Kisses (Not the Chocolate Kind)

I’ve never been one to think that dogs who give “kisses” are overly adorable or charming.

I mean, I suppose if you’ve got it solely attached to a verbal signal, fine, and I do know lots of people find it cute and/or hilarious, but I’m just not one of them.

Maybe it’s because my dog is… errr… I mean, my dogs are (still getting used to that!) are Newfoundlands.  Which means Moses can be one panting, drooly mess, and I’ve never had a hint of desire to teach him to “give kisses”.

Can you blame me?

But you may remember that, in my brief recap of Alma’s first week home, I mentioned she had a few little things we needed to work on with her.

One of the unique little personality traits of Alma’s that we noticed right away is that she’ll lick you.

A lot.

To her credit, Alma’s not nearly as drooly as Moses – not even close – but it’s excessive and I’m not a fan.  And I can only imagine what guests will think if they come over and our adorable little Newf won’t stop assaulting them with her face – regardless of how friendly she may be.

Assaulting? Who? Alma? (Also - notice the kitten photo-bomb to the right)

Sure, to some an occasional “puppy kiss” now and then is endearing.  But when I say Alma’s licking is excessive, it is.  It’s not just when you get home from work – it’s every time she comes to see you.  (In the course of proof-reading this post before hitting ‘Publish’ – about 15 minutes – she’s racked up four counts of Attempted Licking in the First Degree.) And she’ll go for your hands, your pants, your foot, your face, your elbow… whatever she can reach.  It sure makes her one little weirdo.

Interestingly enough, she doesn’t really lick Moses at all.  But it would be no surprise to learn her dog manners are better honed than her people ones.

Now, we’ve got our plan to curb the excessive licking all laid out.

Are you ready for it?

It’s very high-tech and complicated.

We’re going to… ignore it.

And by ignore, I mean ignore.  Alma’s licking will get no reaction – not a smile, not a word.  Not even eye contact.  In fact, we may even turn away from her, to associate it with a negative consequence.

Then, the times when she approaches us calmly and politely and doesn’t try to lick us, she will be met with praise and affection and all good things.

I’ve already noticed the amount of times she approaches without licking me is increasing (albeit slowly), so we’ll just keep up the ignoring and be as consistent in our strategy as possible.  Admittedly, the ignore technique can prove to be challenging, especially when the initial knee-jerk reaction can be to laugh, say “eww”, or say “no!”  But I’ll work on it.

The Licker

But encountering this behaviour has made me very curious about its causes. So I did some reading.

Licking is a natural behaviour for dogs.  Mothers lick their newborn pups to stimulate them.  Young puppies lick their mothers to prompt her to regurgitate food for them (not just for birds – who knew?!).

But part of me is pretty sure (hoping?) Alma’s not trying to get me to throw up some dinner.

A couple of websites say dogs lick people because they like the salty taste of skin.  I’m also going to throw this theory out in our case because Alma will also lick your pants or shirt sleeves.  Or the laptop.  I’m also ruling out that it’s part of grooming behaviour.

Ever-trusty Wikipedia’s brief page on dog behaviour suggests licking can also be a friendly greeting or a bonding technique, and another random website that Google turned up suggests it can be a gesture of appeasement, goodwill, deference, or an attempt to get attention from people.

Both “dog gurus” Victoria Stilwell and Cesar Millan address this question on their websites.

Stilwell, answering a question about a situation that sounds very similar to our own, says the licking provides comfort and pleasure to the dog, and can relieve stress.  And she similarly recommends ignoring it.

Millan, answering a question that seems a little more excessive than ours (the dog licks furniture too), classifies it as a sign of anxiety (once medical reasons are ruled out – which some other online sources also discuss, but I will also rule out in our case), under-exercise/stimulation, as well as a behaviour that can increase when it receives a positive reaction from the humans.  He also hints at ignoring the behaviour, or redirecting with another activity.

While not really finding any firm answers behind the “why”, I thought of checking into licking as a calming signal, since I have noticed that the times Alma does approach without licking us, she sometimes licks her own lips and nose.  But my hunch hasn’t turned out to be validating, since licking others isn’t included in any of the lists of calming signals out there.  Still, I’m tempted to chalk it up to a sort of social awkwardness around people.

Moses, mid-calming signal

And, interesting fact: while looking up this subject, I read somewhere that black dogs use licking as a calming signal more often than lighter-coloured dogs because their facial expressions are often harder to read.  It doesn’t seem to be the case for Moses (he often yawns, as you know – which is also a clear signal for a dark coloured dog), but definitely is for Alma.

Moses & Alma

Basically, though, I’m still not exactly sure why she does it (let me know if you have any thoughts/theories/suggestions), but it’s one of Alma’s quirks that she likely once learned got her a positive reaction from people.

So we’ll see what we can do about decreasing her weirdo-factor by not encouraging the licking.

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About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

14 Responses to Kisses (Not the Chocolate Kind)

  1. Puppy licks are cute. Big slobbery dog drool licks…. not so much.

    Our Best Friend does not lick people. He also does not jump on people. Those are just about his only redeeming qualities.

  2. 2browndawgs says:

    I am right there with you. Dog licking is not something I appreciate. Storm will try the licking thing, (yes it is annoying). We find that she does it after a meal or when she is super excited/happy. I sort of thought the licking takes the place of play biting (because she knows I am not a fan of that either). I think ignoring is a good way to deal with it.

  3. Kristine says:

    Shiva is a licker and she will lick pretty much whatever is available and connected to a human body. My husband doesn’t mind and even encourages it. I, however, prefer to keep the licking to a minimum. By now Shiva knows not to ever lick my face as I will always turn around and walk away. But she will lick my husband’s freely. Blech. We do have it on cue as well but I use that only rarely these days.

    Honestly? I think she just does it for attention. She licks me when we wants to play or to go outside. She will often try to lick my hands when I’ve been typing on the computer too long. She licks if you stop petting her as a prompt to continue. She stops licking as soon as I acknowlegde her presence. Ignoring it is best because any reaction, even negative, is giving her the attention she is seeking. This is just my opinion on my own dog’s behaviour, though. Others could quite likely be different.

    Good luck with Alma! Once she is more settled I am sure she will learn a new and better way to irritate you. 😉

    • thatjenk says:

      Wait a sec! Has there been an upgrade from “Practically Husband”?!

      I think you’re right about the attention. Though, in the early first day or two before we noticed it was a “thing” with her and just wanted to pet our new dog, Alma will continue to try to lick you while you pet her. And then ramp it up when you stop.

  4. Jen says:

    So are you saying that you don’t enjoy a kiss from a Newf that has pieces of food in it???LOL!
    Leroy is a licker, but not a face licker. He likes to lick clothes, like my pants or shirt sleeve. The sound of it grosses me out, and I can’t stand it! He doesn’t seem to do it as much as he did, but every once in awhile he gets into it.

  5. Kayloo is a licker- I’m not a fan either. I took a cue from my other dog, Mickey to deal with it:

    If she licks him a couple times he’ll ignore her. If she keeps going, he’ll turn/walk away. If she still keeps it up he’ll snap at her (he doesn’t bite her, he just gives the dog equivalent of “knock it off”). So, she doesn’t lick him much.

    I’ve started doing the same thing with her and her licking (of me) has been cut WAY down.

    What I don’t get is people who see her in the street who lean down, get a face full of it and then STAY THERE for more while I’m trying to get her to sit and stop it. Yuck!

    • thatjenk says:

      Mickey sounds like he has a great strategy – I will definitely keep it in mind, thanks! Luckily, if you turn away, Alma gives up pretty quick.

      I can’t take cues from Moses, though – he just sits there and takes it. Like a gross dog make-out session.

  6. I’m not a fan of “kissing” dogs either. I know where those mouths have been. LOL! And I can’t imagine how bad it would be with a big, drooly, Newfie – no matter how sweet they are!

    I think it is a great idea to try ignoring it, and turning your back when possible will probably be more pleasant for you. I look forward to hearing how it works out for you.

    • thatjenk says:

      Haha – I agree! Someone inevitably throws the statistic out there that a human mouth has more germs than a dog’s, but I don’t forgive it on those grounds at all!

  7. lauren says:

    i have absolutely no advice for you whatsoever (i think you’re doing just fine), but i, too, am anti-being kissed by a dog. i cannot get down with a tongue that’s been on a booty being on my face. CANNOT.

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