Wednesday 6th July 2022
As today is International Kissing Day we wanted to answer the age old question - Should I Kiss My Dog? Licking is a behaviour that dogs learn from birth. When puppies are born, their mother licks them in order to clean them and stimulate breathing, and the pups learn to lick their mother in return.
A dog's licking instinct never goes away. The act of licking releases endorphins that relieve stress, which is why some dogs develop obsessive licking behaviours when they feel anxious. Licking can also be a sign of submission to more dominant members of the pack. When dogs lick humans it's usually a sign of affection, or maybe you simply taste good!
However, there are some things to consider before deciding whether or not to kiss your dog.
You might have heard the phrase "a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's" or "dog saliva has healing properties" - unfortunately these are myths, which is why dog bites are so dangerous. Dogs eat all sorts of less than savoury things, from dropped food to faeces, which makes their mouths a breeding ground for bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli.
Although it's small, there's always a risk of transmission if a dog gives you kisses on your nose or mouth. Your dog should not be allowed to lick certain groups of people due to the health risk - these include babies, the elderly, anyone with pimples or open sores and those who are immuno-compromised.
Kisses and hugs can seem threatening
Just like humans, some dogs do not like kisses and hugs and can interpret them as threatening or dominant behaviour. A dog who doesn’t want to be kissed will show their stress by leaning away, looking away, pursing and licking their lips. It's never a good idea to force hugs or kisses onto dogs, especially from young children, as the dog can end up snapping.
For other dogs, licking is a sign of mutual trust and affection. Behaviourists use the term "affiliative behaviour" to describe gestures between individuals with a social bond. Many species of social animal lick other individuals they are attached to. This is called “allogrooming” and is likely one reason your dog enjoys licking you. Human gestures of affection such as kissing and hugging are different from licking, so while some dogs may view them as the same, other dogs may not recognise the behaviour as as a sign of affection.
Another very important affiliative behaviour in dogs is simply being close to each other. Think about how often your dogs sleep curled next to one another – or to you. Following each other from place to place is another sign of social attachment. Playing also helps to maintain social bonds.
So is kissing your dog safe? For most people who are not in an at-risk group, the risk is probably quite minimal. However it is always worth bearing in mind the above, especially when it comes to being aware of your dog's behaviour and comfort level.