Here’s an interesting question for you: What does a dog intend when it repeatedly licks the face of another? Muzzle licking has traditionally been interpreted as an appeasement behavior, usually done by a younger dog or a subordinate to the muzzle of another. Erik Zimen, one of the world’s experts on wolf behavior, labeled face licking as “active submission,” most often seen when puppies of both wolves and dogs lick the muzzles of their elders during greetings. (It’s not important for this discussion whether you label the action as “appeasement” or “submission”… That’s a different discussion. What’s relevant here is that muzzle licking is often done by dogs who appear to be appeasing another, for whatever reason.)
We know that muzzle licking, in wolves, stimulates the adult wolf to disgorge food it has carried in its stomach back to the litter. Younger domestic dogs also often lick the muzzles of their elders, although the older ones rarely regurgitate, thank heavens. Muzzle licking is also often seen in adult dogs, and is considered to be a sign of friendliness or appeasement in most cases.
On the other hand, Jennifer Shryock, BA, CDBC of Family Paws Parent Education, has proposed a different analysis, at least in some cases. She argues that certain types of face licking are intended to increase the distance between licker and lickee. She calls it a “Kiss to Dismiss,” and talks about it on her website as one way a dog could get someone who is pestering them to go away.
Interesting hypothesis,isn’t it? It’s reminiscent of a behavior I’ve called “aggressively obsequious.” The best example I know is from my dog Pippy Tay, who I called “The Queen of Grovel.” Pippy greeted other dogs by throwing herself to the ground, lying sideways and attempting to disappear into the earth. She wasn’t afraid, she seemed to adore other dogs, she just groveled her way through life when interacting with other dogs. However, Pippy was smart. Really smart. And she loved her food and her chew toys. One night my 100 pound Great Pyrenees, Tulip, had a chew bone on the living room floor. Pippy began her groveling routine–she lay down on her side, thumped her tail, grinned a submissive grin and lip licked. While doing so, she pulled herself forward a few feet with her forelegs, closer to Tulip and the bone. No response from Tulip. She continue this routine until she was within inches of Tulip (and the bone), and began to lick Tulip’s face enthusiastically. Lick, lick, lick, lick, slurp, slurp, slurp. On and on she went, as Tulip began turning her head away, first to the right, then to the left. But Pip persisted, and Tulip finally got up and walked away. You know who got the bone.
Was that a “kiss to dismiss?” Was Pippy trying to overwhelm Tulip with slobber in order to get the bone? There are lots of alternatives here: Pip could have been consciously or unconsciously licking to appease Tulip and counter balance her approach. Pip could have been licking because she was anxious about what she was doing. Pip could have been ambivalent and her push-pull motivations resulted in a kind of displacement behavior. Pip could have learned, as could any dog, that excessive licking is aversive to the receiver, and causes them to go away.
Here’s the video from Jennifer’s article for you to evaluate. In it, a dog licks the face of a young child who continually takes away his bone. I’ll preface your watching with the same cautionary notes that Jennifer adds: First, no parent should allow this scenario to play out. The dog is absolutely magnificent in his tolerance, but clearly should never be put in this situation. Second, this post is NOT about the parent’s behavior, the focus here should be on the dog. There is no value in any of us disparaging the behavior of the parents, we all know better now, and they didn’t know better then. Fair warning: I’ll delete comments about the parent, so restrict your attention to the behavior of the dog and the baby if you would.
What did you think? Did the licking influence the child’s behavior? (Admittedly the interference of the parent makes this harder to answer.) What do you think, in general terms, about the “Kiss to Dismiss” hypothesis? Have you seen dogs licking with what appears to be an excess of enthusiasm. I’m grateful to Jennifer for starting this conversation, I think there is great value in always questioning our interpretations. (If you’d like to hear three Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists talking about this and more, go to CAAB Chats and download the recording of the “web chat.”)
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: This weekend was downright balmy, in the 20’s, and we all got some good walks in the woods (except Tootise, still too cold and snowy for her). But today the high is predicted to be well below zero. And windy. That’s too darn cold for anything but going outside to feed the sheep and take the dogs to go potty, at least for me. Bless the dogs for going potty on cue. Never have I been so grateful.
It is perfect weather then, for some serious cooking. Here’s what we ate Sunday night, my first attempt at chicken pot pie. Home made crust and all, with local, organic chicken and vegetables. Jim really liked it, and making Jim happy makes me happy. Yum.
Karen A says
One of my girls is truly a kiss to dismiss girl, I had never really had one like that until Willow. Good to know that it is not only her.
My friend’s little pug mix constantly licks my pointer’s mouth to an obsessive degree (my dog usually ignores this behavior but is generally very friendly with her). The pug does this to such an extreme that when my pointer is sound asleep she will use her paws to push my dog’s lips up and then lick her mouth nonstop….all the while my dog is sleeping. I have always wondered the purpose of this in the context of a sleeping dog.
I’ve got a dog that does this to a few other dogs he knows, but not all. He actually tries to bury his whole muzzle inside the other dog’s mouth! I have never quite been sure what to make of it.
Roxanne Brooks says
My 9 lb Rat Terrier, Teagan, does this to the big dogs in the house. 2 rhodesians and a husky. She does it when they have a bone and she wants it. She also does it when she wakes up in the morning.. She does her rounds to each big dog as if to say “good morning! Im cute!” and they do not have a bone at that time. She seems to have taught the behavior to another ratty and the min doxie puppy as now they do it too. The big dogs will growl or make a lot of noise but they don’t follow through with a snark nor do I feel that they would…
Babies at that age have such slimy wet faces. My first thought was that the dog was just licking off all the slime but, he licked so much there probably wasn’t any slime left.
I had a foster dog that greeted my dogs the first time by licking their faces excessively. My dogs were stunned. They seemed almost confused by it.
Greta Kaplan, CDBC says
I have a dog who is an extremely obsessive, intrusive licker. I obtained him (and his litter sister) at age 2.5. They’d been kept on a farm/small puppy mill, living in pens until then. The farmers would feed them once a day, opening the pen gate, presumably fending off the bouncing dogs with yells, pushes and kicks,, and throwing in their food. They did receive some flyball training in the first year, but this stopped and their entire social life with humans after that apparently consisted of being fed and kicked.
These dogs are F1 Borderjacks, and their littermates who went to flyball homes are well adjusted, athletic, happy, and healthy. The two kept back have allergies to everything and are both on fluoxetine for chronic anxiety. They both have a lot of similar behaviors related to the excessive kenneling — crate soiling when stressed or aroused, lots of appeasement behaviors, pacing and circling. Though neither dog is really fearful (amazingly), my dog’s sister is a little more overtly timid and occasionally is just scared of a particular man. She is more likely to hang back. My dog had exactly one coping mechanism. Jump up repeatedly (JRT springs!), grin, lick. Dozens of times per minute. If you got your face close to his, he’d lick frantically, and become extremely overaroused. (For the first year I had him, if he got too close to my face, e.g. if he was on my bed, he’d end up humping my head — frantically.) I’ve taught him to sit to greet, and he can usually do it, but if someone bends over him, brings their face too close, or spends too long greeting, there’s still a fair chance he’ll eventually pop up and desperately try to get his tongue on their face. Only in the last year or so have I seen him able to make a choice NOT to greet someone. He likes people OK, but doesn’t love them as he’s inevitably perceived to.
I think it is a distance increasing behavior, but that doesn’t make it NOT an appeasement behavior, does it? I’m sure it’s also an appeasement behavior. I interpret his frantic licking as: “I apologize for being alive. Please don’t hurt or yell at me.” He simply never figured out that backing away from the farmers would keep him out of trouble; I tend to think that he got locked into a motor pattern partly driven by the Jack Russell tendency to bounce up vertically to greet. His more fearful sister is actually more adaptive — she had options that reduced conflict, and he never figured those out. When I took them home I thought she was more damaged; I’ve changed my mind about that.
For those who are concerned, Nano loves to play fetch and flyball. He has a decent quality of life in between, as good as I can make it. He gets to chew a LOT of bones. 🙂 But he will clearly never be “normal.” I do have a lot of rage at the people who took two dogs made of two energetic, intelligent, easily bored breeds and subjected them to killing boredom punctuated by abuse.
I’m not sure I see kiss-to-dimiss so much as a dog who has decided to deal with his overwhelmingly conflicted feelings in a truly outstandingly restrained way. He wants the bone. He wants to bite the child and take the bone back. He can’t bite the child because he loves his people–even the toddler. He has no tool to use but his mouth, but, again, he can’t bite the child, so he resorts to licking, licking, licking. In the dog, I see frustration and when the parent reprimands the dog (notice MY amazing restraint here in making no comments about the parent at all :), I see guilt/unhappiness/shame (do dogs feel shame? a topic already discussed on this blog), but a continued desire to keep the bone AND the companionship and approval of the people. At any time, the dog could have gotten up and taken the bone elsewhere, hence my reading of very conflicted feelings–the desire to stay in contact with his people but keep his bone to himself.
Perhaps licking another’s face can be a different version of lip-licking? An indication of anxiety and internal conflict–just enacted on someone else’s face?
My dogs sometimes lick each other’s faces very briefly during self-imposed breaks from playing when the rough-housing gets too intense. I interpret that as a quick check-in: “Too rough? Sorry. Are we okay? Ready to go again?”
I’m not sure whether it is appeasement, submission or anything else. But, my Eve (younger female Malamute) is a licker. And, I don’t mean that lightly. She is a LICKER. She licks and licks and licks and licks. For what seems like eternity (all assuming that you let her lick uninterrupted, or can stand it for that long). And where she licks would be considered my “muzzle”. Mouth, nose, nostrils (that’s that hard part to sit still through) and chin. And again, she goes and goes and goes and goes. As I said, she’s a licker. I’ve always just let her lick. Atka? He’ll sniff around my mouth for a few seconds before he pulls away as if to say…”WHA? You want me to lick THAT?”
Now, about that chicken pot pie. That truly looks awesome. And I’m not one that typically would go for a chicken pot pie. I bet that, as soon as I finished that chicken pot pie, even Atka would be interested in having a lick at my mouth under those conditions. 🙂
I laughed out loud when I read this “dismiss” theory because I have a 14 lb terrier mix who is so much in charge that I had a portrait of him dressed as Napoleon done, and he does this to his “brother,” a 30 lb spaniel mix rescue. Despite his being half of my rescue’s size, and a defensive personality due to his hard life before being adopted, my little dog will lick and lick face, muzzle, ears….until Monty (the big dog) gets away from me and goes somewhere else. So….sounds plausible to me!
Interesting question. It seems to me that both my dogs use licking as a way to put low-level pressure on each other and on us. This is particularly obvious in my younger dog. As an SV, he of course engages in a variety of herding behaviors. My impression has been that when he learned that nipping and heeling was not acceptable to us or to the older dog, he replaced it with excessive licking. It is a behavior he doesn’t get in trouble for (though he probably should) but that WILL effectively move the other dog out of his way, us into action, etc.
My older dog will use licking to put distance between herself and him. I have seen her lick him in the face when she wants him off “her” couch, when he is lying too close to her, and when he is bothering her. But with her, I’m not entirely sure whether she’s actually interspersing other signals to remove him with the licking as appeasement to keep the household calm or whether the licking IS the keep your distance-signal.
Silvia Jay says
What you describe between Pippy and Tulip took place in our home once between our sheep/collie cross Will and a 14-week-old Spanish water dog foster puppy. Except Will deliberately accessed a toy she saw Reggae looking at, and then controlled it – it looked to me Will was doing some education. Anyway, the pup did the same goofy, overly submissive silly grovelling and licking until Will walked away and released the toy. I would certainly say kiss to dismiss in that scenario, and also with that video clip. Bruno the dog I say wanted the baby go away and leave him in peace with his bone, but did not do it aggressively possibly because the baby is familiar, a social group member, and perhaps he likes her in different contexts.
Silvia Jay says
Sorry, should say shep/collie cross, not sheep/collie. Can you imagine?
All I can say is what a sweet, patient dog!
First, videos like that are very hard for me to watch. I keep anticipating the worst is about to happen. In this one I confess to being amused by the illogical distinction that the baby handling the bone that was just in the dog’s mouth is fine but the dog licking the baby’s face is undesirable.
Second, I always thought that face/muzzle licking was an affiliative behavior, a way of saying we’re part of the same group. In that context I can easily anthropomorphize the dog’s licking behavior as a way of saying, “yes, yes, we’re family, but the bone is mine.” In other words as a kiss to dismiss. I can also see is as appeasement, “please, please, I’m a good dog, give me back my bone.” It seems to me that the eye of the beholder is the critical component.
Even without looking at the video, I knew what behavior you were talking about because I frequently see it between my dog and my young children. Our dog Sally will put up with a lot of odd (for dog) behaviors from our children (because man, from a dog’s perspective little humans act so. weird.) but I noticed that when she gets overwhelmed, she starts licking their faces (but always loose body posture) until they back out of her space. We’ve always been careful about appropriate dog/kid interactions and have always made sure everyone is safe and supervised but once we recognized this as a (very polite) back off signal, we make sure to intervene and make sure that Sally can be in a safe, comfortable (and kid free for at least a few minutes) space and the kids get redirected onto other activities.
I always thought I was making it up since I’ve never heard of another dog doing this. I’m glad that it looks like I might actually be reading that correctly!
Additional proof. My wife just called from wherever she is (Dominican Republic, I think) and, without any warning or prep, I simply asked her..”you know what your dog is?”. She started to answer “he…”, so I interrupted her and said “no, she…”. Without missing a beat, she said “she’s a licker”. So, there you go. She’s a licker.
My almost 3 year old German Shepherd will lick other dogs’ mouths excessively. I’ve always taken it as a lack of social grace. It seems like someone who would go to shake your hand but then shake it over and over really quickly and not let go and tell you “I’m so very glad to meet you…this is such and honor…” like a fan overwrought with excitement at meeting a star. I’ve always thought she was glad to see the other dog but I could be wrong. I’ll have to look again in light of this conversation.
Alicia Graybill says
Not all dogs use licking. My sister’s Aussie Jojo uses submissive behavior just short of licking to get past a dog that is with a human to gain access to the human. He’s so successful with this behavior that my Aussie Sage has adopted the tactic. She, however, is not as skilled at it so she does end up using the licking sometimes. It’s considerably easier than having to fight to get what she wants.
Wish I knew what the baby tasted like 🙂 I watched with the sound off, so I don’t know how the parents were influencing the interaction… the dog looked pretty genial to me about it all. We always think of “bones” as having super high value to dogs, but maybe not in this case to this dog in this moment… the dog seemed about equally willing to lick the bone (held by baby or not) and lick the baby. The first major baby-licking (from about :09 sec to :21 secs), the baby had the bone, the second around 1:02, the baby got all over the dog and the dog stopped chewing the bone and started licking the baby; the dog left the bone when the licking got most intense around 1:30 until a parental hand intervened. It kind of reminded me of trying to read a book with “help” from my cats… they are being a nuisance but not one I really mind, and I wouldn’t call my petting “The Chin Rub to Dismiss.” More like, “Yes, darling, I love you too, now can you please get off the page, I really am trying to read…” Well, really, I’m ambivalent: I am trying to read (chew the bone) but I also like my cats and can’t resist a social exchange with them.
Some dogs just don’t seem to have an inclination to guard stuff–they just don’t do it, not even stuff they value highly, and absent guarding, could we be over-analyzing and interpreting behavior that’s not really there? I thought when I timed this vid out, there might be some correlation between bone possession and licking, but the trigger for licking seems to be mostly proximity of the child’s face to the dog–if the baby puts the face close, the dog licks. So I suspect the bone is a red herring and the dog might display the same licking behavior if the child had nothing at all…
Well-timed! Just two hours ago, I realized that my current foster, an extremely body-language-savvy chihuahua, has been doing this to me when he wants to leave my lap or be put down. (Trainer note: he seeks out, initiates and enjoys being held, and when he requests to be put down, I listen. Not a case of the Tiny Defenseless Puppy being unexpectedly or callously scooped up by Big Scary Human.) When Prosper licks to be put down, it’s not done in the flavor of a calming/appeasement gesture, but it’s definitely distance-increasing. It’s not frantic, it’s not closed-off, it’s not “mind your manners,” it’s not “you can’t see me; I’m not here,” it’s not “please don’t hurt the stupid puppy,” it’s not “I’m sorry I’m alive,” it’s not “I’m embarrassed by your rudeness.”
While it’s friendly, it’s not an affection-building lick at all. “Dismiss” is exactly the right word. From Prosper, it’s like the equivalent of an adult patting a child on the head (I know, I know) and telling them to “run along and play while the grown-ups talk.” Or maybe how a party host might disentangle herself from a guest to continue mingling. Or how a professor could express “you’re completely off base and what you just said was stupid” by saying “Very interesting! Let’s move on to our next topic.” Fondly condescending dismissal? Patronizingly affectionate request for space? Very polite rebuke?
The behaviour you describe your dog Pippy undertaking (I read about it in your book too), my dog Freya does that very often to our more dominant dog, Mala, to get her bone/toy/whatever. Only Freya actually rolls “submissively” ON TOP of the desired item, right between Mala’s paws, while vigoursly tail wagging and puppy-like licking and pawing Mala in the face. Mala does not seem amused, she looks a mix between harrassed and angry and confused, but apparently the appeasing behaviour inhibits her from defending her thing. This despite the fact that she has resource guarding and dog reactive tendencies and a bit of a hot temper it comes to other dogs, in addition to being a large athletic dog with big strong jaws, but she puts up with it and usually end up abandoning the scene so Freya gets the thing. Even when she doesn’t, Freya often get get thing anyway by wriggling it away from Mala under herself with her appeasing movements, then abandon the operation and bow out, and then discretely pick the thing up (now no longer near Mala) and take it with her. It is quite hilarious theathre to watch, I’ve thought of video filming it. We have informally labelled the behaviour “fake submission”.
Besides fake submission, Freya has other manipulative behaviours in her repetoir of tricks that almost always enables her to get a thing from Mala she wants anytime she wants it (besides bones and toy, the favourite dog bed is another common target), such as suddenly harrass one of us with overwhelming affection … much like the appeasing behavour. We know the trick so well now that this sudden love explosion immediately make us look to see what it is Mala has that Freya wants. Sure enough, shortly after Mala will abandon her bed/bone/toy come rushing over to protect us against harrassment or not miss out on affection, and that is Freya’s cue to immediately abandon “operation affection” and go in a direct line to the thing Mala had and take it over! So the underdog can in this case ge any resource she wants any time (almost) from the otherwise resource guarding and strong top dog with her appeasement-tricks!
Dee Cappelli says
Fascinating video. It does seem like the dog is trying to kiss to dismiss. I noticed Bruno increased his licking the longer the bone play continued. I thought maybe Bruno wondered why the youngster didn’t get the message to leave the bone alone so raised the intensity of sloppy kisses. My Jindo rarely licks anything other than his food or his lips but when he does, it’s when he’s anxious about something and he’ll give my hand a quick single lick. I think it could be interpreted as “kiss to dismiss” what ever’s causing the anxiety. Seems like a reasonable theory. Also, just like human language, perhaps licking the muzzle has multiple meanings for dogs depending on the situation.
My 3-year-old female ACD does this to my 8-year-old male ridgeback whenever she is snuggled up next to me on the couch and he approaches. I always make her stop, because I feel she is being bossy and assertive (she would NEVER try such a thing with my 10-year-old, female ACD/Aussie mix, who is The Boss- she’d get her behind handed to her.). The Ridgeback tolerates it, but I’ve noticed him allowing her more and more leniency as they both grow older. It took him a good year to accept and start playing with her, when we adopted her as a pup, and then there was a time when between ages 1 and 2 when the two of them branched off and became their own “pair” when it had previously been him and my older female. That caused a few behavior issues for a while, but we got through it and reestablished pecking order… Also, I’ve fostered a total of 8 puppies for a local ACD rescue over the past year, and all of those pups have chased after my 3-y.o. ACD after a meal, licking at her mouth, and she HAS regurgitated for them on a few occasions. The other, older dogs warn the pups off. Now we keep an eye out for such things and discourage it.
I think this was ABSOLUTELY a “kiss to dismiss,” and commenter Neith, above, nails it with the “run along and play…” description. In fact, the Mom in the video even hits it on the head when she says, “Okay, that’s enough!” Unfortunately she directs her comment to the dog instead of to the rather rude kiddo! We see this all the time at our shelter as kids interact with dogs, and nearly all parents react either with misinterpreting this as affectionate “kissing,” or, as this parent did, by asking the dog to cease & desist instead of the child. Lucky kid and mom to have such a patient, tolerant dog!
I have seen both kiss to dismiss as well as appeasement- both behaviors in the same dog and in relation to other dogs. My Portuguese Water Dog uses licking to politely dismiss my other two dogs from seeking my attention. This tends to be a more quick and frantic licking. The other dogs would rather go away than put up with this. On the other hand, when my older male dog chooses to put her in her place, generally by blocking her path or grabbing her muzzle, she will gently lick his face and behave submissively, turning her body to the side, etc. I also get a face licking as what I feel is appeasement, but it is different in that she licks my face straight on, while the other dogs she approaches from the side. My dog learned a lot of tricks as a youth as she was briefly in a foster home with several adult Portuguese Water Dogs. When she came to my home at 4-5 months of age she immediately and expertly took toys from the others before they realized it, could use a kind of a hip check move to get a treat to fall out of another dog’s mouth and so forth. The others immediately put the little brat in her place and those types of behaviors stopped. I do know her litter mates did not know these tricks when they left the breeder’s home and confirmed these behaviors were learned at her foster home. This was and is an extremely well socialized dog with both people and other pets. Perhaps that could account for her nuanced behavior? Just a thought.
Marie Brick says
I find this fascinating as I had just been wondering about dog to dog muzzle licking. I have seen the muzzle licking as a sign of appeasement with my dogs previously. Especially with my youngest male dog who sometimes plays too hard or too rough with my female pitties. They will correct him and let him know they’ve had enough, and he almost always reaches up and licks at their muzzle 1-2 times before they walk away (note he is usually lying on the floor with them over him as he has just been told to “That’s enough”).
However, I have more recently noticed 2 of my female dogs getting into what looks like an intensive muzzle licking session which usually occurs when I am sitting on the sofa and both are trying to sit on my lap. They are usually sitting side by side or face to face when the licking occurs and they are both equally as intensive about licking each other. Also I watch as they usually sort of lift their heads a little higher and higher each time. Neither dog seems to really be enjoying it and they both tend to almost “startle” a little with each lick. This whole process might only last about 10-20 seconds and then one of them eventually walks away. I’m thinking this could totally be a kiss to dismiss situation. I’m going to have to pay much closer attention next time. Perhaps I can even catch a quick video. In the video with the baby, I totally think the dog was pleading his case and trying desperately to kiss to dismiss. It worked briefly each time as the baby was “startled” back and away for a few seconds.
Finally, my last thought on this topic was triggered by Greta’s comments. I found it interesting the comments about frantic licking almost as a sign of apology. I have 4 dogs and all have come from shelters or rescues. However, I have gotten them all at different ages. I have found that the dog with the most obsessive licking habits (she licks belly, paws, my face or anything she reach, the couch, you name it) is the dog that was a “stray” the longest. She was about 1-2 years old when I got her and had already had at least 1 litter of pups. She also has some other “nervous” type habits such as reverse sneezing when she is over stimulated, frantic licking, frantic running and jumping as well as the need to instantly bite the couch, blanket, or pillow when she is excited. She will stop all of these behaviors if you just reassure her and tell her that’s enough. The dog with the least obsessive type habits in my home is my pittie who was in a shelter by the age of 5-6 weeks, but ended up in a very loving foster home until we got her at the age of 10 wks. She is by far the most stable of our 4 dogs. Amazing what that early socialization with their mom, littermates, and people all impacts in the rest of their lives.
A few people asked for the potpie recipe, so here it is: I adapted it from Nancy Lynch’s column in Madison Magazine: Saute about 2 cups (total) of thinly sliced carrots, onions, mushrooms and bok choy greens in olive oil til tender. Put aside. (The original recipe calls for frozen carrots and peas. I tried to make it a bit healthier with the boy choy and mushrooms.) Melt 1/3 c margarine or butter, stir in 1/3 c flour, salt and pepper to taste. Stir constantly til thick and bubbly, remove from heat. Add 1 and 3/4 c chicken broth (low salt best) and 2/3 c milk (I used skim) and stir. Mix gravy, veggies and 2 cups cooked chicken cubes and put into pie pastry in individual baking dishes. (I use a standard recipe for pie pastry, being obsessive about keeping it cold, even put the flour in the freezer for awhile.) Cover with more pastry dough, cut slits for venting and bake 25 min at 425 til golden brown.
First off, can we mail that dog a steak? Very good dog! I would agree that dogs “kiss to dismiss”. I have five dogs living in my house and here is what I have noticed; Zoe loves to lick the most. She grooms the other dogs, which is a slow methodical lick, usually in the ears or along the face and neck. When she is trying to be submissive she does a lot of little quick licks around the corners of the mouth and chin. When she is trying to increase distance she does a fast lick where her tongue comes further out than normal. It also seems as if her tongue curves up at the tip more often than not when she is trying to increase distance. Titan doesn’t do very much licking, he does some grooming licks and every once in a while he will give an appeasement lick to which ever dog is interacting with him at the time. Pip does a lot of appeasement licking to Titan and Zoe, they are little licks where the tongue curves slightly down. She never washes the other dogs. Roxy doesn’t lick anyone ever (at least when I’m around). Skauti is still new to the household and is doing a some submissive licking.
Could it be that the dog is redirecting the child’s focus and the result is the bone is accessible again? EG: Bruno initially licks to get the child out of his space but seeing as this doesn’t produce those results but does produce the bone accessible again, he continues with this in mind. And knowing the female is there, he is certainly cautious about going any further so continues with this line of behavior.
Yes! This definitely happens with my dog, and I’ve talked about the Pippy Tay/Tulip section of your book with trainer friends who have seen the interaction, because it’s so clear. I have two dogs: a four year old lab and a two year old GSD. The GSD was a puppy when she entered the house, and the lab wasn’t too thrilled with her. No fights, but not a ton of playing, and some pretty swift corrections. The one thing the lab would tolerate was obsessive licking that was intense and even inside his mouth. He seemed to like it for awhile, until it became too much and he’d start moving his head every which way, then up, and finally moving away when it happened.
So I’m not sure if that was the intent or if it was a learned skill, but now that both dogs are adults, these behaviors have survived. It’s not clear which dog is “submissive” in every context. But when it comes to toys, the rule they’ve set out is the lab gets whatever he wants. So if the GSD is fetching the ball and has it in her mouth and the lab barrels towards her, she’ll instantly drop it for him. However, if he doesn’t drop it back for her soon, she starts following him around, whining, licking his lips obsequiously and making herself a huge pest until he gives up and drops it for her. Same thing with toys/treats in the house. If she decides she wants one, she’ll cozy up to him and start licking his face intensely. He may growl, and he always flips his head from side to side, but it never ramps up more than that, and he almost invariably ends up leaving whatever toy/bone behind for her.
It’s a pretty amazing thing to see. Less amazing? When she started frantically doing the same thing one day to me when I was playing with the neighbor’s new puppy in my lap. Still not sure if she wanted me to stop paying attention to the puppy so that she could play with him, or so that I would pay attention to her. But she didn’t get her way, however tempted I was to give in… So obnoxious!
Lynn U. says
Frankly, to me the dog does not look particularly distressed. Not only does it seem quite at ease, it could easily pick up the bone and walk off. Looks to me like the bone and the baby are about equally appetizing. FWIW, my Aussie prefers to start the day by thoroughly scrubbing my face and hands. She’d do it to my wife as well if she could get away with it. The best way I can describe her attitude is “businesslike.” Not groveling or appeasing, not frantic–wanting to be acknowledged, but also with a sense of a job to be done. Thoroughly. I suspect she just thinks that people taste nice.
Wow…This confirms my suspicions about my dog. We also have two cats and everyone gets along quite well, overall. My dog, however, seems to feel left out if she sees any of us in my family cuddling the cats or giving them attention. She is not an aggressive dog and she has figured out that one thing the cats absolutely detest is big wet smooches from her…So, when she sees us petting the cats, often she’ll trot right in and join the lovefest with lots of kissies on their heads, ears, noses…The cats haaaate it- they just get right up and walk away as our opportunistic dog flops down gleefully to bask in the attention.
Marilyn Kircus says
I currently don’t have a dog but am looking forward to a time when I can again have one. I regularly read and enjoy your blog.
In the video I interpreted the dog as using the most polite way to discourage the child from taking the bone. She also used a body block once, which reinforced my opinion that his was all part of ways to discourage the child from bothering her bone.
Jennifer Shryock says
It is fascinating to hear others experience and interpretations. Awesome!
Erin B. says
I watched this video several times before commenting and then again & again while commenting. As I watch, I think this dog is using the lick as a distancing behavior because I feel the dog is guarding the bone but not to the degree that most people think of as resource guarding. All the calming signals are stacking up. The intensity of the lick increases the more invasive the child gets and when the child backs away or stops the licking also stops. I would say the dog had been trained to have great tolerance when items are taken away, either through R+ or through means of reprimand thus the level of patience he seems to have.
The reason I see guarding, the ears are never forward but one time that I noticed, but always back in a slightly stressed fashion. The dog is very fixated on the bone when not licking the child’s face, when the kid is waving it around the dog is following it. The licking happens when the child is very involved with the bone or has possession of it. While the dog isn’t growling and does seem to be very gentle, he uses his feet several times to stop the child’s hand, he moves away from the kid like giving the cold shoulder (calming signal). After moving and the kid comes back in closer the licking goes to the most extreme and licks and licks and licks. Could it be the tongue flick calming signal but making contact with skin? It isn’t a full on licking the kid from the chin to the forehead they are quick repetitive licks. Tongue flicks are another distancing signal. Around 1:25 after regaining the bone the dog becomes quite still & starts intently sniffing the bone, another displacement/distancing behavior. After the kid reaches for the bone again the dog gives a direct stare, although maybe not a hard stare, but again in the dog world direct eye contact or direct staring should lead the other dog to respectfully move away or increase distance. To then make the point more the dog gets up and licks a lot almost as to say enough is enough. It would have been interesting to see if left uninterrupted would the dog have licked until the kid crawled away and then the dog taken his bone and relocated?
I would be interested to see other footage of this “Kiss to Dismiss”. In this case, I feel strongly it is a distancing behavior based off of all the other calming signals the dog is giving.
It is allergy season here and my sheltie is off to the vet about his feet licking and nose inflammation. He’s laying by feet and I occasionally ask him to not lick. He leaves it a while and then starts licking the carpet. My other sheltie is also off to the vet with an epidermal cyst – diagnosed by the after hours vet on our Australia Day public holiday and referred back to his regular vet for removal. So we are in lick central today.
My point is that this is their and many dogs’ response to an irritation. Could this be related.
Okay – I didn’t read any of the blogs …yet. My dog has a male dog friend (first friend ever – older but smaller in stature), and he very often licks my dogs muzzle. I initially thought it was submissive behavior (probably because that’s what I was reading at the time). But as time went by, I didn’t think that was the case. The “father” owner often gives treats during the visits so I think it could be dismissive behavior because it happened a lot when the “father” was doting on my dog….a response to the attention and food my dog was getting. Then again, the “mother” of the other dog (and I think Moms have a great insight into behavior on a more simplistic level) said that her dog did that a lot to a schnauzer because of all the food stuck in the beard (my dog does have a beard). Obviously still confused! So now I’ll go back and read what everyone else thinks.
Not confused over the pot pie – looks delicious!
My pup does this in once instance: right after I finish clipping his nails. We’ve done a lot of desensitization and counter conditioning with nail clipping – he gets lots of food and more times than not the clippers touch the nail but I don’t make a cut. He tolerates this – I used to have a groomer clip his nails once/week but after a really really bad bloody incident I took over, and when we started he’d shake at the sight of the clippers. He doesn’t shake anymore but still doesn’t love it. Anyways, as soon as I’m done he jumps on me and kisses me feverishly. He’s a big kisser in general, but the post-nail kiss is different and is followed by him running to hide somewhere.
PS: Re the video – I would say dismissive behavior. The dog is great! and the mom knew when to say “enough”!
Linda J says
My 19 month old Great Dane is a licker. She licks herself and my adult Great Dane and the cats . She licks me if I let her. She is my 4th Dane ( in sets of 2) and the only licker out of the bunch. Was a licker when I got her at 10 weeks. I can make her stop.. but as soon as she thinks I am not paying attention… she is back at it. Behavior only occurs when she gets excited, happy excited or she is bored. She doesn’t do it all the time , but when she does it is an obsession at that monent. She will rear on her hind legs to get to your face if she is really happy to see you. When she licks my adult Dane, the adult doesn’t really seem to mind… There is no distance created. No one seems to care except the cat.. he really objects when she gets in the licking mood.. He carries on like he is dying. But only walks away when I call her off. As she gets older the behavior has become less frenetic but when she is excited out comes the tongue. She certainly isn’t distressed when she licks, and if you tell her to stop she does. It’s almost like she can’t help it anymore than she can stop wagging her tail. It’s just a part of her. When she is agitated or over aroused ( like someone brought out the vacuum, she howls ( learned that from the beagle next door) or vocalizes like a sled dog. She is clearly bilingual but that is far as we get with understanding .
Susan S. says
Brutus? That sweet, calm, tolerant, trustworthy guy is Brutus? From the sound of mom’s “enough” & the fact that she’s making the video* I’ll bet she sees that licking pretty frequently. Maybe Brutus’s behavior was reinforced through the discovery of mashed bananas & pureed beef on the kid’s face, & he might have learned that licking the baby would make her turn away.
* What’s it called these days? It’s not “filming” or “videotaping” any more. Is there a verb?
My nine month old Golden Retriever licks my 10 1/2 year old Golden Retriever’s face when she wants his bone. He pretends he doesn’t want to let her have it, but he always lets her have it, after growling first (it’s playful, not tense–almost as if he thinks that’s what he *should* do when someone wants his bone.) She eventually (almost always) gets the bone, and then starts a game of bitey face with him. It’s happened so many times now, that I think she goes through this routine to get him to play bitey face–it’s not truly the bone she wants.
That dog is definitely a saint!! I have a female who is constantly licking…but she does it to us not our other dog or our cat. We try to deter her but she is persistent. She is pushy in many ways..nudging to get pet, whining if she is very excited but being ignored…so I don’t think she is kissing to dismiss. We try to make sure she has her favorite toy ball nearby to hold in her mouth to reduce her licking us…she’ll grab a shoe or anything in her mouth. When the dog next door comes over to play she doesn’t lick him but she does grab a ball…and she works it almost like a stress ball…then uses it to nudge him, sometimes fairly hard, to intervene when he is too rough with our male who is slowing down mobility wise. I wish I could figure out her licking because it frustrates me when trying to work with her especially on a down…she licks like crazy and acts submissive but she really isn’t…hard to describe. She is definitely a very oral dog.
Susan Ford says
I don’t think there is only one reason for excess licking, but depends on the dog and circumstances. My first Bull Terrier would lick someone’s arm excessively, and then take a little love nibble. The nibble was always using her two front teeth only. We just figured she was softening up the skin for her love bite. Kiss to dismiss is a good theory, but I think there is more to this behavior.
Kim Laird says
Really great dog! It is very clear that the dog knows it can’t take “higher” action to take care of the child’s interference. I almost wonder if the dog realizes the baby doesn’t understand the consequences of its actions, e.g. is of puppy status. Reminds me of my dear Bridie, who, when I told her not to bite the kittens who had their faces buried in her food bowl, she sighed forlornly, gazed at their heads and then used her muzzle to flip them out of the way. I know now that I shouldn’t have told her not to get the kittens out, but smarty pants figured out how to make them go away anyway. That’s how I see this dog’s behavior to some degree. Smart doggie.
Love the discussion… this is a fascinating topic! I have wondered about licking quite a bit recently.
Both my dogs are lickers (a habit that drives me nuts), I have always thought it was attention seeking.
My Aussie is the only one who licks the other animals though. She cleans my Lab’s ears, licks his face, and she also licks my 8 month old kitten all over. Sometimes she licks my Lab’s face when he has a toy, and she does usually end up with it. However, every night I read in bed for a while, and all the creatures find their spots on the bed as well. My Aussie usually brings a bone with her, but will leave it and start licking my Lab for no apparent reason. Sometimes he allows/ignores it, and other times he moves away. Maybe she wants his spot on the bed? I’ll have to pay more attention, but I don’t think she generally takes his spot if he moves…
I think Meg uses licking to soften what might otherwise be considered rude or pushy behavior…and it works nearly all the time. If she wants to play tug or fetch and simply dropping a toy in the humans lap didn’t work, she’ll move to licking, usually the face. Not all humans like their face being licked so they throw the toy to get her to go away…win win situation (only now the human has started a game of fetch and if they don’t know the ‘magic cue’ that means ‘enough, we’re done’ this game could go on for quite some time).
If she wants my other dog Bear to move away from me, she licks his face while pushing in between him and me. If Meg were to push between me and Bear without the licking, he’d likely growl at her…but when she licks his attention is more on her than me and he doesn’t really seem to notice that she just sneaked in and took the place closest to me (this could be ‘kiss to dismiss’).
If she wants one of her dog friends to play with her but her invitations are being ignored, she’ll lick the other dogs face. (I’ve only seen her do the licking thing with familiar dogs that she really knows.) The other dog might normally growl or show teeth to get her to back off if he persists in her pushy requests to play….but when she ever-so-cutely smothers them with kisses, they often don’t and will start to play with her, even if its just halfheartedly.
Robin Bennett says
First of all…that potpie looks great!! As for the dog…this does seem like he is saying, “leave me alone” (ie kiss to dismiss). But perhaps it’s a dog that is really saying, I need to do something with my mouth but I don’t want to bite. In that line of thought perhaps the dog is showing some deference to the child. The licking didn’t seem to deter the kid and the licking seemed to escalate. Interesting conversations! Thanks.
Chris Vereide says
I think there is a good argument in the “kiss to dismiss” hypothesis. I have often wondered about that with one of my dogs. Sometimes when I greet him when he is lying down, he will lick my face enthusiastically, then turn his head completely away. After the head turn, I give him more space. I don’t know what I’m doing to make him feel uncomfortable, I’ll have to figure that out.
As Dezi said above, that dog deserves a steak (or salmon). I would say the dog was using the licking to get the baby to back off. However, it was interesting that the dog did not just pick up the bone (there was at least one instance where the dog had possession and position of the bone) and leave. So maybe this was like a game to him, maybe like dogs playing togehter and self handicapping so that each dog “wins” once in a while. In this case, Bruno the dog gets the bone, then he lets the baby have it. I’m sure the licking gets some sort of reinforcement in that baby faces are usually have the remnants of the last meal.
In our house, it is called “kisses” (yeah, a family of anthromorphizing humans). Charlie and Abby are ~ 9 yrs old and do NOT do kisses. The only muzzle licking going on is to get the last drip of there dinner, or in anticipation of the leftover human dinner that will soon end up in their dinner bowls.
Annika is a ~ 2.5 yr boxer mix and she LOVES to do kisses. When we brought her home as a puppy, the other two dogs basically ignored the “alien” in the house. She does do kisses to Charlie and Abby and I think it is an appeasement behavior or “hey, I like you, why don’t you like me, can we be friends behavior” because she goes up to the other dogs and initiates it. Charlie, who lives with her, has learned to tolerate 1-2 kisses and then just turns away. My dog Abby (frequent visitor) just sits there while she gets slobbered on and then starts to growl/snark, but Annika doesn’t get the message and doesn’t back off. Annika doesn’t use licking/kissing as a way to get toys, because she is the only dog that plays with toys.. they are all hers. Needless to say, Annika and Abby are supervised when loose in the house.
Annika loves to kiss the humans (no small kids in the house) and we are much more tolerant of it, and even encourage it. My parents and I do take it as a sign of affection and we actively solicit kisses from Annika (i.e if sitting on the couch we will ask if she wants to do kisses. Yes, we are a strange bunch). She is a nervous dog (doesn’t like things out of place, or going to very busy places… she will never be a dog we take to Starbucks), so I wonder if her kisses/licks are also a way for her to seek reassurance. hmmm.
My first dog Morgan was a kisser/licker. And I have to say, I am a bit sad that my Abby isn’t a kisser. However, when we do meet kids (which she likes), the kids (and their parents) are happy to hear that she won’t lick them :).
I think of licking as default behavior, one that may occur in a variety of situations as part of a dog’s repertoire. Similar to when a dog offers a well known behavior to get a treat, or repeatedly tries the same tactic when presented with different puzzles. It’s a way of influencing the immediate situation (if only internally) that has proven successful (reinforcing) in the past, across many different contexts. After watching the dog and toddler, my guess is that the dog licks often and somewhat indiscriminately. There is a bit of a frenzied quality about it- he even “air licks” at about 1:18, like his tongue was stuck in motion despite a lack of contact with anything. My girl air licks after a licking binge, in a trance-like state of “unable to stop tongue” for a second or two. It could be that in this case, the toddler was just far enough out of reach that the dog didn’t bother straining to make contact. But it also looks to me like he loses himself a bit in that familiar trance. So while I wish I could pinpoint the dog’s intentions, the only thing I’d bet on is that he is a frequent licker. A lot to consider here- fun, fun!
My parents have a dog that does this to other dogs esp regarding the water bowl. If another dog is drinking and she wants to drink she will approach, lick, then take over the water. She does it in other situations, too, but that one always sticks out in my mind. I always wondered about this behavior because it certainly never felt submissive; in fact, it always felt vaugely threatening. I’m glad to read this.
Ah-ha! Thinking more, I finally put my finger on what troubles me about the “Kiss to Dismiss” notion in this context at least… not saying it doesn’t happen, but in this interaction… As folks have pointed out, it’s a pretty subtle and sophisticated way of attempting to get distance (or the bone), a very polished form of social signaling if it is intentional social signaling. What bugs me is the contradiction of “polished, subtle or sophisticated” and “infant.” If the dog is really a brilliant social communicator, wouldn’t he be aware of the limitations of the receiver of his signal–in other words, that he’s “talking” to a baby? Is it possible for a socially savvy and polished dog NOT to be aware of the age, gender, etc. of the human he’s interacting with? I’ve seen my dog Tinker do subtle, sophisticated and polished with dogs, yes. I’ve never seen her do it with puppies, not if she genuinely intends to make a point–her messages are big, bold and utterly obvious, like written in bright-colored crayon. I myself wouldn’t dream of doing subtle or sophisticated with children if my intention was to be clearly understood. If the point of social communication is to communicate, slick senders dial their messages to the abilities of their receivers… if the dog is slick enough to be sending subtle signals to the baby, wouldn’t he be slick enough to know it’s a baby–and thus likely incapable of receiving those subtle signals?
I just didn’t see enough change in behavior or distance to suggest anyone was making a clear intentional point–except the parent when she finally intervened.
Julia Priest says
What an interesting topic. I have a GSD bitch who I would call obnoxiously obsequious only to the elders in the house. Her 12 year old grandmother and 10 year old uncle. Mostly grandma though. She will lick and whine and grovel, the whole time grandma is growling and warning and baring her teeth and saying GO AWAY in very possible way but Jessy will keep on doing it …often when grandma has a bone or toy she wants, but other times just as ritual greeting. She will keep on until grandma loses it and even bites her face, whereupon Jessy whines and whimpers and tucks her tail and runs to me for comfort , but I just tell her shes an idiot and to quit being stupid. then its all over until next time. I never could figure out what her mission was. If she would just leave grandma alone, she would never bother her, but its almost like she *needs* grandma to snap at her and send her away.
Antje Ponel says
One of my dogs, Benji, an Aussie-Tibet-Mix, loves being allowed to join me on the sofa. When my other dog, pure Aussie breed, always eager to get her share of cuddling, too, comes closer, Benji starts licking Ellie’s face, usually her eyes which have a tendency to water. At first she seems to like it and pushes her face even closer to his mouth, after about 15-20 secs, however, she retreats to her basket. Benji usually looks very satisfied then. He loves winning the sofa place over her is my impression.- Greetings from Northern Germany.
Glenda Herrin says
I can see how the licking would be an appeasement to the baby to a) distract him and get the bone or b) say may I please have my bone back. Also, I’m constantly learning about calming/stress signals and was wondering, did Bruno do a slightly cranky “Elvis lip” at 1:01 in warning, or am I mistaken?
Anne Springer says
It’s interesting to speculate what dogs mean by various behaviors, but I’m not sure we’ll ever understand the nuances of their language completely as non-native speakers;-)
I do think it’s very telling that some people can be provided with a suggestion, then adopt it as “absolutely” this or that, without any supporting research at all. I’m a bit more circumspect. Any of the mentioned intentions of dogs are possible, some are probable, many are probably even likely. But, as trainers or behaviorists, who need to focus on altering outcomes, I think it’s really more productive to encourage observable behaviors that we can reinforce, to increase or decrease distance or to foster acceptance of stimuli. We may never know what the dog really thinks, so it’s just important to do what we do in a kindly manner and hope for the best.
Lisa G. says
I have a submissive older Golden and a dominant younger Bernese and my Golden uses this tactic to get bones away from the Berner but in a round about way. If the Berner has a desired object, my Golden will enthusiastically lick my husband’s face so that my Berner gets distracted and comes over to join in the love fest and leaves her bone or toy. The Golden then leaves my husband and gets the recently abandoned object. If it doesn’t work the first time she will do several rounds of this game leaving me in stitches and my husband feeling used. Odd thing is that she never uses me in this game (I am alpha in our house). If I am on the floor letting her lick me it doesn’t matter what else is going on…she is stuck to me (which I love).
Our oldest Tibetan Terrier, who is actually the mother or grandmother to all of our dogs will often lick the younger ones eyes, lick and lick and go from one eye to the other. They always submit to this ‘washing’ and calmly wait until she’s finished.
She’s also quick to flatten them when they get too rambunctious or get in her space but the eye licking doesn’t happen around that. Actually it mostly happens in the evening….maybe it’s her way of appeasing her ‘mothering’ instinct, maybe she just loves to clean them up!
I think licking may be like tail-wagging…it depends. I also think there is something in the speed of licking and whether it’s a full-on lick with the whole tongue or just the tip (as in this video).
We’ve probably all experienced the anxiety-filled licking-instead-of biting lick. Whenever I accidentally step on my dog’s toes, she will frantically start licking me. I know her instinct is to snap at me or show some other sign of irritation, but she inhibits that reflex (like humans do when they grit their teeth after someone cuts them off in traffic instead of angrily crashing into their bumper).
Just this weekend, while walking with friends and our dogs, something like this happened. All the dogs kept getting snowballs in the bottom of their paws and pathetically limping or stopping to bite out the snow with their teeth. We, then, are obligated to try and pull out the snow from between their toes. Of course, no dog likes this, but my friend’s Golden really doesn’t like it. She has a habit of lip curling at her owner and air snapping. She’s a 9 year old Golden and has done this all her life so the owner pays no attention to it as she’s never done any harm. Anyway, I asked her if I could try. So while cooing softly I gently pulled some snow out of her paw. First she lip-curled, but then she ever so gently started to lick my hand with the just the tip of her tongue. To me it was saying, “I really don’t like this and I’d love to bite you, but I understand why you are doing it and please be gentle.” I’ve seen dogs do this to vets too as they gently try to examine an injured part of their body.
Then there is the slow full-tongue lick that does seem to be a form of grooming and I believe in all animals, grooming others is a sign of affection of sorts. I just watched “Nature”s episode on white-tail deer and they have actually just found that even deer lick each other’s muzzles in what they think is an indication of affection/grooming.
Then there are the dogs that get stuck in the licking-in-hopes-of-regurgitation stage. My friend’s Aussie is like this. Only licks on the mouth and in the exact same way he did as a 6 week old puppy.
If we think of licking as kissing, then think of all the ways and reasons humans kiss. I will say one thing, I never kiss my dogs to get them to go away! 🙂
My first thought when reading this blog was that I use “a kiss to dismiss” when my Golden girl is getting too moochie. I will tell her in a sing-song voice “I am going to kiss you and hug you” then I head for her with my arms open making smootching noises. She bounces away!
Then I remembered a ritual that was carried out by my previous Golden and a younger female Lab. They started when my boy was about 5 and the Lab was a puppy. Dexy (Golden) would retrieve his water kong from the water and Sarah (Lab) would lick Dexy’s face until he gave her the kong, then Sarah would take the kong to her owner who would throw the kong in the river again. Dexy had tender feet due to allergies and the beach where they swam was rocky so really did not mind letting Sarah deal with the beach to get the kong to the thrower. What was funny was that if Sarah approached Dex when he was still swimming, he would growl at her. If he had just reached a point where he was standing on the ground, he would wait about 15 seconds before giving her the kong, but if he was more thn 1/2 out of the water, he would drop the kong after the first lick.
My final remarks are about dogs who would lick when I was trimming nails (I owned a self-service dog wash and trimmed thousands of nails). In this situation, it was appeasement, they were afraid and pleading with me to stop, but the licking was also a way to interfere with what I was doing. My own pup Duffy will use a quick darting lick when I am grooming him as a way to say “please, please stop.”
Interesting subject, I have no obsessive lickers just wanted to add one comment: when I showed this video to a friend of mine, she commented that Siberian husky puppies were so differente from malamutes. “They are constantly licking each others mouths” http://youtu.be/G0bToZsKo5A
Right, they did, just after dinnertime ;-). So a simple explanation for their licking behaviour is an exploration what the others have had for dinner ;-), helping them clean their little mouths at the same time.
By the way: have the same experience that when I do something that my dogs experience as painfull, they lick my hand.
When I get home, I get a ton of sloppy puppy kisses on the mouth (if I kneel down). Ears back, tail swagging, sure feels like “happy your home” and not like “please keep away for another half hour so we can redecorate the garden”
Sophy is a great licker for pleasure – human feet, human skin after a bath or shower, etc, etc. She does the lick-instead-of-growl-or-bite – a “That’s enough!” lick – if something I am doing is causing her slight discomfort, like nail clipping or gently brushing a tangle out of her coat. But she will also use a lick to mean “Don’t stop!” if I pause when I’ve finally found just the right spot and the right pressure when massaging, or she is enjoying the tangle-free part of the brushing session. So the context of the licking has to be interpreted rather precisely.
Kerry M. says
What an interesting theory and a great name. I want this action to be kiss to dismiss just so I can say that phrase. I’ve never noticed that behavior with my own dogs but I’ll watch out for it now. I never realized that one of my dogs uses humping as a play interrupter until I’d watched the dog play DVD and now I can tell you it’s the most common reason for his mounting.
That same dog is an extreme muzzle licker. I’d describe his personality as insecure power hungry middle management. I’m sure we all know someone like that – they tend to extremes in being a suck-up to those in power or a jerk to those they can get away with it. He muzzle licks pretty much every dog but he wins most resource wars, so I don’t think of him as submissive or one who uses lots of appeasement behaviors with other dogs. In one memorable episode, he started muzzle licking my sweet patient senior dog while I was preparing human food. After she ignored this intrusive behavior, he turned on a dime and started a fight of air snapping, growling, and vertical attacks. He only ever did this the once, but I believe this was likely a pattern of his. It’s just once I suspected he was using muzzle licking to test out whether he should start a fight, I intervened at the early signs of this.
One other thought about muzzle licking. He has lived with or spent significant time with four other dogs. Two of them, at best, tolerated the muzzle licking. But the other two reciprocated and seemed to enjoy the muzzle licking. I mean full on doggy French kissing of mutual and simultaneous muzzle licking. The “toleraters” are the ones he did lots of resource guarding with. He never resource guarded with the “mutual reciprocaters”. Now it’s a very small sample size so I don’t know if I should make anything of it, but I always found in interesting that it went opposite of the way I would have expected. The dogs that he groomed that didn’t return the favor would typically be thought of as having higher social status, but those are the dogs that he bullied requiring lots of intervention on my part to have a happy household. The dogs who groomed him back were very easy relationships that I don’t think I ever had to interfere with.
Watching this gave me the willies! I have known other dogs (and cats) who would “tolerate” behavior like this from very young humans (up until about age 4 – 5) until they could make a quick escape from the tot. Once the child reached the age of 4 – 5 the same animals gave clear warning (growls for dog, velvet paw smacks for cats) that they were no longer going to tolerate the child. The licking is something I have not observed often before – apart from puppies licking the muzzle of their mother or a dog licking a kid whose face was smeared with food.
My neighbor has a small dog is (adult spayed female) who indulges in intense, continuous licking at the muzzle of my dog (also adult spayed female). This dog lives with 2 children who are permitted to do whatever they want to this dog and the parents believe that the dog must not react to anything the kids do. Since the dog is still in their household I must assume that the dog has not done anything to either kid that would make the parents get rid of it. Maybe this licking is a thing with dogs living with kids? At any rate this dog annoys my dog to the point where mine growls at her. The growl does nothing to stop the little dog and finally my dog snaps at her. It should be noted here that my dog is on-leash and the other dog is never on leash – ever. If the neighbor witnesses the growl snap (she never notices the first warning growl for some reason) she blames my dog for “aggressive behavior”, acts horrified and calls her dog. For some reason she is unable to see that her dog is pestering mine to the point that mine feels the need for the second, stronger warning. (Mine hasn’t bitten this dog yet and it is clear that the growl-snap is still a warning.)
I am concerned for the child in this video. It is likely that this child will be bitten eventually because this video is clearly of the kind that many people find “cute” to watch. How do we get people to understand that this is risky behavior?
After broaching this subject with my wife in a little more detail, she believes Eve does it to “dismiss”. She has the innate knowledge that I lack and attempt to make up for by constant studying and application. But, I have a hunch that she is exactly right on this one…yet again.
Re: why the dog doesn’t just take the bone and leave. There is a whole lot of context missing in this video. From the bit we see there’s no way to tell if the baby toddled up to the dog while the dog was contentedly chewing a bone and decided to play with the bone too or if the person with the camera set up the whole thing including telling the dog to stay.
Just a quick note, since I’m at work-
I guess I’m somewhat confused about how “lick to dismiss” differs from regular submissive licking behaviors. Isn’t that what puppies are doing, trying to take a valued resource from a more powerful older dog without conflict? They want the older dog to drop the food and go away so they, the puppy, can have it, right? It seems like licking in this context is about reaffirming social status through a submissive gesture while actually DOING something (taking food) that would subvert that status. I’ve always seen licking as begging behavior, and like other forms of begging, it can range in both sincerity and aggressiveness.
My own dogs are on opposite ends of the licking spectrum. Sandy’s an obsequious licker with both people and dogs. With dogs, she often muzzle-licks when she suspects that she has been too pushy and overstepped her bounds. It works like a charm. I’ve seen many dogs (including Otis) throw her the side-eye when she bogarts their toy or spot by the human, but an ear-drop, low wag, and muzzle lick always seems to smooth their ruffled feathers, and I’ve never seen a dog stay mad at her after her submissive display. She gets away with some very bold behavior this way.
Otis, on the other hand, has never muzzle-licked another dog, though he is frequently on the recieving end. He will lick my hands (and only mine) occasionally when he wants something and I am not paying attention, and once in a blue moon he will lick my face, usually in relieved greeting. I often forget just how big he is, but the first time that I stood in the doorway while he reached up and licked my face with all four of his feet on the floor was visceral reminder.
Otis does do something that I would consider ‘dismissive licking’, though. He will deliver a slow, firm, usually single lick to the top of a dog or cat’s head. He does this more often to our cats than to dogs and more often to puppies than to adult dogs. It seems to be a grooming or affectionate behavior, but there is definietly a status-asserting, peskiness-quelling vibe to it. It’s as if he is saying, “I’m the adult here, so calm down and listen to me.” He doesn’t do it to get anything tangible from the cats or puppy, and I don’t think he wants the recipient to go away, but he does usually seem to want them to calm down or knock off whatever they are doing. It works pretty well with puppies, who often reciprocate with a muzzle-lick, less well with cats, who just look horrified (but do often quit whatever they were doing, so maybe it does work).
I have a couple of dogs that clearly use the liking towards people in that way, specially if hugged or grabbed by a small child that is over excited.
On the other hand I have a Dalmatian that uses many other behaviors but the liking towards the other dogs in the house in order to get what she wants, specially dog beds and warm spots.
She will quite often play bow, streach her back legs, walk and stand over the dogs (not stepping on them), sit really close and slowly touch (push) them and most often will get them to move.
The dogs don’t seem tricked by her play bows anymore but get annoyed at her insistance and end up leaving.
It makes me wonder if the licking, just like her behaviors are genetic or just learned behaviors.
I think the dog used the licking to create a temporary space and a short pause in the ‘play’. I don’t think it was dismissal.
Generally people who get licked in the face back away from the dog, or stand up or create space to protect themselves from the slime.
I think this dog was attempting to create that small space between him and the child, using that licking behavior. I also believe the space was intended to be temporary, like two dogs taking a break from active play for a moment.
It was a very gentle way for the dog to back the kid off for a second. The reason for the space is unknown, but is temporary and non-combative.
It appears to me, the dog was completely comfortable with the interaction, I don’t have the sense the dog wanted to end the interaction.
It would be interesting to see what happened after the kid left the scene, did the dog follow or stay with the bone? Which was more interesting?
I could be totally wrong, but I think the difference between submissive licking and lick to dismiss is the aspect of manipulation. If the dog is licking to manipulate the other dog into going away, that would be different than licking the other dog to communicate to them that he is of no threat to them. Make sense?
Kissing by my 5 yr old female Aussie-looking mix works to move my 8 yr old male husky mix away from me; away from the door leading to dinner; away from, well, what ever it is the little girl wants. Yep…I buy that ascertain for sure! Glad some else sees it and made some sense of it!
Jackie d says
Fascinating. My male, gauche/unsocialised dog Twix does a lot of nibbling at my other dogs face, rather than licking. I interpreted it as rather confused grooming, but I have noticed that he always does this when she is trying to move him off a bed that she wants – which she does by bashing him with her paw and inviting him to play. He isn’t exhibiting otherwise appeasing behaviour. I shall take more notice of the other times that he does it and see whether I can pin down the triggers. Given how badly he speaks ‘dog’ this may be difficult! He once put his entire muzzle in the mouth of a yawning Labrador, and then stuck his tongue right down inside her ear. He got very thoroughly told off!
One of our dogs, Phoebe, is also a licker for pleasure, appeasement, nervousness, boredom, did I say pleasure? It does seem to be one of her true satisfactions and coping mechanisms (maybe verging on obsession). She used to poke her nose into the shower when I was showering and lick the floor as the water ran down. She likes to lick hand cream and woe to those who use skin products with any kind of scent or food-like ingredients. Bare skin is manna from heaven for her. She doesn’t lick our other dog, Olive, except occasionally an ear lick or a grooming-type quick lick. Olive will very rarely lick Phoebe; once when Phoebe came back from the vet, Olive licked the injection site. Or a rare grooming lick. Olive will lick me sometimes but not often. Mostly when I’m half asleep, she’ll give me a nuzzle and a few licks. A while back I tripped as I was going up the stairs and landed with quite a thunk. Phoebe came up and gave me a chin to forehead face lick as she walked by on her way to bed. Olive sat on me until I could gather myself.
I have an Aussie who will lick and lick and lick when she is not getting the attention she wants. I see it as a frustrated licking, a last resort licking. Though in this case I can see someone making an argument for a lick to dismiss. Somewhere between a lick to dismiss and an alternative to other frustrating behavior. Maybe this is an individual learned behavior that quite a few dogs learn as they grow up. It seems that no one likes to be licked forever, and we tend to not get quite as upset with licking as we do other behaviors. Would it not stand to reason then that the dogs have learned then that over licking can annoy someone (dog or person) enough that they will then leave. The child in the clip moved off as far as he could at the time (without falling over) and the dog then shifted to put his back to the child, unfortunately the baby saw the bone again and with it still in his reach decided to keep playing. I see good parents in the bitches who do the same things to their pups. If they are being bothered, they will start to clean the pup until the pup decides that playing somewhere else is more advantageous. In a way it can be seen as the same kind of thing I do to my kids when the are starting to whine at me. I tell them to clean up their room, or do some other chore. Soon they stop themselves from whining to me as often. So yes, I guess I do see it as a lick to dismiss.
While I can’t really argue with the conclusion, I would point out there is an important difference between classic submissive muzzle-licking (which is usually done by young dogs to mature ones) and this: classic muzzle-licking is instinctive, while other forms of licking seem to be learned.
Case in point: My Madison is one of those dogs who seems to think that once petting has commenced, it should continue indefinitely. If you stop, she will bop you with her nose or paw. I’m not a fan of this sort of behavior, so I would pointedly pull away further when she would do it and resume petting when she was quiet. This helped diminish (but not extinguish) the behavior.
One day I was not feeling well and was dozing on the couch. She was next to me. I was absently petting her as I drifted off to sleep. When I stopped, she pushed me and then licked my arm. Half-asleep, I sort of pushed her head gently away while stroking it at the same time. You can guess what happened next: licking became her new default way to demand stroking. But this is not an instinctive behavior. It’s learned, just in the same way Jack learned that if I was rubbing his neck and stopped, I would start again if he waved his paw charmingly in the air (he rarely likes to be petted so I am more inclined to give in to his requests, which might come one day out of ten, than Maddie’s, which would be continuous).
So if the dog in the video indeed uses licking to keep the toddler away from the bone, in all honesty it is probably a behavior he learned by chance, and repeats because it gets the desired goal, in contrast to the instinctive muzzle-licking that so many adolescent dogs exhibit. Many dogs will lick babies because babies frequently taste of food. Most babies respond to licking by turning away (though some seem to love it and stay and giggle). It is easy enough for the dog to then realize that he can control his own space a bit around the baby by licking it.
Speaking of muzzle licking, I have noticed some older puppies seem to think they can do anything and then muzzle-lick to apologize and go right back to being little brats with other dogs. It reminds me of the way some children get the idea that saying “I’m sorry” is magic and allows them to do whatever they want, as long as they apologize after.
When one of my dogs wants to go outside he licks me in a similar way shown in the video. I’m not convinced this is considered a “kiss to dismiss” or not. I suppose it is if I’m being dismissed from the couch…
I never had a formal name for this behavior but my female dachshund does it to my sister all the time! She knows she can’t display any outwardly aggressive behavior and has realized that my sister absolutely hates being licked… so whenever she wants my sister to leave her alone she licks her. VERY clever!
This is interesting. When I got my 1st dog as an adult, I already had 5 cats, so when dog beds started appearing in the house, they of course took over. My Lab Buck would whine when they were on his bed; I let him figure out a way to move them. He was very gentle with the cats so I allowed this. He began licking them on the heads, which cats do NOT like–they would leave and he would then lie down on his bed. 🙂
High strung unsociallized Finna uses licking as a way of self-soothing. When she gets ramped up or distressed she’ll lick furniture, rugs, clothes, pretty much anything that is within reach of her tongue. Yesterday she wanted to go out and I was moving slowly disentangling myself from the laptop, papers, and cat on my lap. The cat was disinclined to move and when Finna started licking the cat was her target even though the arm of the chair was more comfortably within her reach. The cat got disgusted pretty quickly and departed. I’m comfortable with the idea that she was licking to self-soothe, I see that a lot from her and the context of her being impatient that I wasn’t moving as fast as she wanted fits, but having seen her specifically target the cat in that context is making me think that perhaps she channelled her need to lick in such a way as to increase the speed with which I could comply with her desire to go out. Interesting.
Fascinating discussion here! What primarily stands out to me is the wide variety of contexts (and results) of enthusiastic licking, and an equally diverse potential of “messages” and “meanings.” Remember that “message” is the information being conveyed by the sender (could be conscious or not), and “meaning” is the information gleaned by the receiver. Sometimes it is the same, sometimes not. Example: A dog could be licking someone’s face because the dog is experiencing mixed emotions, and the lickee could respond to the overflow of saliva and walk away. Different message and meaning, but a good social interaction nonetheless.
I agree with em that “kiss to dismiss” can be categorized as a type of appeasement or submissive gesture, but would suggest that one could consider it a subset. I’ve seen many a quick lick as part of a greeting in which the dog appears to welcome continual interaction, versus the over-the-top lick, lick, lick, lick that tends to drive animals away. I do agree that appeasement is often used to counter or soften a behavior or action, like taking a bone or toy away. (We humans do it too, as in: “I know it’s more trouble, but would you mind substituting sweet potato fries for regular ones?”, she said, ducking her head down and to the side…).
It’s interesting to compare the kind of licking we are talking about with wolf pups licking the muzzles of adults when they come back from hunting. In this case, the adults clearly intend to give the pups food, because once they regurgitate the food they walk away. No licking necessary to keep them away from the food. But that does suggest an evolutionary basis for licking as a way of obtaining what you want while being subordinate.
And there are so many other reasons to lick human skin: salt, baby food on the mouth, etc. Tootsie is an enthusiastic face licker, so much so that I have to discourage her from doing so. Actually, she seems to most want to either lie on my face or crawl into my mouth. Maybe I am just missing the point and should regurgitate for her. (Sorry, but you knew that was coming, right?)
Great conversation, learning so much.
Trish, I have a question. When you say “conscious or not” when referring to the message sent, does that include unintended consequences? If a dog is licking to show he is no threat, but the act has the unintended consequence of getting the other dog to move away, could that be categorized as lick to dismiss?
Good question. I’d say first that “conscious versus unconscious” and consequences are two different things, apples and oranges. However, perhaps your scenario could be the origin of what Jen calls a “Kiss to Dismiss.” Dog licks to appease, consequence is that the other dog goes away, and licker learns that licking gets her what she wants, so begins to use it as “Kiss to Dismiss.” Thus, first lick just a lick, subsequent done with the intention of increasing distance. Make sense?
I know this is totally off-topic and I hope it’s ok to post it here. The new Clydesdale commercial made me shed happy tears, but what really impressed me was the number of distinct behaviors this VERY young puppy was taught to perform on cue (or more likely they used several puppies and taught each different behaviors— but still impressive, considering the age).
I watched a long video on the training of the horses for these ads and the trainer is impressive. Not sure if he trains the dog too or not:
Makes total sense…thanks!
Marianne Johnson says
Our daughter’s dog, Charlee, a huskey mix, did the Pippy Tay routine with our rottie, Sheera, all the time. Sheera had “raised” Charlee from a 6 week old pup and they were great pals and played together very well. The routine usually worked, Sheera would either let Charlee have whatever it was or they would play tug-o-war with it. Except for one time in our backyard. Sheera had a particularly scrumptious bone. Charlee went into her routine. She got within about a foot of Sheera, who began to curl her lips. Charlee kept edging closer. Sheera’s lips got higher and tighter and she growled. Charlee edged a little closer, Sherra SNARLED, lunged and air snapped. Charlee beat a HASTY retreat under a lawn chair and stayed there for a good 15 minutes while Sheera went back to gnawing on the bone. Every dog in our neighbors’ yards put up a vocal fit, reacting to Sheera’s snarl, I assume. Didn’t stop Charlee from grabbing the bone later in the day when Sheera left it laying on the patio. Sheera didn’t seem to care at that point, the two of them having a romp around the yard with Charlee “teasing” Sheera with the bone into a game of chase.
Sheera would use the “Kiss to Dismiss” with us or friends if she didn’t want you on “her” couch or were petting her too much. Nothing like a long, rottie tongue in your ear to make you beat a hasty retreat. Sheera also liked to wash my bare legs & feet right after I put on lotion. Or a friend’s shaved head for some reason…
What a tolerant dog in the video. He also seemed to glance in the direction of the parent a few times, perhaps as a plea for assistance.
I have always been puzzled by the “lick to dismiss” thing when it comes to one of my girls and I’d really appreciate any feed back if someone can clarify it for me. I have a Cavalier who gets up on people (especially, my sister) and she will lick compulsively as well as stick her tongue out licking the air (we call this her “Lucy Lizard” alter ego). She really goes over the top with some people. I know she loves creams and lotions, but I’m not sure just what is going on when she does this. She is the one initiating the contact and we have to usually remove her from mobbing the person. It’s compulsive licking, not the usual friendly Cavalier greeting.
I’m very interested in this topic. A lick ritual is acted out usually once a day between my two neutered males. One is 15yo and was previously an only dog. The newcomer, I got when he was 7yo, is 10yo.
I can’t tell if the dogs end up face to face in too close quarters THEN lick or they intentionally become face to face in order to lick. I don’t know if this happens when I am not present.
Each licks the other or they lick simultaneously for maybe 5 seconds then both turn their heads and give ground. I’ve never been able to explain why. Neither is gaining proximity to me, attention, or food after the lick ritual.
This is such an interesting topic. I feel like I have seen a bit of both. I use to torture (playful, but when I look back on it- it was very torturous) a childhood dog of mine by leaning into her face with my face and gently blowing on her. At the time I didn’t know better and my parents did not as well, but that is beside the point. She would respond by growling at me for a good 15 seconds, then lunge towards my face with an open mouth, really looked like she was going to attack me. It use to make my friends jump, but I had a lot of trust in this dog. Yet when she made contact it was never with teeth- she would lick my whole face while I rolled over laughing. She would lick my face for a good 30 seconds, preventing me from getting up. Her body would be soft and wiggly after she lunged and started licking, and she always made these very quite whines. At the time I just thought she was hilarious and it was a “game” we played for about 7 years until I grew out of it. When I look back on it I really feel like she was pleading with me and saying, “Please, stop, oh please go away. I love you, but stop you are so annoying.” It is almost like an appeasement and a dismiss lick- that her purpose was a bit of both. Yet, I never did go away. I would do it over and over again (yes I know I am lucky I never got bit), so she was never reinforced by me departing or ceasing. Typically I would escalate and I now give her memory a big gold star for the most patient dog.
My current 2 year old spaniel/ retriever mix (S/R) seems to perform an appeasement licking behavior verses licking to make someone go away . When my 4 year old female pit mix is sleeping, relaxing, or walking across the room and the younger one wants to play the S/R runs up underneath the pit mix and licks her jowls and delicately nibbles on them while maintaining a very graceful looking full body wiggle. She licks and licks trying to get the pit mix to play with her. It works every time, my pit’s body will start to wiggle as well and they break into a play session. Maybe she only does it because she was reinforced with a play session a few times. But it is another one where it looks like she is begging, “Oh please, oh please.”
So it’s ok that the toddler is giving the bone to the dog and taking it away… but the mother scolds the dog when it licks the kid to get the bone back? How many times is that same scenario going to play out before the dog growls at the kid? How long before the kid gets nipped because the owner has told the dog not to give warnings when the baby take the bone away? That dog is a saint, but that’s a dog bite/sad story waiting to happen. Watching that clip gives me anxiety.
Fascinating discussion! What I read in the video is that there is a distinct change at 1 min, when the toddler climbs on Bruno’s head. Up until that point, the licking seems rather gentle. And the interaction between toddler and dog isn’t too different than how I accustom my dogs to letting me take anything away…give-take-give-take. I interpret licking in that situation as “please may I have that?” At about 0:55 Bruno claims the bone, scooting over to put distance between his bone and the toddler. But after the child invades his space, Bruno’s head position and body language get pushier. Earlier his head had a slight submissive tilt, but at the 1 min point, he seems like he is trying to get his head above the child’s. Later he even stands. I’ve seen a mother dog use incessant nudging to gently teach her pups how to submit. This seemed along the same vein. Just my take.
I suppose just like we can use our hands to caress, tickle, pat, pinch, stroke, poke, tap, slap, hit and punch there are fine gradations in how a dog uses it’s mouth and tongue. I’ve had dogs lick me to say “please stop” when doing a mildly uncomfortable procedure (ie bandage, bee sting, tick etc). I think the lick can start as a request, and morph into an apology and then an “I insist.” The adult in the video also seemed to notice this change in energy.
Has anyone seen this when the licking dog goes out of it’s way to lick another dog’s jowls? A high energy, juvenile male incessantly licking the older, benevolent and diplomatic “pack leader” female. There were two other dogs on the off-leash walk and no balls, bones or other resources that the older dog had (unless the intent was to illicit regurgitation or play). Not a learned behavior as this was a first incident. And it didn’t seem like he wanted her to go away. If he got withing about 15′ of her, he had to go lick her. Thoughts?
This is EXACTTLY what my BC/ACD mix does to our baby now that he’s mobile. Obviously he does t sometimes if there’s something yummy on his face but he’s not a licker. At all. Except for when he’s trying to get the baby to go away. He has a history of dog aggression so I’m fearful this could escalate. Any thoughts on how to work with this behavior? I don’t want to punish it as its gentle but I fear for when baby is a little older and doesn’t take the hint!