Is my dog kissing me?
December 1, 2005 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Is my dog really kissing me?

Dexter is a 3 and a half year-old mystery mutt. He's not one of those constantly licking dogs. I just get the occaisonal smooch on the face, sometimes when I first come in the door, sometimes when he's getting a good rubdown. And I'm just curious if any of you animal peeps know, is he showing me affection? Is it really a kiss?
posted by sonnet to Pets & Animals (24 answers total)
It certainly is meant to convey some kind of comfort or affection to you as a pack's probably due to your very positive visceral reaction to it, which a dog can surely sense, that makes it seem so kiss-like.
posted by vito90 at 11:09 AM on December 1, 2005

Why dogs lick
posted by Tenuki at 11:15 AM on December 1, 2005

Maybe you're salty...
posted by johnsmith415 at 11:22 AM on December 1, 2005

As Tenuki's link indicates: ...puppies lick their mother's face and lips to cause her to vomit up some food. they're really just checking to see what you've brought home from "work".
posted by bonehead at 11:44 AM on December 1, 2005

Rufus, one of my cats does this. Not a "smells me and rubs his scent on me with his cheek" kind of kiss; he presses his mouth against my cheek for a moment. He only does that to me, my girlfriend, and his kitty sister. It's terribly cute.
posted by weirdoactor at 11:46 AM on December 1, 2005

Great link, Tenuki. I've long suspected that some of it is a learned response, too. At least it is in my house:

- master walks into house
- dog gets excited, runs over
- master bends down, pets dog, says "hi puppy!"
- dog licks master's face
- master smiles, laughs, says "good boy," etc.

If your reactions are at all similar, it probably didn't take much for your pet to realize that licking = making you happy.
posted by werty at 11:49 AM on December 1, 2005

vito90: "It certainly is meant to convey some kind of comfort or affection to you as a pack member..."

Tenuki's link: "Obviously, it helps keep the puppies clean, but in the process it helps strengthen the bonds between the puppies."

So the verdict is: yes.

(By the way, carefully avoid the vast throng of science-y types, who haven't really put much effort into understanding what it means to be an animal. This is understandable; their brethren spent a few hundred years cutting up animals in the name of 'knowledge.' Just keep in mind, whenever somebody announces to you that you're being 'anthropomorphic' when you call this licking 'kissing:' animals have souls too, just like humans. As such, animals can feel affection. There's nothing wrong or untruthful about percieving this.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:52 AM on December 1, 2005

(By the way, by 'vast throng,' I don't mean to flame. I don't see anybody here that resembles said throng. I just get sick of hearing, when I talk to people in general, that animals and humans don't really love each other, and that it only looks that way.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:53 AM on December 1, 2005

Amen koeselitz! I know my dog really loves me, even if it's only the taste of the food on my face that makes her kiss me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:11 PM on December 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

In wolves, though less commonly in dogs, the muzzle-licking and nibbling behavior originally intended to promote regurgitation from the mother often hangs on into adulthood (in non-alphas) as a show of submissiveness. I've had wolves do this to me (including this guy) apparently because they like my beard. It's an incredible experience, but not much like kisses from my little cairn terrier.
posted by The Bellman at 1:13 PM on December 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

ThePinkSuperhero: "I know my dog really loves me, even if it's only the taste of the food on my face that makes her kiss me."

The trouble with that line of argument is that it generally leads to the denial that any animal feels affection. You can claim that if you want. In fact, it even makes some sense to say, "when my girlfriend kisses me, she's just acting on hormones." The trouble is, that leaves out the meaning of the experience for her. Humans and animals share significant chunks of their experiences.

I'm only saying all of this because modern science was founded by a bunch of people who claims that animals were robots (Descartes and Bacon chief among them). This is a significant misunderstanding of the relationship between animals and humans. One can be skeptical, careful, and scientific, and still see correlation in the experiences of humans and animals.
posted by koeselitz at 1:24 PM on December 1, 2005

Just anecdotal, but the way my dog sulks* every time I pull out my suitcase and start packing tells me there is more than instinct driving their behavior.
*(She sit in my chair with her back to the room and won’t look at me.)
posted by Tenuki at 1:35 PM on December 1, 2005

but the way my dog sulks* every time I pull out my suitcase and start packing tells me there is more than instinct driving their behavior

Our cats get IN the luggage, and have to be pryed out; or they watch sadly from their various perches. As I was leaving last Wednesday for a trip, one of them got on TOP of the rolling suitcase, and rode all the way to the front door. I had had to carefully unhook each claw as she cried bloody murder. After I cuddled her, gave her a smooch, and sat her back on the floor; she sighed quite loudly, and sat down, as if to say "Fine, two-legs. Be that way. Have fun cleaning the vomit when you get home. Ass."
posted by weirdoactor at 1:46 PM on December 1, 2005

I agree, koeselitz, although only up to a certain point- a dog is not a person, and we can't explain every thing a dog does by assuming their thought process is like the human thought process. It isn't. Slate did a really interesting piece on this called Do Dogs Think?, which was adapted from a book (I haven't read) called Katz on Dogs. I found it very interesting.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:50 PM on December 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think the dog is kissing you. Yes! Dogs & Cats is Oranges & Apples, but my own kitty *demands* to be kissed when he feels needy. He does this by smashes his head into your lips, sometimes repeatedly, inducing purring if he's really into it. I'm guessing this is learned behavior: we've kissed his boney forehead since he was a kitten when he was yelling for petting, just to quiet him down, so now it's in his communication repetoire. He also mimics our tone of voice, and can do it independently now. For instance, if he's looking for us, he'll walk around saying, "Maa?" (2nd tone for Mandarin speakers); it's the same tone we use to call him when we can't find him ("Klaus?"). He also mimics sad, confused, and pissed off--making a sound uncannily like the word, "NO!"

Whether or not animals think like us, I think they're really good at adapting and learning what most gets them what they want. Kissing gets Klaus what he wants the fastest, but now he enjoys the kissing as much as the petting--sometimes, he requires only the kissing. Conclusion: the dog is kissing you because he loves you, duh! ;-)
posted by ibeji at 2:39 PM on December 1, 2005

Our dog kisses to show affection, to beg for scratching, and to lick salt.

He will lick the face of any child and any adult who leans down. He won't do it repeatedly, and will sometimes walk away immediately afterwards.

When he wants something the licking is more insistent. If I stop scratching him he'll try to lick me (on the fack/neck only) until I start scratching him again.

If I'm sweaty he'll lick any exposed skin he can find because he likes the salty taste.
posted by Four Flavors at 3:30 PM on December 1, 2005

WeirdoActor, my dog and cat refer to people as 'two-legs' too!

I like to think that my dog nuzzles me and such because he likes to. He loves licking other people's faces too. I don't know why he does it, but I don't believe it's because he tastes food there.
posted by The Monkey at 4:33 PM on December 1, 2005

My dog also used to go mental every time a suitcase was packed - even to the point of trying to do a pre-emptive rush to the car to get in it, to ensure he was going wherever we were going. And I'm sure that licking you when you get into the house demonstrates affection in the same way that the suitcase example demonstrates fear of abandonment. Sure, it might be a learned response - but I think that dogs do it for very clear reasons, linked to you being head of the pack. (Human gestures of affection are just as learned, after all, and that doesn't invalidate them!)
posted by greycap at 5:14 PM on December 1, 2005

I think it's entirely possible to recognize that the dog is licking you because of some mixture of standard canid communication (face-licking is a formalized peace-making/appeasement gesture that almost all canids do), the fact that it "works" (in the sense that it is rewarding to the dog in some way: you like it, which benefits the dog, and it is a dog-dog calming signal, which can relieve anxiety), and affection. I don't think you have to go into anti-science-land to recognize that animals have emotions (they definitely do), nor do I think that it's reasonable to say that those who caution against anthropomorphizing are all equal to vivisectionists, in fact many people who dislike anthropomorphizing are neither vivisectionists, nor people who deny that animals have emotions (myself included). And I would argue that it's often the people who speak the loudest AGAINST anthropomorphizing who have the dogs' best interests in mind and at heart.

I think it's very dangerous to anthropomorphise animals inappropriately. I think it's dangerous to the dog: they're truly wonderful creatures in and of their own right, it does them a disservice to pretend that they are "little people in fur coats", they're not, they're a different species with different motivations and entirely different methods of communication. Seeing dogs as people intrinsically assigns some human level of moral agency to them, which can lead to misconceptions about motives for behaviour (he peed on the rug because he's spiteful) and capability of understanding (he knows how much I loved those shoes, so he ate them because he was mad at me because I rubbed his nose in it after he crapped on the rug...out of spite), which does not help the dog in any way, and in fact can harm them because it often interferes with effective, fair and humane training and management (why do you need to reassess your housetraining, the dog peed out of spite? Why do you need to put your shoes away and thus set the dog up for success when the dog ate them not because they were leather and lying around on the floor like his other chew toys, but because he was mad at you?). And it's also dangerous to people (since misinterpreting dog body language can get you hurt). Some dog emotions are definitely comparable to human emotions, but dogs are not humans, and the primate ways of communicating (like hugging, for example) are not the canid ways of communicating (dogs don't put their legs over each other's backs unless they mean to send a very strong message of challenge and dominance to each other - which DOES NOT mean that dogs can't learn to tolerate or even like being hugged, but it DOES mean that you shouldn't go hugging strange dogs, and it also means that you shouldn't insist on hugging your dog if it doesn't like it - what's friendly to a primate is often aggressive to a canid). Part of loving dogs is respecting their differences and working within them, it is unreasonable to do otherwise.

That said, I think the "kissing" issue is semantic: the dog is licking you because it has some benefit for the dog, it makes the dog feel good and it makes you feel good, and making you feel good (i.e. maintaining the calm, loving relationship the dog has with you) is also beneficial to the dog, so yes, I think in some sense it IS "kissing" in the human sense, since why do we kiss each other if not to show affection, cement emotional bonds and maintain relationships?
posted by biscotti at 5:22 PM on December 1, 2005

Just keep in mind, whenever somebody announces to you that you're being 'anthropomorphic' when you call this licking 'kissing:' animals have souls too, just like humans. As such, animals can feel affection. There's nothing wrong or untruthful about percieving this.

I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I don't think you can just say this as though it wasn't a major unresolved philosophical question. It's disingenuous to make statements like that.
posted by Hildago at 5:33 PM on December 1, 2005

Okay, so biscotti said it first and better.
posted by Hildago at 5:34 PM on December 1, 2005

My dog is completely grossed out by kissing, you can see her recoil if anoyne tries to hug or kiss her, and she won't let strangers do it at all. She will very occasionally lick my hand once when she's enormously happy, but that's it. The funny thing is that she is this way with other dogs too, only her closest doggie friends are allowed to lick or muzzle her and even then she only tolerates it for a short time. The only dog she is openly affctionate with is her "boyfriend" who lives across the street. She lavishly rubs on and frenches him every morning when we take them on walks together. And it's not just familiarity, they're all neutered and we have another (male) dog that she most definetely does not feel the same way about. She likes him, but just as a friend. For her, licking and nuzzling are definetely an expression of extreme affection.
posted by fshgrl at 6:39 PM on December 1, 2005

Sorry, ibeji, but your cat's head-bump is innate, not learned, behavior. Cats -- mine included -- do the head-bump and cheek rub to spread their scent on you and mark you as their person. It still means he wants and loves you, though!
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:05 PM on December 1, 2005

years ago i had a dream that i was kissing a girl and woke up to find out that one of my old girlfriend's poodles had his tongue in my mouth ... ewww

not a good way to wake up
posted by pyramid termite at 9:21 PM on December 1, 2005

« Older Employer demanding a third life insurance policy   |   Miracles Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.