Like a lot of dog guardians, you might worry about how your companion is going to behave with your visitors, especially if some of them aren’t as enthusiastic about dogs as you are. Sniffing or jumping on people, or face licking, are among the canine greetings some visitors might not appreciate.
In her new book What Dogs Want, published by Firefly Books, animal behavior consultant Arden Moore looks at a wide range of different canine behaviors, as well as what they mean and how to respond to them. In this excerpt, we take a detailed look at face licking, and how to train your dog not to do it.
What your dog wants
When a dog licks your face, she is trying to let you know that she sees you as dominant over her. In the wild, wolves lick the faces of pack members with a higher social standing. Face licking is your dog’s way of saying, “I see you as the boss and I want you to accept me and help me. I am not a threat.”
By expressing this sentiment, she is prompting you to feed her and take care of her, just like a mother dog or dominant pack member would do for her in the wild. Puppies are also big face lickers. Your dog’s ancestors used to feed their puppies by regurgitating semidigested food for them after the hunt.
By licking their mother’s face, the puppies triggered her regurgitating refl ex. Although modern dogs do not seem to retain this refl ex, puppies still have the instinct to lick the faces of both adult dogs and people. Puppies also use face licking to say, “I am a puppy, small and helpless. I am not a threat to you, so please do not hurt me.”
How to respond
Although your dog is trying to tell you something positive when she licks your face, you may not appreciate the slobber-filled gesture. Most people do not enjoy having their face licked by a dog because they think it is unsanitary. Plus, it is just downright messy, especially if your dog strategically and swiftly maneuvers her tongue up your nostrils and in your mouth.
Because face licking is such a strong instinct for dogs, it is difficult to eliminate it completely as a behavior. But you are able to clearly let your dog know that you do not appreciate her actions. End your petting session with your dog, stand up, and leave immediately if she starts going for your face with her tongue. This will definitely reduce her attempts to lick you, since licking your face will not get her the reaction that she intended.