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The Explanation Behind Canine “Kisses”

Like it or not, there’s a good chance your dog isn’t shy about licking your face. Some people find this adorable, while others find these “kisses” a little gross. Either way, you’ve probably wondered why dogs display this behavior.

Below are four reasons why dogs choose to use their slobbery tongues:

1) As a Sensory Tool: Just like touch or smell, taste is another way to explore something. Dogs may lick someone they don’t know all that well to learn more about them.

2) To Get Attention: Dogs sometimes just want to remind their owners that they’re there and would love some attention. It’s like they’re saying “pet me, I’m cute!”

3) To Ask for Something They Want: Puppies lick their mothers prior to feeding, so some dogs might lick their humans to get something they want. These desires might include food, treats, or maybe even a walk.

4) It’s a Learned Behavior: Chances are, your dog loves you and is passing along a learned behavior from his or her canine mother. Their mom licked them and now they’re licking you. Plus, many dogs have realized that licking gets them a positive reaction, so they do it more often.

If your dog’s licking becomes excessive, this may be an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Discuss any questions or concerns with your dog’s veterinarian or an animal behaviorist.

Licking and Oral Health:

If your dog likes to lick you, certainly you’ll notice their breath. Bad breath as well as swollen or bleeding gums is an indicator of poor oral health in your dog. It’s important to remember that proper dental care for dogs is just as important as it is for humans. Your dog’s dental health is critical to their overall health. Dental issues can cause health problems in other parts of your dog’s body to occur, making it extremely important to have your dogs teeth and gums evaluated by their veterinarian at a minimum, once a year. Routine veterinarian visits evaluate your dog for early signs of health issues as well as maintain your dog’s dental hygiene.

One of the best practices you can implement for your dog’s dental health is preventative care. Brushing your dog’s teeth and providing dental chews will aide in keeping your pet healthy. While it can be challenging to do so, brushing your dog’s teeth is very effective in preventing any oral issues that may lead to greater health issues within your dog’s body. Many dogs don’t like to have their teeth brushed, yet starting this routine early on in your dog’s life will be a crucial way to avoid dental issues for your dog.


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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Jen Jelly July 17, 2014, 5:47 pm

    Although I don’t always want my dog to kiss me I’d feel really bad shooing her away. I just have to remind myself she’s (hopefully) doing it out of love.

    • Debi July 22, 2014, 7:21 am

      My Standard Poodle and Goldendoodle don’t lick faces. My Golden licks feet and hands sometimes, not mine. I never corrected them or any of my dogs. My dogs just seem to know I don’t like it and don’t do it. Both are so sweet and momma’s boys. My Poodle is totally dedicated according to my trainer friend. I just love them. They are both home schooled, never been to a trainer. And both are Therapy Dogs. Doges rarely ever lick me. I don’t feel less loved. They show love in so many ways.

      • Teri November 14, 2014, 6:21 pm

        Funny, my GSD doesn’t lick faces and will only occasionally lick my hand, foot or leg…and then he looks almost embarrassed. My Am. Bulldog, otoh, licks faces, hands, etc….thankfully not obsessively. Now, my friend’s Yellow Lab licks and licks and licks….faces, hands, pant legs, sleeves, whatever. A true obsession with him. Her grand-daughter hates it (she’s 2) and poor Jake can’t go anywhere near her without her swatting at him and telling him “No Jake” because she knows he’s going to lick her.

  • Jeanne bailey July 22, 2014, 3:11 am

    Yes, My German Shepherd girl and Black Lab boy both give me kisses, when I am down and ill, they stay right by me, licking my arm or hand, making me better..

    Just as I pet them when they have problems, it is our way of showing love.. She has elbow dysplasia and he has terrible allergies. but with the inexpensive prices of meds from vetdepot, I can afford to help them.
    As I sit at the computer, Heidi sits here with her paw in my lap. always so close, and i feel her love….
    i can’t imagine living without my pets, it would sure be a lonely life..

  • BillG July 22, 2014, 5:33 am

    Our beagle, Rosie, every now and then wants to lick my face like she is grooming a puppy.

  • Jason July 22, 2014, 5:40 am

    Besides the obvious dog-related licking habits, I have always wondered if it isn’t a behavior that they’ve learned from their humans. I know that I give my dogs kisses on the head all the time, and I’ve always wondered if maybe the licking isn’t their way of kissing back. Who knows. In either event, I brush their teeth to keep the breath fresh and let them kiss away!

  • Sandy Corbet July 22, 2014, 6:09 am

    I have one dog who licks his bed obsessively, it seems to be soothing because he closes his eyes and acts all dreamy when he does it. NOW 3 of my other dogs are also licking their beds. They make a huge wet spot and the licking goes on for 30-40 mins. The vet wasn’t concerned, I’ve read it’s self soothing, like a person rubbing their own arms or twirling their hair. If they are self soothing, I try to get them to stop by asking them to get up and come get pet. Is it a “contagious” behavior as it seems? Anyway to stop it or don’t worry?

    • VetDepot July 22, 2014, 6:56 am

      Hi Sandy. It’s definitely possible that your dogs have learned this behavior from each other. If you’re concerned, you can always try to bring it up with your vet again or consult with a pet behaviorist.

  • Donald Pato July 22, 2014, 7:09 am

    Don’t ignore gratitude as a reason. When my 12.5 year old Chow/Lab mix went for a teeth cleaning, the Vet found a broken tooth and extracted it. Never a big kisser, Mocha fervently licked my hands the day following to show her thanks and happiness that the ache in her jaw had gone.

  • Yvette July 22, 2014, 8:31 am

    We had an Eskie that had a licking obsession. It drove me crazy but he would lick my husband and he wouldn’t even notice.
    Our German Shepherds all lick. I don’t mind because they don’t keep on doing it and whatever the reason, I can accept that. Well, unless they’ve been into something yucky!

  • Brenda Leavitt July 22, 2014, 9:56 am

    I have a Border Collie mix that will not give kisses in any way, shape or form. I’ve never had a dog that refused to give any type of kiss/lick. The only time she’ll lick us is if we have food or food smells on our hands. Butshe has no problem licking herself. She has an OCD with licking her front leg. She’ll lick forever if we let her, yet never hard enough to lose fur or make the area raw. She’s a little odd 😉

    • Debi July 22, 2014, 1:49 pm

      My Standard poodle does that too Brenda. It darkens his white fur but nothing else. He seems to do it when nervous, like when the little grand kids are over. He prefers older kids to toddlers. Which is surprising because he was raised and trained with little ones in my day care. He was only down there when I was working with him and the kids. So nothing happened to him with the kids. My Golden doodle wants to be in the middle of the kids no matter what size. He doesn’t lick himself at all but does keep his own nails trimmed.

  • Suzanne July 22, 2014, 7:44 pm

    If you observe dogs in packs the subordinate dogs will lick the mouth of the dominant dog, leading us to believe it is a recognition of status. In the wild, parental canids will often bring regurgitated food for pups so they lick the parent’s mouth for food. Humans may teach their dogs to lick them for any reason that is rewarded , purposely or not, by the human, but this is learned rather than natural behavior.

  • Tom July 27, 2014, 8:14 am

    I have an 11 year old Cocker Spaniel that i’ve shared with another person since birth, Blackjack. I’ve been retired for the past 6 years so I spend a lot of time with my dogs, one of two. Blackjack will lay next to me in bed and lick my head on the back where my hair is and won’t stop. If i’m awake, i’ll let him do it briefly then make him stop. If i’m asleep, he’ll lick it until there’s a puddle near me. i wake up and my pillow is wet. He’ll lick my pillow where i’ve laid my head too. He’ll lick it for a half an hour or less. I know he loves me but I can’t figure out why he does it to me and not his Mommy. Any ideas?

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