It’s well known that dogs groom themselves by licking. Actually, dogs are very concerned with personal hygiene ― they lick their paws, as well as their privates. But upon the arrival of a second dog, we start to notice that in addition to licking themselves, they lick each other. Dog kisses can get flashy, and might even make humans uncomfortable. We shouldn’t be, though. In fact, what we get to witness is a very tender way that dogs express closeness and solidarity with one another.
Friendly, submissive, or both
Dogs licking each other is a way of recognizing the other as part of the same pack. This means acceptance, and the protection that comes with belonging to the same group. So, basically, when dogs lick each other’s faces, ears, or genitalia, they’re performing a form of mutual understanding. Dogs are always communicating, either by the movement of their tails, their ears, or general body language. The licking behavior, these dog kisses, is a call to play or affection, in sharp contrast to signs of aggression, such as barking, growling, and hackle-raising. In short, licking each other’s mouths can be a kind of invitation to have fun together. In puppies, however, licking their mother’s snout is usually a way of asking for food, once they make the transition from suckling to eating semi-solid foods.
Much like a rollover can express submission, a “kiss” on the mouth or the snout can translate as “it’s okay, I recognize that you’re stronger than me, and I respect you”. The more submissive dog will lower their head, avoid direct eye-contact, and gently lick the muzzle of the higher-ranking, more confident dog. It’s a way of saying that they come in peace. Think of it as the canine equivalent of social kissing among humans. Dogs who are friends will also show their affection by kissing and grooming each other. In these cases, it has little to nothing to do with social hierarchy ― these dogs know and trust each other. Sometimes, it even serves the practical purpose of tending to a cut or injury of some kind, or just general cleanliness. Friends showing affection toward friends.
What dog kisses mean
If your dog gives you kisses as well as their dog friends, it carries much the same meaning. Cleanliness, just general affection, a way of showing submission and excitement and love. In some cases, it’s because they’re asking for food, much like puppies do with their mothers.
It’s amazing how we can learn to understand all the messages we constantly receive from our pups, through all of these small details and nuances in behavior. Sharing our lives with them is a gift, and giving them all the attention and love that they deserve is the best way to return the favor.