Dog lovers tend to interpret the licks dogs give them as kisses — but are these sloppy slurps really signs of affection?
“The meaning of a dog lick can depend on how the licks are offered to their people,” Dana Ebbecke, animal behavior counselor at the ASPCA Adoption Center, told The Dodo.
According to Ebbecke, “long, slurpy kisses that are accompanied by a soft, wiggly body are usually very affectionate gestures.”
But some small kisses around the mouth can mean something different.
“Sometimes small licks near the mouth are ways for the dogs to get more information into their nose,” Ebbecke said, adding that the licking helps the smells get to the dog’s vomeronasal organ, which gathers information on his surroundings.
Some dogs even lick people to give themselves some space. “Some dogs are even unintentionally taught to give kisses as a way to get space from their people,” Ebbecke said. “This usually happens when a person puts their face too close to the dog’s face before they are comfortable.”
This is what Ebbecke calls an “appeasement” lick: “After the ‘kisses’ the person moves away and the dog learns that you can get a person’s face further away by licking it,” Ebbecke said.
The best way to tell what kind of lick your dog is giving you is to look at her body language. “If the dog looks loose and wiggly and is trying to get to your face, they’re probably very comfortable,” Ebbecke said. “If they offer a lick and slink away, they probably weren’t trying to French kiss you.”
But licks aren’t the only way you can tell your dog’s head-over-heels for you. “Dogs show affection to humans in lots of ways,” Ebbecke said. If your dog leans into you or rests his head or paw on you, it’s a really good sign.
And there’s one thing that people don’t often realize is a real sign of love, Ebbecke said. “Sometimes when dogs offer a soft stretch towards a person, especially if they haven’t been resting or lying down recently, it’s actually very close to an ‘I love you’ gesture,” Ebbeck said.
But you know your dog best — and he may have ways of expressing his love largely unique to him.
“Each dog is an individual, like all people are individuals, and they don’t all show affection and affiliation the same way,” Ebbeck said. “Some dogs, like some people, offer grand gestures and proclaim their love loudly. Others prefer to show their affection in less obvious ways, like simply cuddling up next to you on the couch.”