Give Me a Kiss! More on Understanding Dog Language
This morning as I sat trying to wake up, sipping some water and watching a bit of TV my 18-month-old Belgian Malinois came up for a snuggle.
I have been sad, mourning the loss of my almost 13-year-old Belgian and I think we both needed a little lovin’.
As I leaned in for a little kiss (something my other Belgian LOVED) and my Jovi leaned away, it reminded me of how often we misinterpret doggy behavior and infer our human behavior on them.
In the dog world, it is called anthropomorphizing or giving them human traits that they really don’t have.
He leaned away from me, not because he was being aggressive, and it wasn’t even that he didn’t want my love… it was simply because dogs don’t get in other dogs’ faces. It is rude, it can be aggressive, and it usually isn’t tolerated well.
He respects me as the “ultimate alpha” or “Momma” of our pack. My leaning into his face just made him a little uncomfortable.
The reason my older dog liked this behavior was that I had taught him when he was little to tolerate and then enjoy the behavior.
I remember when my old guy was little. He too was very submissive to me and so asking for eye contact was very difficult for him. Staring into my eyes, at first made him uncomfortable.
He would look around and about my face but was uneasy staring at my pupils.
But, he was fairly easy to train and learned that staring brought the click and food rewards and soon he was staring at me from across the room in hopes I would reward him. And if you’d like to see how I’d do that, I made these videos.
As a young dog trainer, I wondered if he would be comfortable taking food from my mouth. I remember leaning down with a french fry in my mouth and trying to pass it to his.
He was HORRIFIED! Dog’s don’t take food out of the mouths of other dogs!!! This is terribly rude behavior and can result in trauma and possibly death in the wild!
It took some major coaxing and teaching him that the behavior was acceptable on cue.
I must admit there is no real reason to teach your dog to take food from your mouth; actually as a seasoned professional, I would never recommend it… it could cause more behavior problems than have any functional duty.
But I was curious and we often do silly things in training that we may regret later (I also taught him to unzip my purse, BIG mistake!). Thankfully he was the kind of dog that never made me regret this training and my lips still remain intact.
I need to desensitize my big Malinois that kisses are affectionate from me. This does not mean he would tolerate it from anyone else (unless they wanted to find their lips next to their cheek on a table at the hospital), but he is very submissive to me, so it is not a dominance problem.
I would never kiss my 5-month-old puppy in the face, he is WAY too dominant!!! I could lose some lip for sure! Kissing a dominant dog is like “paying homage to an already arrogant ego,” it’s not something you would want to do!
But it made me reminisce how much we really forget dogs have a different set of behavior rules and keys!
It also makes me scared for children who think leaning into a furry snout is acceptable behavior, or that hugging a dog is okay.
Both of these behaviors are very rude to dogs–especially very dominant dogs. A submissive dog will often tolerate it, and some dogs seem to learn from our training and behavioral cues and begin to like it after a while, but some dogs would rip your face off for trying it.
Dominant And Aggressive Dogs Often Don’t Give Much Warning Before Biting
A dominant dog or puppy may stiffen just a bit, his eye will probably dilate and many dogs will roll their eyes to the side right before biting you. But if you are already in his space; you aren’t going to see it.
It reminds me of the news anchor that got bit in the face on live TV.
The dog had saved his owner’s life and so they were doing a news story.
The news anchor was obviously a dog and animal lover, but didn’t know much about them in the way of behavior.
The dog was backed up to his owner and on a very short leash; so when the new anchor leaned in for a snoot kiss he reacted by almost ripping her nose off.
I watched the news clip and from a dog trainer’s perspective I can see his body stiffen, his eyes get hard and the flash of white right before he bit.
But not everyone is a dog professional; especially not our children.
So What’s The Verdict: Is Kissing Dogs Okay?
Is kissing dogs okay?
Well, first, keep your face away from strange dogs. This should be obvious, but it’s dangerous to hug or kiss a dog you don’t know. And be cautious about allowing your children to kiss your family dog. They may not understand the difference between kissing your family dog and a stranger’s dog. This is a bite waiting to happen. And your dog might not be as comfortable with the kisses as you believe. Again, you’re risking a bite. Yes, from your family pet.
Second, I believe an ounce of prevention is often worth a pound of cure.
I like to desensitize my dogs to weird behaviors they may encounter from someone else and teach them some rude “human” behaviors from the time they’re puppies.
But again, I would never get in the face of a dog I didn’t know, and I would never allow someone to get in the face of my dogs! Even with desensitization training, I view this as risky behavior.
Understanding them and recognizing that dogs are different from humans will take you a long way in your dog training program!
(This post was updated on July 29, 2019.)
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.