You’ve probably seen it before: a dog comes up to you and licks all over your face. But why do dogs do that? Is licking really an expression of love or are there other reasons?
Why does the dog lick our face?
- Behaviourally, it can be traced back to the fact that wolf pups lick their mother’s muzzle, whereupon she chokes out food.
- Licking the muzzle is also shown by young animals when greeting and falls under the category of calming signals, i.e. de-escalation signals to prevent conflicts.
- In living together with us humans, he has learned that we retreat in response to licking. Thus, it can also serve to increase distance.
- Of course, social and grooming behaviour also plays a role. Some dogs like to lick us to get social contact and keep us clean 😉. This also includes light nibbling.
If your dog licks other parts of the body, the following reasons are also possible:
- Maybe you just taste good, like salty sweat, or smell interesting to your pet.
- Boredom or prolonged stress can also play a role. Some dogs have learned to get attention or to calm themselves down by licking.
Kiss to dismiss – Dog licking to get distance
Do you get a kiss while taking a selfie with your dog or trying to cuddle him? This doesn’t necessarily mean that he appreciates your closeness but could be an attempt to tell you in a friendly way to please give him more distance.
People often learn that dogs can carry diseases and that you should not let them lick you. As a reaction, they back away when the dog licks. Dogs have now learned that if they want more distance, all they have to do is lick us and we will back away.
Kiss to dismiss (“kiss to send away”) is a strategy the dog has learned to politely keep us at a distance. So if your dog licks you in a situation, give him a little more distance. If his signal is not perceived, he may have to resort to other strategies (see also escalation levels).
“I want to be with you” or “It’s too tight for me” licking?
You can tell from the situation and the rest of the dog’s body language whether your dog is looking for closeness or would prefer more distance.
Seeking closeness: Situation is relaxed – dog can leave at any time. Ears are up, body tilted forward, tail relaxed. All in all, the dog appears relaxed and sociable.
Gaining distance: Situation tight, wild, dog may find it difficult to get away. Ears back, tail down or wagging wildly, body rather tilted back, eyes open or narrowed.
Test: Move back a little and see if your dog follows you or is happy that you are keeping your distance. Every dog communicates a little differently and does not always show all the signals. Observe your dog to know what he is comfortable with and what he is not.
Caution: Some dogs, for example, that are stroked a little wildly, show signals to increase their distance; if you go back, the dog will follow. This can mean that he actually wants to be close to you, just in a different way. So just try to offer him physical contact without petting him right away.
If the dog licks you, this can have many reasons. But one thing is certain: a kiss is not always meant as an expression of love. He may simply want to leave the situation in a friendly manner and have more distance.