Do Dogs Like It When You Kiss Their Face Like the Perfect Angel They Are?
Our dogs are so cute, it can be tempting to shower them with kisses. But do they hate it? Here’s what you should know.
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One of the biggest obstacles to me getting my work done and being a productive member of society is that I will catch a glimpse of my dog being incredibly cute, and feel overwhelmed by the need to gather her in my arms, smother her in kisses, and tell her that she’s the cutest, the best, and that I love her so so much. This can happen anywhere from three to five times a day, depending on my level of restraint and how much I’m trying to avoid whatever project I’m working on at the moment.
She tolerates these barrages of affection, but is clearly not overly delighted by them. At some point, mid-smooch, I realized I had never asked myself some fairly basic questions. Do dogs like kisses? Do they understand that it’s our way, as humans, of showing love? Or do they just think we press our faces to them sometimes for no apparent reason?
Humans and dogs show affection differently.
“Human signs of affection like hugging and kissing are not how dogs show affection,” Ferdie Yau, the director of shelter and community outreach for Behavior Vets explains over email. It’s impossible to know what dogs are truly thinking, of course, Yau says. But whether they understand hugs and kisses or not, they might put up with it for our sake.
“I do think many dogs tolerate it for their humans,” Yau says. “Some might even enjoy it for brief moments, but the majority of dogs do not show that they enjoy hugs.” If hugging and kissing are human forms of affection, dogs show their affection with loose bodies, rubbing themselves against you. Yau says they may nuzzle your hand to solicit petting and cuddles, too.
They may also shower you in their own, sloppy kisses, of course. While dog kisses are different from ours, their urge to lick is instinctual. “Right from birth that is how the mother communicates with her new puppies,” dog trainer Victoria Stilwell explains to the Central Texas Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital. Licking can also be a way of maintaining pack harmony, she says, with more submissive dogs licking more dominant ones as a show of submission.
Learn how to read a dog’s responses.
As behaviorist and trainer Karen B. London wrote for the Wildest, kisses and hugs may cause dogs to feel more stressed than loved. Putting your face close to a dog’s can be seen as threatening to them, and hugging does not come naturally to pups. Head pats and holding their paws can also be unpleasant for them, London notes.
Knowing how to read dog behavior is key to keeping your pup safe and happy. Too often, Yau says, we project our own thoughts and feelings onto our canine companions, instead of letting them be the animals they are. “These days, many people have unreasonable expectations about how dogs should behave because they tend to treat them as furry humans, rather than biological dogs who are most closely related to wild canids like wolves and coyotes,” Yau says.
It’s important for humans to be able to identify and respect their stress signals so that they don’t unwittingly cause their dog distress when they’re trying to show them love. If you are kissing your dog, and they become rigid, flick their tongues, or pull their ears back, those are likely signs that they are feeling uncomfortable, and you should back off.
Let your dog decide whether they want more kisses and cuddles.
How can you tell if your dog is enjoying your show of affection or simply humoring you? Yau suggests consent test petting. Pet your dog for a few seconds on an area of their body where they like to be touched, then stop, hold your hands out, and see how they respond. “If your dog moves closer or nudges your hand, that’s a sign they want petting interaction to continue,” Yau says. “If they seem indifferent or walk away from you, that’s a sign that the dog does not want to be pet in that moment.” This exercise allows your dog to decide how much cuddling they’re comfortable with, instead of us forcing our human forms of affection onto them.
So, do dogs like kisses? Maybe some dogs do, sometimes. Keep an eye on how your dog responds to you when you shower them with human forms of affection, and let them decide whether they want more or less of it. I’ve been trying to not overwhelm my dog with hugs and kisses as much, though it takes all of my willpower to do so. Instead, I’ve been singing her more songs about how cute and sweet she is. There’s no expert research on whether that’s better or worse than kissing her, so I guess I’ll keep it up.
And how to change this.
There’s a difference between being affectionate and being annoying.
Boundaries, folks. Boundaries.
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There’s a big difference between a dog smiling and showing their teeth.
Madeleine Aggeler is a freelance journalist and copywriter in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was a writer at New York magazine’s The Cut. She lives with her dog, Cleo, who works primarily as a foot warmer.