Dog Kisses: Are they a sign of affection?
By Emily Schultze
Doggy kisses—some people bask in the closeness, others cringe and try to get away from the doggy breath that inevitably follows. Whether you love or hate them, the real question is do you understand them? While it might seem pretty cut and dry (kisses are a sign of love, right?), there can be some other factors at play when it comes to why your dog can’t stop licking you.
Context is key for analyzing just about any behavior your dog does. There is rarely a time where one specific behavior leads to a perfect understanding of how they are feeling. If you are wondering why your dog is engaging in a certain behavior, pay attention to not only their accompanying actions, but also their environment.
The next time your dog is giving you kisses, take time to notice if they walked up and started licking you of their own accord or if it started after you gave them a big hug. If it’s the second situation, the kisses might be a form of appeasement, not affection.
Victoria Stilwell, an English dog trainer, author and television presenter, discusses how licking as an action of submission can be found in dogs of all ages and backgrounds:
“In the wild and in domestic dogs, you'll find they will lick around the mother's mouth as newborns and puppies still retain that instinct. It's also sort of a submissive gesture — the more subordinate members of a pack will lick the more dominant members and that's important in maintaining pack harmony”.
When your dog finds themselves suddenly wrapped up in someone’s arms or in close quarters that they can’t escape, they might licking because they believe that is what the person wants. If your dog is giving kisses, but also licking their own lips and looking away, they are most likely trying to appease and show submission. Dog trainer Jill Breitner notes that “lip licking or flicks are often a sign of stress”, so it is important to take in these small actions when interacting with your dog, as they are easy to miss.
If you notice that your dog’s licking seems to be excessive, though, it might be a sign of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviors. If your dog is constantly licking you, themselves or other objects in a way that is causing them harm, it might be a good idea to consult with your veterinarian so that you can address the issue.
However, the majority of the time, the kisses your dog gives you are much more innocuous in nature. If you have just got back from the gym, are wearing a nice lotion or still have some chip residue on your fingers, your dog is most likely licking you because they like the way you taste. This runs in a similar vein to actions such as getting into your dirty laundry or stealing a shoe, your dog enjoys your scent and taste because it makes them feel closer to you.
In addition, licking simply feels good. Stilwell details how “licking releases pleasurable endorphins which gives dogs a feeling of comfort and pleasure [similar to] the feeling people get when they are biting their nails”.
In the end, as long as you haven’t observed any nervous or negative behaviors occurring with the licking, the kisses are most likely just one of the ways that your dog shows affection. All those times that your dog has run up to you and bombarded you with kisses are exactly what you think—a sign that they love you and simply enjoy your company.