When dogs lick people mouths, you may get several different reactions. From an "ohhhh" or "aww" when it's interpreted as a doggy kiss, to a disgusted "yuck!" when you know what was in your dog's mouth not to long ago.
Let's face it: dog mouths aren't the cleanest places on earth. Your dog may have licked his "derrière," eaten some crunchy bug or perhaps your dog just drank from the toilet- right when it wasn't flushed.
Regardless, you don't want a dog licking your mouth, especially while you are eating or talking. Even if your dog is fed a boutique dog food, sleeps on plush pillows and spends hours at the groomer, his mouth is still teeming with bacteria and you don't want to share any of that.
Yet, those mouth kisses may come quite quickly. One moment you are there petting your dog, the next you're being French kissed by a passionate dog with a "potty mouth." What gives? Why do dogs lick people's mouths, and most of all, what can you do about it?
Licking is A Natural Behavior
It may sound a bit peculiar, but dog licking behaviors are instinctive meaning that dogs don't need to learn to do this behavior because it comes natural to them.
To better understand this behavior, it helps taking a look back into how puppies are raised and their "culture" being formed as descendants of wolves.
Licking behaviors are something puppies learn about just seconds after birth. Mother dog licks her puppies to remove birth fluids and her vigorously licks encourages them to breath.
Mother dog also licks her puppies to stimulate them to eliminate until they are older and capable of eliminating on their own. Although this may sound repulsive, it's an adaptive behavior considering that it helps keep the maternity den clean and the lack of odors won't attract predators.
Licking therefore is a dog's natural behavior, something that was inculcated in them from an early age.
Looking for a Meal
As the puppies raised in the wild grow and are weaned from mother's milk, they will instinctively lick around the mother's mouth in hopes of her regurgitating.
As much as this may sound repulsive, it makes sense considering that, in the wild, pups need to be gradually transitioned from drinking mother's milk to eating meat. Now, that's a big shift!
Since it's impractical for mother dog to carry meat from the great outdoors to the den, it's much easier for her to just consume the meal, and then once back to the den, regurgitate for her pups.
You'll therefore see often see dogs licking other dogs, adult people, toddlers and babies' mouths. Often this behavior is triggered by the smell of food.
If you recently ate a meal or your toddler has traces of Spaghetti O's sauce around the mouth, rest assured, your dog will be extra tempted to lick he mouth area.
Dogs find licking these remnants irresistible and these findings maintain the mouth-licking behavior.
A dog may therefore lick in the solicitation of resources just as the puppies licked the corners of their mother's mouths as a precursor to feeding, points out veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly.
Did you know? Dogs in general are attracted to licking faces and human skin in general because of the presence of salt.
A Way of Greeting
With licking by now being quite an ingrained behavior. it's natural for dogs to add licking in their behavior repertoire and use it some other contexts such as a way to greet people and other dogs.
It's therefore not unusual for dogs to want to greet humans by licking their faces and mouth area. Indeed, this is also the reason why dogs want to jump on people upon greeting. They want to get as close as possible to their face to say hello.
Dog trainer Victoria Stillwell in an article for Animal Planet explains that licking behaviors in dogs directed towards humans are a submissive gesture, and often a sign of affection.
She also adds, that licking releases endorphins which gives dogs a feeling of comfort and pleasure which helps relieve stress.
Watch these Wolves Mouth Licking a Human They Haven't Seen For a While
A Way to Gather Information
Many dogs in nature lick other dogs' facial area and mouths as a way to not only greet, but also to obtain information. Call it a sort of "doggy report" if you will.
Here's the thing: dogs have a very strong sense of smell and they rely on their powerful noses to gather information about their surroundings.
In particular, a study, published in the Journal of Animal Behavior and conducted by Marianne Heberlein and Dennis Turner at the Institute of Zoology at the University of Zurich, found that the behavior of nose touching in dogs may occur as way to gather information about the other dogs' feedings.
It's as if by nose touching, dogs are inquiring and saying something along the lines of "Howdy, have you found any tasty treats in the places you have recently visited?"
Licking another dog's mouth is certainly a more intrusive approach compared to nose touching though, and therefore, it's likely to provide even more information.
Sometimes dogs may willingly open their mouths for the other dog to inspect. It's as if these dogs were saying something along the lines of: "Look what I found, now am I great or what?"
An Attention-Seeking Behavior
Behaviors in dogs aren't always reinforced by food or other tasty things. Some dogs use mouth licking as a good way to get attention.
If every time your dog licks your mouth, you look at your dog, talk to your dog (even to scold him) or touch your dog (even to move him away), he may soon learn that licking you gets you to look at him, talk to him or touch him.
When a dog feels neglected, any form of attention can be perceived as reinforcing. Even attention of the negative type. So giving your dog a stern look, scolding him or pushing him away, may be ultimately reinforcing the face-licking behavior.
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs lick people's mouths for various reasons although the romantic kissing we imagine may be a far cry from it. Interestingly though, even in humans kissing has some ancestral roots associated with food.
Primitive human mothers similar to dogs used to chew food before feeding it to her children, explains Orlando Eijoin the book: "Natural Education To Your Child."
So there you have it: several reasons dogs lick people's mouth. You may be eager now though to know how to tackle the behavior considering that a dog licking your mouth is unhygienic.
Indeed, it is a known fact that dog mouths contain lots of bacteria. On top of this, you don't know what your dog licked or ate just prior to licking your mouth (his private areas, rabbit droppings, raw meat which can carry salmonella).
With this in mind, here are a few tips to stop a dog from licking mouths.
- Consider that the more your dog gets to rehearse the mouth-licking behavior, the more it puts roots. Catch the behavior before it occurs and prevent it from happening.
- Keep your face at a distance from your dog's face. Don't sit on the floor with your dog or bend down near his face. Out of close sight, out of mind.
- Keep your mouth area as clean as possible. If your mouth area smells like a jar of peanut butter, your dog will be unable to resist licking your mouth area!
Rewarding non face-licking behaviors. This can work but mostly if it happens often enough or to particular triggers. We do this by recognizing which of our behaviors elicit the mouth licking behavior (leaning towards the dog, placing our face too close, sitting on the floor) and gradually espose to these behaviors in a step-by-step fashion while aiming to reward an alternate behavior of our choice or just plain not face-licking. For instance, we can lean a little forward and be super quick to click/treat for not facing licking, lean a little more, click treat for non-face licking, sitting on the floor click/treat for non face licking. The goal being being able to have out face nearby and our dogs disregarding their impulse in hopes of earning a treat.
- Train a replacement behavior for the excessive mouth licking. For instance, you can train your dog to target your hands. This simple exercise teaches your dog to make contact with hands by briefly touching your open hand with his nose. The moment your dog targets the hand, a click or verbal marker announces that he'll get a high-value treat. Practice several times until you get a strong response. Next, put the behavior on cue. Say the verbal cue "target" right before you present your open hand. Click and reward. Repeat several times.
- Ask your dog to therefore "target" your hand the moment you notice his intent to go lick your mouth or other people's mouths. Make sure you heavily reward the hand targeting behavior and you'll see this new, replacement behavior more and more, and the face-licking less and less.
Stopping the interaction contingent upon the behavior. In other words, praise, pet and talk to your dog, but the moment she licks your mouth, stop, get up and leave.
Reacting strongly. This may or may not work. Depends on the dog. It might not work with dogs who are attention-seekers or who think what we do is always a game (and that includes even watching us get frustrated). It also shouldn't be done with dogs who are easily startled or frightened. It worked for me with a dog who used to do this out of the blue. Based on your description, I have a feel you are already doing this or something close to it. In any case, what I do is stop petting abruptly and react strongly by saying 'yuck! or "bleh!" loudly and start spitting loudly with my mouth closed sort of like when one is spitting a hair or something difficult to remove from the mouth. The dog often looked at me sort of like shocked as if thinking "jeez, what did I do wrong?" After two or more trials, the behavior decreased as she must have gotten the message that "she must really not like being French Kissed!" If a dog is an attention seeker, this reaction can be added to the prior tip and therefore we can react strongly and then leave.