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Why do dogs give kisses? Should you let them?

February 02, 2022

Why do dogs lick people? They lick because they love. Licking is normal dog behavior, and dogs do it to express their joy in seeing you walk in the door, to offer comfort when they think you’re sad, and to show their love and devotion. As long as you’re aware of germ theory, dog kisses are harmless and not a sign of anything amiss with your pet.

We’ll take a deeper look at your pet’s deep inner drive to lick. Because germs are on everyone’s minds, we’ll talk about how to keep people safe along with guidance on how to help your dog get the message (gently) that licking isn’t always wanted behavior.

Why do dogs lick their humans?

Not all dogs lick, but for many, it’s an important way to express themselves.

It’s what dogs do

Dogs are social animals, and licking is one way dogs communicate with each other. Adult dogs will lick each other in the face in greeting. After all, mothers lick their pups to comfort and groom them. Studies show that dogs get a hit of feel-good endorphins when they lick. In other words, giving kisses is rewarding to dogs.

They’re expressing their love

A dog’s social tendency to lick translates to their human relationships. (They don’t seem to mind that the licking is one-sided.) So if they contentedly lick your arm, your hand, or your leg while you’re relaxing, enjoying some quality time together, it’s just your dog’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m really happy you’re here!”

They think you taste good

Human skin can have salty residue that dogs enjoy, especially if you’ve been exercising. Even if they’re licking you purely for social reasons, the salty flavor can make it rewarding for them.

Why does my dog kiss me on the mouth?

If your dog has a tendency to go for the mouth, they might be hoping for a taste of your latest meal. (Some pet parents have noticed their dog tends to go in for a kiss after dinner.)

Another interpretation of kisses to the face is that they’re a sign of submission and respect for your status as the leader and caretaker.

Licks to the mouth come to a dog naturally. Puppies lick their mother’s mouths. So do the pups of wolves, coyotes, and foxes. In the den, the pups are trying to get their mother to feed them by regurgitating.

(You may want to discourage this type of dog licking, though, and we’ll go into why later.)

Is it a good idea to let your dog lick you?

Licking is a harmless way for your dog to express himself. Still, dogs do carry germs and bacteria in their mouth.

You don’t know where that dog has been, like Mom always said. And you’ve seen enough from your dog to get the idea. Dogs will lick themselves, and they won’t hesitate to taste goodness knows what in the yard or at the park.

Healthy skin won’t absorb the germs. But to be on the safe side, you’ll want to take precautions so you don’t end up ingesting unwanted germs or picking up an infection.

  • Broken skin – Keep dog kisses away from scratches, nicks, scrapes, and open wounds. Your dog’s saliva has some antibacterial properties, but the downside to him opening the wound or introducing infection far outweighs the benefit.
  • Mind the nose and mouth – In some cases, the germs your dog carries can be ingested as a result of their kisses and make you sick.

All in all, the risk of getting sick or infected is low for most healthy people.

It never hurts to take extra precautions around young children, people age 65 and older, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people. Be especially cautious following a meal, as they can also pass along food-borne infections like salmonella and E. coli.

After your dog has given you his kisses, it’s best to wash the area with warm water and soap.

How to get your dog to stop licking

Not everyone enjoys being on the receiving end of a dog kiss. For some, dog slobber is unpleasant. Others may be allergic to dog saliva, experiencing hives, and itchy skin. As mentioned earlier, some are susceptible to catching an infection from the germs in your dog’s mouth.

So if your dog tends to greet all guests with enthusiastic kisses, a little training and redirecting will be beneficial for everyone’s comfort and well-being.

Eliminate rewarding unwanted behavior

When it comes to encouraging your pet to stop licking, think about how certain behaviors get reinforced. If your dog excitedly licks people’s faces in greeting, pay attention to how you respond. If you respond with laughter and ear rubs, the dog learns that licking the face is OK.

Even a negative reaction can encourage your dog to lick. Disgust, or shoving their face away, can be exciting and rewarding to a dog. When you do react, make sure you’re minimizing the excitement factor.

Getting the message across to your dog takes time and patience. The goal is to eliminate all rewards. Pay attention to how you and others respond to slobbery kisses from your dog, and think about changes you can enforce to make it less rewarding.

Teach him “No”

To get your dog to stop licking, start with this simple training method. Offer your hand to your dog. If he licks, withdraw it immediately, saying “No!” Offer it again and repeat. If there’s an instance where he doesn’t lick your hand, make eye contact and immediately offer him a treat, and shower him with praise and ear rubs. This is a quick and easy training session you can work in anytime, anywhere.

Stop him at hello

Training sessions are one way to teach your dog that you prefer it when he doesn’t lick. The next step is putting it into practice with a clear message through body language.

This means if your dog greets you with enthusiastic kisses, stop him in his tracks.

  • Say no!
  • Stand up tall and hold your hands up by your chest.
  • Be stoic. Don’t talk to your dog or look at him. Ignore him until he stops the unwanted licking. Then direct your attention to a different activity.

Redirect dog kisses with another positive task

Some pet parents succeed by focusing their dog’s attention elsewhere. Offer a special toy to fetch. Or teach him to respond to simple commands like down, roll over or shake hands.

Kiss on command

But what if you don’t mind dog kisses? You still want to be considerate of other family members and guests. In the long run, the more you can facilitate positive experiences with your dog, the better off he will be. Some pet parents have taught their dog to give kisses on command, so he learns to wait until he gets the go-ahead.

Dog kisses can be a sweet way to experience a dog’s love. Teaching him manners can keep everyone feeling safe and comfortable.

Rewards for good behavior

A great way to help guide your dog into better manners is reinforcing good behavior with a treat.

Family-owned NutriSource Soft and Tender Treats are the perfect “good dog” snack to keep on hand. They’re 3.5 calories apiece and fortified with Carniking® L-Carnitine to help your pet burn fat. So while you’re making progress, there’s no worry of overfeeding your dog. They come in three delicious flavors; chicken, lamb, and salmon. Shop local, and pick up a pouch at an independent pet supply shop in your community.