While doggie kissing booths are becoming a common sight at carnivals and fundraising events, not much thought goes to evaluating if dogs really appreciate being smothered in smooches. The infamous spaghetti kiss between Lady and the Tramp was sure adorable, but in real life, things may be a tad bit different. Yes, a furry face and goofy grin seem to be just asking for attention. But not all forms of attention are readily accepted by all dogs.
While Scruffy won't pucker his lips to deliver a smacking kiss, he'll likely slurp your face like a tasty lollipop. This passionate form of facial licking may likely be a remnant of your pooch's wild ancestry. In the wild, pups used to greet their mom by licking her face and lips in hopes of getting her to regurgitate some food for them. You can't blame them; it was much more practical for mama dog to carry food in her stomach than dragging it all the way to the den in her mouth.
As puppies mature, the licking behavior continues; now though it's used to groom one another and to welcome others back to their social group. You may often see nuzzling and licking behaviors during greetings between dogs and owners or between friendly, compatible dogs. In these exited greetings, the dogs' ears are often pulled back and the tail is wagging with wide sweeping movements. Active submission is the term used to depict these subordinate, appeasing gestures.
Whether your dog licks you to say hello or because it's a vestige of maternal lip licking, recognizing your dog's accompanying body language and behavior can provide you an insight about his emotions. If your dog often takes initiative and approaches you on his own to lick your face, most likely he looks forward to it and continues this behavior because he finds it rewarding especially if you shower him often with oodles of attention.
When it comes to receiving kisses, things get a bit more complicated. Dogs don't hug or exchange French kisses as humans do. Getting too close and personal to a dog you don't know may be perceived as a threat or rude from the dog's perspective. Consider that numerous children are bitten when they engage in behaviors often perceived as "benign” such as petting, hugging, bending over or speaking to the dog, notes a study published in "Injury Prevention" in 2007.
Signs of Trouble
Learning how to recognize your dog’s signals to “leave me alone” goes a long way in keeping yourself and the people around you safe. Prevent putting your dog in situations where strangers or children get too close and personal with your pooch. Watch for subtle signs of stress such as lip licking, yawning, turning the head, moving away, dropping the tail between the legs and more obvious signs such as a hard stare, growling, showing the pearly whites and barking.
Fortunately, the sky is the limit when it comes to finding ways to shower your dog with affection. You may want to perhaps skip giving your pooch smooches and try instead other options such as playing fetch, training your dog with small treats, scratching him behind the ears or gently patting him on his sides and chest.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.