If you’re having a ruff time and feeling dogged by all the little nuisances of life, sometimes all it takes to turn your day around is a little smooch from your pooch. Since dog kisses make us so darn happy we decided to try and find out a bit more about them. If you’ve ever wanted to know what goes on inside your dog’s brain when they plant a kiss on you then you’ve come to the right place!
David Baron of Superdog.com, a dog trainer in the greater Sacramento area states that dogs use their tongues for a number of reasons. Dogs lick a lot of things, including themselves, other dogs and people. When speaking to Baron on the subject he rattled off a list of motives that dogs lick including, “displays of affection, for taste, obsessive compulsive behavior, and grooming just to name a few.” There are many reasons dogs lick, many of which we’ll explore below.
From the time a dog is born, they are either licking or being licked. Dog moms, (the kind with four legs, not the kind who wear Inkopious apparel) will often lick their puppies as soon as they’re born in order to stimulate their babies’ autonomic nervous systems (respiration, blood flow, and digestion) into action. Puppies take this to heart and utilize their tongues from a young age to interact with their surroundings.
Licking helps dogs take in their surroundings and process sensory information about their environment. A dog’s vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ analyzes this information and helps them decipher smells. Dogs will use their tongues as a tool to lap up scents and funnel them to this special sensory organ. Puppies are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to copious amounts of kissing. Whether you like it or not, they love to lick! Puppies will lick everyone and anything. In fact, it’s part of how they explore the world around them.
Besides environmental exploration, puppies in particular will use their tongues instinctively to communicate that they’re hungry. Back before they were dog-mesticated, wild wolf mothers (not the Australian rock band) would carry around food in their stomachs and regurgitate it for their pups in order to feed them - yum! Wolf mommas would chow down, store a meal in their bellies and bring it back home for their puppies. This instinct has been passed down through generations of canines and can still be seen in puppy behavior today! Puppies instinctively assume that food comes directly from their parent’s mouths so they lick their parent’s face when hungry.
If you’re worried because this behavior has stretched past puppyhood for your furry friend, don’t be! There are still plenty of reasons dogs never grow out of their happy-go-licky nature. One of the most common beliefs in this regard is the notion that dogs take some of their biggest behavioral cues from their people! That’s right, a lot of the time, people can unknowingly train their dog into exhibiting a specific behavior like licking. This could happen in a number of ways. For example, lets say your puppy licks you, which they are inclined to do for any of the reasons stated above. You respond with praise and affection, because why wouldn’t you? It’s adorable, heartwarming and cute! Then, over time this pattern of behavior repeats again and again, imprinting this positive correlation between behavior and reward. Your dog, now all grown up, associates giving kisses with receiving praise from a happy human!
There are still plenty more reasons dogs learn to lick. Dogs use their tongues to communicate socially. Often, subordinate members of a pack will lick around an alpha’s mouth in order to establish a social hierarchy and encourage harmony and peace in a group setting. These characteristics don’t often come into play in human and dog interactions but it’s important to be aware of. If you’re watching your pooch interact with another dog and it looks like they’re making out, it’s possible that they’re saying hello and establishing a social order. Submissive dogs will lower themselves and lick around an alpha’s mouth, while the alpha stands with a tall and erect posture.
Sometimes dogs lick themselves too! Does that mean they’re trying to kiss themselves? Not really. Dogs use their tongues for cleaning and grooming. Self grooming is a common occurrence across all dog breeds and shouldn’t be cause for alarm. However, there are a few things to keep in mind in regards to self grooming. Sometimes dogs exhibit compulsive licking that can irritate their skin and cause hair loss.
If a dog is obsessively licking an area on their body they could be indirectly trying to tell you something. According to PetMD’s article “Why Dogs Lick and When to Worry,” allergies are the number one reason dogs lick themselves obsessively. They will often lick their paws, their legs and their hindquarters over and over again if that’s the case. Another reason they exhibit this behavior is that they could be physically hurt. There are any number of different physical ailments that can cause your dog to exhibit this behavior ranging from a skin infection to a sprain. Licking releases endorphins in a dog’s brain so they could also be attempting to self soothe due to stress or anxiety. If your dog starts licking obsessively out of the blue or if they are overprotective of a certain area they are licking, then it might be time to check with your local Vet. Don’t jump to conclusions though. Most of the time, your dog is just being a dog, and when they lick themselves, it’s normal self grooming behavior.
Dogs don’t just lick each other and themselves. The idea that their licking is a way of giving kisses is mostly correlated with when they lick people. But it’s possible your pooch has ulterior motives for licking you. One simple explanation is that they like the way you taste! No your dog isn’t trying to eat you, but sometimes people can taste good! If you’ve been running around all day in the sun and haven’t had a chance to shower before greeting your dog, odds are, you’ve seasoned yourself with sweat! You’re just one big salty lollipop for your pooch! Another reason your dog would want to taste test you is that they get to sample the last meal you had. If you recently ate or handled food with your hands, odds are there is some food residue left on your skin. Dogs can taste this and will happily lap up any flavors they can. Even further, if you use lotions, oils or other skin products, they could be tasting those too.
Despite all of the various reasons listed above, of course the most important reason is love! Yes dogs do indeed lick to display affection. This is one of the most charming aspect of owning a dog! Their unrequited joy seeing you at the end of a hard day at work. They often display this joy of being reunited with their favorite people through their happy wiggly bodies, elevated energy levels and lots of kisses!
Although we don’t truly understand why, some dog owners prefer that their pooch keeps their tongue to themselves. While they might be in the minority, it’s important to be able to settle on a simple but effective strategy in curbing any undesired behavior. David Baron of Superdog.com suggests that the simplest solutions often work best. Often times telling your dog “no” will communicate your desire and help change an unwanted behavior. To people who inquire about how to change their dog’s behavior, Baron will often ask, “Did you ever tell them no?” He says that a surprising amount of times, dog owners will respond with, “Well I never thought of that.” Another strategy for curbing unwanted behavior such as licking is simply to leave the room. If a dog's behavior doesn't elicit any reaction, then they will likely cease that behavior altogether.
Dog kisses fill even the most shriveled of hearts with joy, but there are a few safety issues to consider when allowing your dog to cover you in kisses. There is a common myth that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. This is a misconception founded on the fact that a lot of the bacteria and germs found in a dog’s mouth aren’t transferable to humans. However that doesn’t mean that a dog’s mouth poses no risk to people. There are still bacteria residing in a dog’s mouth that can get people sick. National Geographic has an article (the title is a lot scarier than it needs to be) covering the different dangers of receiving kisses from your pet.
Taking these health risks into consideration is important, but still doesn’t deter most people from snuggling up with their dogs. The benefits of feeling connected with your dog are important for both you and your pet. You develop a closer bond with your dog if you give and get a smooch sometimes. Dogs kiss their people for a variety of reasons and most people enjoy receiving this unrequited affection from their dogs. A dog’s tongue knows no bounds. After all, that’s why we love dogs so much, because of how unreserved they are in loving us.
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