February 6, 2015
In our line of work, we’re on the receiving end of endless puppy kisses all day. Some people love it; others hate it. Have you ever wondered what it really means when a dog licks your face? Where does this behavior come from?
The moment puppies enter the world, Mom starts licking them. Mama dogs continue to do this for several weeks to keep pups clean and to stimulate bodily functions. So right away, our dogs have a positive association with the behavior and it becomes comforting.
As puppies grow up, they explore the world with their mouths – nibbling, biting, and licking – but they also learn that licking is a social behavior as well. It becomes a way to communicate with other dogs. Although dogs do know that we are not other dogs, they still use body language as a way of communicating with us. It’s what they do best, after all!
Good news, dog lovers: when your dog licks your face, it’s definitely a sign of affection! Face licking is used as a greeting and for bonding purposes. It can also be for appeasement – almost as if to say, “Please don’t be mad” or “I’m sorry.”
For dogs, licking also feels good. It releases endorphins in the brain, whether they are licking others, themselves, or objects. Some dogs use licking behavior to self-soothe anxiety. Most do it as part of normal grooming, but it can become a habit. If your dog is licking obsessively, consult a certified behaviorist or trainer.
The next time your dog offers you a friendly “kiss,” feel free to accept the love! Or do as animal behavior expert Roger Abrantes suggests, “Just close your eyes, yawn, and turn your head away. This shows in dog language that you accept its offer of friendship.”
Lynda manages our dog walking team at Rover-Time. She’s also a trainer for Animal Sense in the evenings and co-parents her own dogs, Surf and Ryan, with her other half Mary.