Kisses From a Human Perspective
Let's face it: as humans we expect our dogs to sometimes behave in human-like ways and we therefore may subject them to things that aren't a normal part of their behavior repertoires.
Perhaps we dress up our dogs, teach them to shake hands with people and even expect them to not pass gas in front of guests. On top of this, we may expect dogs to cherish being kissed and hugged.
Rather than asking "why do dogs hate kisses?" we should rather instead ask ourselves "why do humans like kisses?" And most of all, why do we want to kiss our dogs? What are we trying to really accomplish?
Most likely than not, we may want to kiss dogs because we find them adorable and difficult to resist. Blessed with neonatal traits such as big eyes and puppy-like faces, dogs are known to pull at any dog lover's heartstrings. The word neonatal, indeed, comes from the Greek word "neos" meaning baby, infant-like.
And dogs sure are like our babies! Research has revealed that the attachment relationship between a dog owner and his dog is functionally similar to that seen between a parent and child.
Often times, us dog owners may also wish to hug, kiss and snuggle with our dogs because we expect them to fulfill our emotional needs. Perhaps we feel lonely or we are sad and interacting with our dogs helps us feel better.
This is, after all, scientifically proven. Studies have found that when, dog owners interact with their dogs, their levels of oxytocin increase and cortisol levels drop. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide known for inducing anti-stress effects causing stress hormones to drop and blood pressure to lower.
However, we may never wonder whether dogs may like being kissed or hugged as we expect them to love us back unconditionally and understand our needs. It may, therefore, come as a great shock that day we hear a growl or our dog snaps towards our face asking us to keep distance.
Kissing From a Dog's Perspective
Most dogs hate kisses because they perceive them in a different way compared to humans. It's not like dogs don't like us, it's just that hugging and kissing are human behaviors that dogs may not fully understand, even if we do so with good intent.
When a dog is kissed, it means bringing our face very close to the dog's face, and this is something that not all dogs are comfortable with. From a dog's perspective, putting our face close to their faces and plastering them a kiss on the nose, mouth or forehead, may be perceived as a bite or attempt to bite.
On top of that, when we hug and kiss our dogs, we may also wrap our arms around them which removes the dog's "flight' option" (the ability to leave). When we hug and kiss dogs, we may therefore put ourselves at risk for a defensive bite to the face which can be very dangerous.
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Ask the Vet: Help, My Dog Ate Donuts!
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Yes, dogs fall off cliffs and these accidents aren't even uncommon. As we hike with our dogs, we may sometimes overestimate our dog's senses. We may take for granted that dogs naturally know what areas to avoid to prevent falls. However, the number of dogs who fall off from cliffs each year, proves to us that it makes perfect sense to protect them from a potentially life threatening fall.
Studies have shown that bending over a dog, putting the face close to the dog's face and making eye contact (all behaviors taking place when kissing a dog), often led to bites directed towards the central area of the face.
Sadly, according to the study, more than two thirds of the victims were children. Young children often perceive dogs as stuffed animals. They want to hug them and smooch them as they do with their toys.
Failure to Recognize Signs of Stress
Dogs may respond differently to being kissed and hugged. Some dogs show pretty obvious signs of disliking it, others just tolerate them. Some dog owners claim that their dogs seem to really enjoy it, but is that the real picture? In some cases, dogs may be showing very subtle signs of discomfort that go unnoticed.
Sure, snarling, growling and snapping are pretty obvious signs that are quite easy to understand, however, according to a study, low-intensity warning signals of discomfort and stress such as yawning, nose licking, turning or walking away are often not recognized, even by adults.
Ignoring these signs may lead to what dog owners often report to be "a dog biting out of the blue." These dogs did not bite out the blue; rather, the owners simply failed to recognize the dog's pleas of stopping the interaction.
Interestingly, people often post on social media pictures of them kissing their dogs as a way of showing off to the world the strong bond they have. Often dog owners are very selective in choosing pictures where the dogs and owners look the happiest.
Yet, to a trained eye, what is seen is mostly pictures of happy owners and uncomfortable dogs. The dogs show in some way or another their discomfort in being kissed or hugged. Something else to consider as well though is that some dogs simply do not like having a camera pointed at them, so that is something that should also be factored in.
Now That You Know...
As seen, kissing dogs may be troublesome behavior. The word "may" is used here because no blanket statements can be made when discussing dogs. There are always individual differences both in humans and animals that are often overlooked.
Some dogs seem to truly appreciate being hugged and kissed, and even seem to come to ask for the interaction.
Not all dogs are created equally though. "Although some dogs are not reactive about being kissed and hugged, these types of interactions are potentially provocative, leading to bites," warns board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ilana Reisner.
- Never kiss or hug a dog you do not know. And consider that even if you "think" you know the dog, you don't known how he/she may react to being kissed or hugged.
- Avoid "doggy kissing booths," these are booths erected for fundraising events where people are offered "kisses" from the dogs. These set-ups may be a recipe for disaster.
- Learn how to recognize subtle signs of stress in dogs and if you have children, pass on this important information to them too. The Dog Gone Safe website has several resources on child and dog safety.
- The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that children play with dogs in more productive ways such as by playing fetch or training tricks.
- Getting puppies used to being kissed and hugged by creating positive associations from a young age may be a good way to habituate them to occasional (or accidental) smooching. If you own a puppy, have a dog behavior professional help you out to ensure your puppy has obtained a strong conditioned emotional response to hugs and kisses. This conditioning requires maintenance sessions.
- Please understand that although puppies may tolerate kisses at a young age, as they mature, they may no longer like them. Watch their body language closely.
- For safety sake, don't test your dog's tolerance for hugging and kissing in the first place. You risk a bite to the face!
- A better option than kissing dogs, is letting dogs do their own version of "kissing" on their free will. Many dogs like to greet by licking their owner's faces. If you enjoy these face licks, praise your dog and share the joy of being reunited.
- However, consider that certain types of face licking are not the affectionate kisses we think they are. Some types of kisses are actually meant to increase distance. Jennifer Shryock, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) calls this type of kiss, a “Kiss to Dismiss,” basically, a way for the dog to ask for distance.
- If your dog hates being kissed or hugged, find safer ways to interact with your dog. Play a game of fetch (if he doesn't guard toys), take him on a walk or gently brush him if he loves to be groomed (and while you are it, give his some treats too so to reward his collaboration!)
- If you are unsure whether your dog enjoys kisses or whether he just tolerates them, play it safe and avoid kissing him and/or consult with a dog behavior professional.