To Smooch, Or Not To Smooch Your Pooch

To smooch, or not to smooch? (Photo Credit: Meleva Steiert)

To smooch, or not to smooch? (Photo Credit: Meleva Steiert)

I asked a friend recently if she kisses her dogs. She’s a big-hearted dog lover and regularly rescues and fosters animals in her suburban, Los Angeles home. She told me that she does kiss some of them, but others were not receptive and one in particular would probably become violent if she tried to give any kisses because this one rescue dog takes kisses as a major insult or threat. Her answer is an almost picture-perfect lesson on the subject.

It’s really all about who your dog is, who you are and what everyone is comfortable with.

From the dog’s perspective, kisses are a very specific form of communication. Dogs who do enjoy it have learned, probably from puppyhood, that kissing brings positive results. In fact, this natural behavior is important to survival. In the wild, wolf and fox puppies will greet their mother’s return from hunting with lots of licks to the face and sometimes the mother will regurgitate food for her young. Gross! Maybe, but it’s much easier for that four-legged mother to bring food in her stomach, than it is for her to drag something all the way home.

Within the pack, face licking is another form of communication. Experts call it “active submission”. Subordinate members of the pack, will lick the face and mouth of their superiors. Many dogs will continue this behavior as long as their mommies and pack leaders (human or otherwise) are receptive to the attention.

Dogs who are not receptive to kisses, feel that way for equally specific reasons.

Dogs who are dominant will find most intrusions into their personal space to be an insult, or worse, a challenge. This is why we teach our children not to pet animals that they don’t know. The animal may be subordinate and submissive with their owner but feel that strangers, especially children, are below them in the pecking-order. It’s hard sometimes for humans to read a dog’s behavior. Especially a dog they don’t personally know very well. Wagging tails and direct eye contact can be easily misunderstood. Both children and adults put themselves at risk when they accidentally violate a dog’s social rules.

As my friend the dog lover in Los Angeles knows very well, some dogs may enjoy all kinds of affection, but draw the line at “kisses”. The aversion may have been taught to them early by either dog or human reacting negatively to their kissy, puppy love, or it may simply be too intrusive for them. Humans have their own opinions on dog kisses. I know lots of fabulous, loving dog owners who would never allow their dog to lick them and would find the idea of kissing a dog to be disgusting, and I know others who submit themselves to what they call “dog facials” on a regular basis.

So, how disgusting is it?

First of all, we know that kissing is good for humans. It generates endorphins (the happy hormones), promotes bonding, lowers stress, and as some point out, burns calories (now, that’s a stretch). The jury on germs is still out. Germaphobes will refute the old saying that “a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s“, and they would be right. The fact is, that a dog’s mouth is really quite similar to our own. There are a lot of different bacteria noodling around in there. For the most part, none of the microbes are any more dangerous than what’s living in your boyfriend’s mouth.

What has your pup been chewing on today? (Photo Credit: Meleva Steiert)

What has your pup been chewing on today? (Photo Credit: Meleva Steiert)

The difference between your dog and your boyfriend is that your boyfriend probably didn’t nibble on a squirrel-carcass this morning after he thoroughly licked his private parts. Of course, we don’t really know your boyfriend that well, but we assume that he didn’t.

If you know that your dog hasn’t eaten anything out of a litter box and the only other treats he had in his mouth were out of a biscuit box, then you can use what they call “common sense hygiene”, and kiss away. In fact, there is some evidence that it can boost your immunities. There are some cautions for folks with compromised immune systems but otherwise, between consenting canines (and homo sapiens), it’s a personal choice.

For the record, I’m a big time doggie kisser and regularly indulge in the “doggie facial.”