Do Dogs Like Kisses? The Answer Might Surprise You
I love to greet my dog by planting a big old smooch on the top of her head. She knows the routine well and happily nuzzles up to me for affection. If you're like most dog owners, you love to shower your pup with kisses. You might even get licked in return.
But what if your dog doesn't want to be kissed? People know that a kiss is a natural way to show affection to other people, but we sometimes forget that our dogs are not human. You may be surprised to learn that many dogs actually dislike this common human behavior.
Do Dogs Like Being Kissed?
Really, the first question to ask is whether dogs understand kisses from people. It turns out that while dogs are pretty good at recognizing human emotions, they don't instinctively know what kisses are.
We spoke with certified animal behaviorist Amy Shojai to learn how dogs experience kisses from humans. "Some dogs enjoy this, if taught what it means," she says. However, if the dog doesn't know what you're doing, it could cause stress or confusion. "People kissing them could potentially send mixed signals," says Shojai. Just because a person is trying to signal affection, it doesn't mean the dog will take it that way.
Dogs tend to approach other dogs in a sideways arc rather than head-on. So, it can be confusing for a dog to suddenly see a human face approaching. In fact, some dogs see this as a threat and may feel the need to defend themselves by growling or biting. Shojai tells us she especially worries about children kissing or hugging dogs because "they're at mouth-level in reach of those teeth if the dog takes the gesture the wrong way."
So what's the answer? It depends. "If the dog has learned to accept kissing on top of the head, then that's fine," says Shojai. "For a new-to-you dog, though, I'd find other more species-appropriate ways to show affection."
The truth is that some dogs simply don't like being kissed. That said, dogs who have been trained to accept kisses may eventually tolerate or even enjoy them.
Are Dog Licks the Same Thing as Kisses?
When a dog licks you, it's not necessarily a show of affection. "What people consider dog kisses (licking), dogs more typically use as appeasement or deference signs," says Shojai. "When they lick another dog's mouth and eyes, they say, 'I'm no threat, you're the boss of me.' In a similar way, they target people's mouth and eyes, or lick hands," Shojai continues.
An appeasement signal, sometimes called a calming signal, is a subtle form of body language that many dog experts believe dogs use to calm themselves and other dogs. Appeasement gestures may be used to deescalate a situation and prevent conflict between dogs. Examples include yawning, sniffing, scratching, sneezing, lip-licking, and licking others.
Shojai tells us that dogs "don't identify licking as a sign of affection," but may lick us to seek attention. Basically, when dogs learn that we return their licks with attention and affection, it encourages them to lick us even more.
Of course, we needed to know if our dogs ever lick us to show love and affection (because deep down we really want it to be true). Shojai tells us it's possible. "In a word—yes, dogs CAN learn what pleases us and adjust their behavior accordingly.," says Shojai. "Dogs are very observant and accommodating, and often willing to put up with our foibles—or even learn to like them."
So, if you kiss your dog and he responds by licking you, it could really mean a few different things. There are subtle clues in your dog's body language that can help you decipher the message.
Why Do Some Dogs Yawn or Sneeze When You Kiss Them?
You may have noticed your dog yawning when you kiss him, but it's probably not because he's sleepy. "Yawning also serves as an appeasement signal. If the dog doesn't welcome the kiss, and/or feels threatened in some way, he might yawn to both calm himself and to say, 'hey, don't worry, I'm no threat here so you can back off'," Shojai says.
"As for the sneezes—that's a kind of dog laugh,'' says Shojai. "So maybe the dog feels amused or puzzled and laughs off the strange-to-him gesture." Sneezing can also be used as an appeasement signal.
Bottom line, these actions are likely your dog's way of asking you to please stop with the kisses. But don't take it personally! Fortunately, you can still give your dog affection without causing confusion or stress.
Other Ways to Show Your Dog You Love Them
There are plenty of ways to show your dog affection beyond kisses or hugs. My own dog is a big fan of being close to me, so I show her affection with pets, cuddles, and a loving voice. It all comes down to spending time with your dog in a way that's enjoyable for both of you.
"Play with your dog! And watch to see what kinds of games he likes, and give him what he wants," says Shojai. "My dog no longer has a canine playmate. But he loves for me to 'pretend' to bite his legs like a playful dog (I use my fingers/hands like a fake dog mouth to gently 'pinch' his legs). He loves that. But whatever game (fetch, Frisbee, tug) the dog enjoys becomes more precious when shared with a human he loves."
Exercising together is a great way to bond too, so take your dog walking or hiking and allow him to explore the world. Some dogs even make good running companions. You can also try teaching your dog some fun tricks. Those treat-filled training sessions can be really enjoyable for dogs and will reinforce the bond you share.
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