Some people love them; other people hate them, but everyone has an opinion about doggy kisses. Regardless of which camp you fall into, it’s important to teach Fido that no means no! Though you may declare yourself as firmly entrenched in the canine kiss aficionado club, people who visit your home might not, so it’s important for Fido to understand that sometimes he needs to keep his lips to himself. If you are the owner of a canine Casanova, what can you do to stop him from face licking?
Why Dogs Lick Faces
Often understanding a behavior is key to helping us change it. Since licking isn’t typically something human beings do to each other, it’s important to try to step inside the canine mindset to get to the root cause of the action in order to redirect it appropriately.
So, why do dogs lick faces?
From the moment puppies are born into this world, they experience licking. Their mother licks them remove to the sac from around their bodies then will lick their faces to clean them and induce breathing. She even licks their little bums to stimulate urination and defecation until her babies are old enough to engage in these bodily functions independently of her. Licking is a language that dogs understand.
But it’s not just at the time of birth that puppies and their mother participate in licking rituals. Puppies will often lick the mouths of their mother. This can be interpreted a number of different ways. In the wild, a mother dog would be responsible for sourcing food to feed her puppies once they were no longer nursing. Since some food was too large to transport safely back to her nest, it would be necessary for the mother dog to chew the food and swallow it only to regurgitate it later for the puppies to eat. Puppies learn very quickly that their mother is the source of all food until they are old enough to hunt for nutrition themselves. When they are hungry, they will lick their mother’s mouth to let her know that they are ready to eat and are looking to her to provide their nourishment.
If you have more than one pet in the home, you may catch glimpses of one licking the face of the other periodically. This particular behavior typically indicates one dog showing submission towards the other. The dog being licked is the one in the leadership role with the dog doing the licking clearly showing deference. It can be supposed that this may apply to the canine-human relationship as well. Your dog may simply be expressing to you that he acknowledges that you are “top dog” in the house, and he willingly submits to you. Face licking in canines is also an appeasement signal, so a dog licking your face may be meant to communicate that the dog means you no harm. Fido is a peace-loving kind of guy!
Our dogs do realize that the humans in their lives perform an entirely different function than that of their canine mothers. Yet they still choose to lick our faces. Why?
Dogs often lick the faces of their owner for one simple reason—they taste good! Don’t worry; Fido isn’t going to go all Cujo on you and progress from licking to full on bites. Very often human skin carries the taste of salt, something dogs love!
Sometimes dogs simply get in the habit of licking. Since dogs tend to repeat behaviors that seem to please us; if you express joy when your dog licks your face, it’s highly likely that Fido will trot the behavior out as often as possible because it invoked a response that he finds quite desirable.
But of course, we cannot deny that some dogs do lick as a sign of affection. Our dogs love us, and they don’t have as many ways to express that emotion as human beings do. They stay close by our sides and sometimes even lay on top of us. But one of the best ways to communicate to us that we are loved is some good old-fashioned canine face licking!
How to Change the Behavior
If face licking is far less than your fave thing, there are some things that you can do to stop it. Here is a list of some things you can try:
- Redirect the behavior.
Sometimes the simplest solution to a problem is distraction. When your dog attempts to lick your face, redirect him to something else that will engage his interest. You can try a Kong stuffed with something yummy, a raw meaty bone, or even a new toy. You want to make sure that whatever you use it is extremely high value particularly if your dog has a long history of face licking as the desire to resume doggy kisses will be very strong for your dog!
- Suppress your reaction.
Dogs respond exceptionally well to positive reinforcement techniques. If you express delight every time Fido kisses your face, he is going to interpret the action as a welcome behavior, and he’s going to keep doing it. In order to change this behavior, it is necessary that you learn to not react when Fido tries to lick your face. Your dog is looking for a reaction from you. If you fail to deliver one, he will most likely move onto a different activity in the hopes that he will find something else that pleases you and will earn him the reward of your attention.
- Be a moving target.
When your dog makes a beeline for your lips, the easiest thing to do is move the target. Your dog can’t kiss what isn’t there!
- Teach a “leave it” command.
Though “leave it” is typically taught to encourage dogs not to touch an object, it is equally effective when it comes to unwanted behaviors. When your dog approaches the lips of a guest, you can simply ask him to “leave it,” and hopefully, your pooch will assume an activity deemed more socially appropriate to your company.
- Make use of a crate.
A well-established habit can be hard to eradicate completely. If company is coming over and Fido is still attempting to exuberantly kiss everyone who walks through the door, it might be best to crate him until he can contain his enthusiasm and approach your guests with a calmer demeanor.
Some people think canine kisses are the bomb, but since not everyone feels that way, it’s always a good idea to teach your dog to lay off the licking when commanded to do so. If your dog is a bit of canine Don Juan, try some of our tips today to help Fido learn more socially appropriate manners.