Dogs often give us an irresistible urge to pet and pamper them and this often entails kissing them, but do dogs really like being kissed? This is a very important question, because kissing dogs along with blowing in their faces, hugging them, looming over them and patting them on their head are all part of the list of those behaviors dogs might not like. Of course, not all dogs are created equal so there are certainly some dogs who may likely enjoy the interaction (at least that’s what some owners say), or at least tolerate it at the most. So today we take a look at the art of kissing dogs, the dos and dont’s that can make a difference between cuddling or going to the ER.
They Call it Puppy Love
Why are people so attracted to kissing dogs? Well, for starters puppies and dogs are blessed with neotenous traits which contributes to making them irresistible.
Neoteny comes from the Greek word “neos” meaning young and the word “teínein” meaning “to extend.” Put these two words together and you have “the extension of juvenile traits.”
Also known as juvenilization, in evolutionary biology neoteny refers to the process behind the retention of baby-like, “neotenous” features that are often seen in dogs and include large eyes, bulging craniums, higher foreheads and small noses and mouths.
Some like to call it “the cuteness factor” as they relate to those traits that make us ooohh and ahhh and evoke all those warm and fuzzy feelings of dealing with cuteness and care taking.
These traits are more pronounced in puppies and certain dog breeds such as the cavalier King Charles spaniel, Pekingese, pug and French bulldog. So yes, if seeing dogs makes you feel like hugging them and kissing them, it’s likely because they have these physical traits that makes them so hard to resist!
A Touch of Oxytocin
On top of the cutesy factor that makes us want to hug and kiss dogs, is another factor that plays a big role in how we perceive our dogs: this time though, it’s at a chemical level.
We’re talking about the power of oxytocin. If you perceive your dog as your fur baby, consider that there may be a scientific explanation for that feeling. According to a study conducted by Nagasawa et al, when dogs gaze at our eyes, it increases our levels of oxytocin, the same hormone that makes us bond to human infants.
This finding may ultimately lead us to discovering how dogs became our companions thousands of years ago.“It’s an incredible finding that suggests that dogs have hijacked the human bonding system,” says Brian Hare, an expert on canine cognition at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in an article for Science.
Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan, also studied the role of oxytoxin, and found that the oxytocin effect was actually mutual when it comes to people and dogs, mimicking the mutual gazing of mothers and human infants. Kikusui found that male and female dogs experienced a 130 percent rise in oxytocin levels, while male and female owners experienced a 300 percent increase. Interestingly, no oxytocin increase was seen in wolves and their owners who also participated in the research and spent little time gazing at each other.
This suggests why we feel so close to our dogs and, at the same time, provides us an insight into the process of domestication if we consider that only canine specimens capable of bonding and forming social attachments were those who ultimately received care and protection from humans.
Not too Fast
While it’s quite romantic to imagine dogs as our fur babies, dogs don’t necessarily see us as their mothers and, most of all, they may not be willing to accept certain behaviors from us.
This is not because they don’t like us, it’s just that hugging and kissing are human behaviors that dogs may not understand, even if done with well-meaning intent. When a dog is kissed, it means bringing our faces very close to theirs, something that not all dogs are comfortable with.
On top of that, hugging and kissing dogs also entail wrapping our arms around them and taking a dog’s “flight’ option (the ability to leave) away. When we hug and kiss them, we may therefore put ourselves at risk for a defensive bite.
Before biting, dogs may try to “tell us” though that they do not appreciate the interaction through subtle or less subtle signs. Watch for ears pulled back, yawning, a raised paw, whale eyes, lip licking, turning the head and looking away before, during and right after the interaction. When ignored, these subtle signs tend to intensify and may escalate to growls, barks, air snaps and muzzle punches, and eventually even biting.
It’s important therefore to heed these warning signs and “thank the dog, for not biting” by moving away and making a mental note that, no, Rover doesn’t enjoy being hugged and kissed as much as we do.
Even better, don’t test your dog’s tolerance for hugging and kissing in the first place, but rather interact with your dog in more dog-friendly ways that your dog understands better. Following are some tips for cuddling with your dog.
Choose The Right Time
Even if your dog seems to tolerate kisses, it’s important to keep safety and timing in mind. There is a place and time for cuddles, and it’s important to time your cuddling time and make sure it matches with your dogs’.
Most dogs don’t like to be cuddled when it’s dinner time. Most likely, if dogs could talk they would say ” Stop with the cuddles, and hurry up instead and get my chow ready!”
Same with when they are aroused by something and are a bit on edge, like when hearing an unfamiliar noise or seeing something out of the window.
Kisses and hugs may also be the last thing a dog wants when he is sleeping or about to fall asleep, or when is hyper and has loads of pent-up energy and would rather go on a walk or a romp in the yard. You can almost hear these dogs say “No sirree! I was home all day doing nothing, no kisses please, let’s please go out and do something else instead!
“Put yourself in their shoes — no matter how much you love your spouse, partner or child, would you want his face to be one inch away from yours whenever you are interacting with him?”~Dr. Wailani Sung, veterinary behaviorist.
Never Kiss Unknown Dogs
Another important tip is to never hug or kiss a dog you do not know.
A concerning trend are doggy kissing booths, where dogs in search of a home or for fundraising purposes are placed behind a booth where people are offered “kisses” from the dogs.
These set-ups can be a recipe for disaster, and a dog may end up being euthanized rather than going to a good home, because such kissing booths may stress them and set them up for failure.
“As a dog lover and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, I find the idea of a doggy kissing booth very disturbing. Putting dogs in a position to be hugged and kissed by complete strangers, in a carnival like atmosphere, is going to be extremely stressful to most dogs, further increasing the probability of a bite. “~Don Hanson
Let Him Give ‘Em
A better option than kissing dogs, (even though not ideal for many reasons like health/hygiene) is letting dogs do the “kissing”on their free will. Many dogs like to greet their owners by “kissing” them upon coming home. This may be a good time to praise the dog and let him know we are also happy to be reunited.
Yet, it’s important to recognize that these “kisses” are a fry cry compared to our human kisses. These licks to the chin and mouth area may be reminiscent of when dogs were pups and learned to greet their mother this way.
Allowing them to jump and lick our faces though can mean teaching them bad manners. A better option may be sitting on the couch and allowing a couple of polite doggy kisses, but again, this should come freely from the dog. Putting our face directly in a dog’s face in hopes of getting “kissed” can again be asking for trouble especially with a dog we do not know well or if our dog feels uncomfortable with this type of interaction or we do it at an inappropriate time.
A Word of Caution: not all doggy “kisses” are created equal. In some cases, certain types of face licking are not the affectionate kisses we interpret but are actually meant to increase the distance. Jennifer Shryock, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) calls this type of kiss, a “Kiss to Dismiss,” and describes it as a way for dogs to get someone who’s making them uncomfortable to go away.
Caution with Kids
Kids often feel tempted to hug and kiss dogs and this is a factor as to why children are also the most common victims of dog bites.
Because children may not recognize early warning signs that a dog is about to bite, they are particularly vulnerable. Often, there are disturbing videos being aired on You Tube, of children riding dogs like horses, jumping on them or hugging them tightly and kissing them which is quite problematic because the airing of such videos promotes and encourage inappropriate behavior by humans towards dogs.
The scary part is that parents are often the ones posting such videos.
But how much do parents know about safe dog-and-child interactions? A questionnaire designed to measure general knowledge associated with dog aggression toward children, has shown that parents are often not aware of the dangers of some child and dog interactions.
According to this questionnaire:”Eighty-two percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “I think it is safe for young children to kiss and hug their own dogs.” These thoughts are likely based on an incorrect assumption that a dog will not bite if the one hugging the dog is a family member and parents therefore assume that certain interactions are inherently safe. These assumptions though are quite problematic as they lead to parents lowering their guard.
Below is a great demo of how children can kiss a dog more safely. This is the true art of dog kissing brought to a whole new level!
The Best Way to Kiss Dogs
The Bottom Line
So should you kiss and hug your dogs or should these behaviors be on the list of things you should stop doing? Nobody can tell you to stop doing something that your dog seems to enjoy, but it’s in your best interest to practice caution and to carefully evaluate if your dog is really enjoying the interaction or not.
Susan Hetts and Daniel Estep, two Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists explain that a dog who is enjoying an interaction shouldn’t move away or try to avoid it. If the kissing or other form of cuddling stops, if the dog is truly enjoying it, the dog would want the owner to continue, by moving closer move, pawing or leaning against.
But as mentioned, it’s best not to test a dog’s behavior in response to things they might not like. A better option is to engage in behaviors your dog seems to enjoy more and that are easier for him to understand. And with children, the risks are so not worth it, so best to follow the words of wisdom from the smart kiddo in the video above.
“When we do use human gestures of affection that dogs don’t share, such as kissing and hugging, we must be sensitive to the dog’s reactions. Carefully monitor his body language for signs of anxiety, stress or defensiveness. Some dogs will be happier (and humans safer) if we find other ways to express our love. Play a game of fetch, take your dog for a walk or give her a gentle brushing. These are things most dogs enjoy – and giving them the things they want is the best way to express our affection!” ~Susan Hetts, Daniel Estep, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog appears aggressive to you or your children at any time, please consult with a behavior professional.
- Chun YT, Berkelhamer JE, Herold TE. Dog bites in children less than 4 years old. Pediatrics 1982;69:119–120.
- Effects of gender and parental status on knowledge and attitudes of dog owners regarding dog aggression toward children Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB, and Frances S. Shofer, PhD, JAVMA, Vol 233, No. 9, November 1, 2008
- Dogs Behaving Badly: An A-Z Guide to Understanding and Curing Behavorial Problems in Dogs. by Nicholas H. Dodman Random House Publishing Group, 2000
- Flickr, Creative Commons, dee & tula monstah, kissing booth, CCYBY2.0
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Beverly Not Funny, How Embarassing! Kiss My White Puppy Butt, I’m a Big Macho Dog Mom – I’m one year old on February 14th!, CCYBY2.0
Flickr, Creative Commons Dave Worley, Obligatory Puppy Kisses Pic, CCYBY2.0