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Dog Speak with Colleen Safford

A dog's lip lick (or the nose lick or the tongue flick)

DogSpeak, week of July 5, 2010:

Unless you're dangling a treat over his head or he's sitting in front of his food dish, the lip licking you see Fido offering is very likely dog talk. The lip lick is yet another part of the dog vocabulary as observed and researched by Turid Rugaas, which she calls a calming signal. This is not to be confused with the licking that your dog does when self bathing or giving you (or a complete stranger) some affection and loving.

Lip licking is a quick flick of the tongue. Some lip licks can be more exaggerated (over the nose!) and others are a very tiny flip of the tongue. My observation with my own dog is that she offers softer, more subtle lip licks when she is reasonably relaxed and trying to keep calm. She offers a subtle lip lick when she receives an extended petting session from me.

She offers more exaggerated nose licks when very excited. For example, when I first come home after being away and when we are waiting to do something, like waiting in a line (can we move!?) or in the vet's office. "I know I'll get to lick the vet tech's face, but what is that thing they do to take my temperature!?" She's anxious in the environment. At home, if I call her to her feet from lying down (because a toddler is perhaps racing around), she licks her lips as she approaches me.

In the video below, it is very clear this dog is feeling anxious with the owner's interaction. Perhaps part of this is the camera? To me, it appears that he is guarding the blue toy under him and uncomfortable with the owner coming closer to him or his toy. This dog is stressed and the owner should stop pushing him past his level of comfort. It's certainly not "cute" as the title of the video suggests. His body is a bit stiff, his neck outstretched and lowered a bit, and he also offers head turns and whale eye (and more, but we just haven't covered them yet!).

In the photo below, one of my company's dog walkers, Anne, needs to get a bit snuggly with one of our furry clients. This is very out of context for Clyde. He is used to walking briskly with Anne, not stopping and being affectionately mauled by her. We did two shots and I called it quits as he was clearly not happy.

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Looking for more ways to better understand and communicate with your dog? Check out all of Colleen's DogSpeak columns...

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