1:53 PM    Report this comment

Interesting subject to which I have to add that I believe licking can be a form of communication. A lot of the time my golden retriever will lick my hand when I am snoozing in my favourite chair in front of the television. He does this to get my attention and wake me most of the time for me to let him out to do his business.
Another time he displays this behaviour is when I am grooming him. While I am brushing him he likes to reach around and lick my hand and I take this as he is also grooming me. Then there is the invited kiss.. If I request a kiss he usually obliges me! So that lick could be many reasons and I think, like humans, that each dog has their own personality and licks or kisses for different reasons. Whatever the reason, I enjoy the attention.

Posted by: Maritimegoose | February 27, 2019 5:54 AM    Report this comment

While it's true puppies lick the mouths of their mothers in order to get them to regurgitate food, I also know with certainty that dogs like as a means of "kissing." It may be simply a kiss to say, "I love you." It may also be a kiss to get something like a young child will say, "I love you," then longingly look at a bag of cookies. Whatever the reason, we encourage kisses! Oddly, our blind shelter rescue dog, an adult, does not kiss us. He does, however, show he loves us by enthusiastically begging for treat when we are in the kitchen, jumping up when he knows it is time for a walk, and trusting us when we tuck him under blankets at bedtime-he does not even stir or open his eyes.

Posted by: Three Dog Mom | February 27, 2019 2:13 AM    Report this comment

True Story: A friend rescued a 4.5-lb "coated" Xoloitzcuintli from an animal shelter. I, in turn, rescued this dog from her-----she didn't really want him or have nearly enough time for him. One of the best decisions I ever made was to bring him home with me. He was such a cool little guy. So tiny. Right from the start I realized the one thing he did that I wanted to "cure" him of was his compulsive kissing.

I couldn't get anywhere near his face when I wanted to give him a snuggle or a kiss. His tongue would go into overdrive and nothing I said or did seemed to curtail his licking. Then . . . I got a great idea. I decided to pinch (not painfully, of course) his tiny tongue between my forefinger and thumb. "No lick," I would say, as I lightly held his tongue.

Every time he tried to kiss me: No lick. No lick. Pretty soon (Xolos are smartypants dogs), all I had to do was to pantomime pinching his tongue with my thumb and finger. The sign language worked great. Finally, I could kiss his tiny face without him going all licky licky on me.

About six months later, one of our local parks held a dog festival. One of the contests held was for "Best Kisser." I think there were 20 entrants, owners with their happy face-kissing dogs.

I decided to enter the contest just for fun. When the emcee said "Let the kissing begin!" I held my tiny dog up to my face and said, "Okay. Go ahead. Lick."

After all those months of deprivation, it was like the dam broke. My dog went crazy, licking me like he could never get enough of kissing me. It was so funny.

We won the contest. I had to laugh when I reached into the big bag which constituted "our" prize. There, at the bottom of the bag, underneath the dog treats and toys, was a bright pink nylon webbing dog collar large enough to fit a St. Bernard.

Posted by: MiTmite9 | February 27, 2019 1:14 AM    Report this comment

My dog gives licky little kisses to my hand , wrist and forearm ,when I place or pour a special treat into his bowl. Perhaps he is just trying to speed up the process ;but to me it seems an expression of thankful ,happy surprise...

Posted by: Indy'smom | February 26, 2019 6:50 PM    Report this comment

Hands down— Holos is after the leftovers on my chin!
He is a loving, loving dog, don’t get me wrong. His thing is giving GREAT HUGS! (But perhaps there is a practical explanation behind that as well....I’d like to think not!). But I’ve been around animals long enough to read them. And when my mouth is licked, just like he licked his canine mother— that translated to: I’m rather hungry and I want my meal Now. Simple. And I take NO offense. Because I know my boy Loves Me— with All his Heart!❤️

Posted by: Stanleyhorse | February 26, 2019 4:48 PM    Report this comment

My dog also begins the day by licking/kissing me, or maybe she’s just waking me up?
When I return home from any length of absence, she barks until I put my face to her reach, so she can lick/kiss me. I interpret this behavior as affection. If she is, in fact, waking me, it is ME that she is waking, for our morning snuggle/play time.

Posted by: Sarahdonis | February 26, 2019 12:56 PM    Report this comment

When we adopted our Shih Tzu as a puppy, I allowed him to lick my ears while my wife only allowed him to lick her chin and neck. He is now 6 years old and has slept with us since he was 6 months old. Our morning ritual starts when he knows we are awake and he “kisses” my wife first and then my ears. On the rare occasion when he has to get up during the night, he awakens me with ear “kisses” - our bed is too high for him to jump off.

Posted by: Rascalsdad | February 26, 2019 11:02 AM    Report this comment

However, I also know of several primitive breeds that licked to heal wounds and also licked in certain places until the person went to the doctor and found out they had cancer. The latter occurred in three cases in my very limited experience.

Posted by: Holly 1 | February 26, 2019 10:17 AM    Report this comment

I must admit, although I do love my dog licking me, when they lick the face around the mouth, my first reaction is that they are reverting to wolf behaviour and hoping I will regurgitate my latest meal.:) OR, that I taste good - one way or the other. However to explain my reasoning, I have always had "primitive" dogs that were not bred from breeds - Alaskan Malamutes, Finnish Lapphunds.

Posted by: Holly 1 | February 26, 2019 10:14 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: aniljain4all | February 26, 2019 9:45 AM    Report this comment

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