Do Dogs Like Kisses, Actually?

dog sitting with owner on hillside
© iStock.com/Chalabala

Written by Sharon Parry

Updated: May 7, 2022

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It’s a natural human reaction to want to kiss those that we love but do dogs like kisses? What is going through your four-legged friend’s mind when you pucker up? Here, we explore the fascinating world of canine affection and set out everything you need to know about showing your love for your dog. And that includes dog kisses!

Do Dogs Understand Kisses?

Most species of animals can only communicate with themselves. Mice communicate with other mice, snakes communicate with other snakes and so on. But dogs have been our companions for so long that communication channels between dogs and humans have opened up. This very special bond allows dogs to understand quite a lot of what humans are trying to communicate to them and to respond in a way that humans can interpret. This is achieved by looking at each other and other body postures, through sounds (vocalizing), through smells and through tactile (touch) communications which would include kissing and hugging.

This is where the difficulty lies. Dogs use all of the above-listed routes of communication all the time to interact with other dogs – except for touch. Dogs do touch each other sometimes but it is not their preferred way to communicate. For humans, however, it is a very important human-to-human communication pathway. It is not surprising, therefore, that we want to hug and kiss our dogs to communicate our love for them.

So, the bottom line is that dogs in general struggle to understand what kissing is all about!

Do Dogs Like Kisses?

Yes and no. Petting and touching dogs are good for us! When a human pets a dog their mental state and immune function improve and their blood pressure and heart rate drop. The effect on some dogs can also be positive – their heart rate decelerates, for example.

The important point is that this is not a universal response. Some dogs are uncomfortable with human tactile interaction (touching and kissing), and some obviously hate it! The part of the dog’s body that is being touched is also important as is the dog’s relationship with the human that is doing the kissing. We visit that in more detail later.

Is It Unhygienic To Kiss a Dog?

Unfortunately, yes it is. Dogs can carry a whole host of bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that live on their coat and around their nose and mouth. Most of us have had the experience of seeing our dog eating something quite disgusting out of the gutter so it should be easy to understand how dogs pick up these germs.

Putting your mouth close to a dog’s mouth makes it easier for you to pick up these germs. They include campylobacter, cryptosporidium, giardia, and roundworm. All of them cause unpleasant symptoms in humans.

Kissing a dog is not the only way that these diseases can be transmitted. You can also pick them up from dog poop and toys. To protect yourself, you should always wash your hands after petting your dog, dealing with their poop, or touching their toys. Children are most likely to pick up bugs from dogs and young puppies and most likely to pass on infections.  

Is It Dangerous To Kiss a Dog?

It is certainly dangerous to kiss unknown dogs and it can even be dangerous to kiss a much-loved family pet under some circumstances. In the USA alone, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by a dog each year. Of these, 800,000 are bad enough for the victims to need medical attention. Sadly, children are most likely to get bitten and most likely to get severely injured. Let’s look a little closer at why this is.

Dogs are most likely to bite when they are sleeping, eating, playing with a toy or when they feel threatened. Under these circumstances, a child attempting to hug or kiss a dog is at risk of getting injured. The dog is simply not in the mood for affection and the child is not mature enough to read their body language.

The lesson here is that you should only ever attempt to kiss your own dog that is very familiar to you. Even then, you must learn to assess if they are in the right frame of mind by learning to read their body language. For this reason, it is a great idea to invest in a dog crate so that your dog has their own space where it can get away from young kids. A crate cover gives them even more privacy.

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Do Dogs Like Hugging?

Hugging and kissing are very similar things to a dog. They are all forms of physical contact. Just like kissing, dogs do not hug each other. They sniff each other’s butts and have a good stare at each other, but you won’t find two dogs hugging in the park.

On the other hand, many dogs do seem to find comfort in being in close physical contact with their human. They may clamber on your lap when you are watching TV or sit close to your leg when you are in the vet’s waiting room. This varies from dog to dog because some pooches are very protective of their personal space and we have to respect that.

Do Dogs Like Kisses On Their Head?

You may find that cute head irresistible, but research has shown that this is actually one of the areas that dogs least like to be touched. For reasons that have not yet been discovered, when dogs are touched on the top of their head, they interpret this as an aggressive gesture. It interferes with the usual bond that they feel for humans and they may respond in a negative way. Dogs prefer to be touched on the sides of their chest and under their chin.

Do Dogs Like Kisses On Their Nose?

There are two problems with giving a dog a kiss on the nose. The first is that it is very close to their mouth and therefore closer to potential germs. It’s also close to their teeth if they decide that they don’t want to be kissed and show this with a nip.

Secondly, a dog’s nose is very sensitive and they may not like to be touched in the area.

Do Dogs Understand Love And How Do They Show It?

“Love” is a human concept. We have evolved to feel love as a way of bonding and forming relationships with other humans. Dogs are also social animals. In the wild, they would have lived in packs and would have formed bonds with other dogs that led to mutual protection and support.

Having been bred as human companions for thousands of years, it is likely that dogs also develop a close bond with their owners. You provide them with support and protection and in return, they are loyal to you. They work for us, they like to spend time with us and in some circumstances, they sacrifice their lives for us. If that is not love, I don’t know what is!

Is A Dog Lick The Same As A Kiss?

Dogs lick each other for different reasons. Mother dogs lick pups as a way of grooming. They lick her mouth because in ancient times this would have made her regurgitate food for them. In adult dogs, licking can indicate submission or curiosity.

When dogs first lick their humans on the face it is often because they can smell a tasty meal on your breath. If this gains their attention, they may adopt it in the future as an attention-seeking device.

If your dog is licking your face, do not assume that it is affection. They could be telling you that they want something or that they feel threatened. If you return the kiss, an anxious dog may feel very threatened and could react badly.

How To Show Your Dog You Love Them

If your pooch is not a fan of kisses do not despair! There are plenty of other ways that you can show them that you care. Here are just a few ideas:

Quality time

Go to the park, play fetch, and discover new places together. All of these show your dog that you love them and enjoy spending time with them

Play games

All dogs love to play games with their owners. Fetch is a great place to start. Other dogs love to play hide and seek, chase, and tug-of-war with a strong tug toy.

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Communication

When you take your dog for a walk, leave your phone in your pocket and take your earphones out. Focus on your pooch instead. Give them treats, be generous with verbal praise and constantly interact with them.

Routine and training

Dogs thrive on stable routines – they like to know what is going to happen. They also love learning new things and pleasing their owner. ? training treats

Physical contact

Your dog may not like hugs and kisses but they may like tummy tickles. Other dogs like their chest to be tickled or they like a tickle under the chin.

Give them a gift

Every now and then treat your pooch to a new outfit, toy, or blanket. They will be delighted!

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When It Is Okay To Kiss A Dog?

It is okay to kiss a dog when things are unlikely to go wrong! This means when it is your own dog and you are very familiar with them. They have been very well socialized and are used to physical affection from you and your family. It is best if they have approached you, perhaps on the sofa, and have snuggled up to you. They should be relaxed and they will show this by their body position and by giving a big sigh.

This is the time when your dog is most likely to appreciate having a kiss and a cuddle. You may even get a slobbery face lick in return to show you that they are enjoying it!

When It Is Not Okay To Kiss A Dog?

There are some circumstances when it is not advisable to kiss a dog. Young children should be discouraged from kissing dogs – even the family dog – because they are too young to understand if their dog is not enjoying it. This will also stop them from making the mistake of kissing unknown dogs which could be very dangerous.

There are certain ‘risky’ situations where a dog is more likely to feel threatened and you should not attempt to kiss them. So, do not try to kiss a dog that is:

  • Eating – they may think you are going to steal their food
  • Sleeping – they may think you are attacking them
  • Not with their owner – you don’t know their history and they will be nervous
  • With an owner that has asked you to back off – they have done that for a reason!
  • Sick or has an injury – they will feel very vulnerable and they could have a germ that you can catch
  • Has puppies – she will be very defensive
  • Playing with a toy – they are in play mode and will forget their manners
  • Hiding in a corner – they have taken themselves away for a reason
  • Very young – immature dogs can be very impulsive and have not yet learned how to behave
  • Very old – older dogs can have cognitive decline which changes their behavior making them unpredictable

Final Word On … Do Dogs Like Kisses?

On the whole, dogs are not big fans of kissing. They do not understand it because it is a human gesture and not a canine one. It is never safe to hug or kiss a dog that you are not very familiar with and that does not know and trust you. There are plenty of other ways to show you love your dog by giving them attention and spending quality time with them.

Having said that, there are many dogs that are willing to tolerate it and some even appear to enjoy it. Our Cockapoo has had a very tactile relationship with my large and loving family from the day he arrived in our home as a young pup. He seems to enjoy being hugged and kissed by members of the family but would never tolerate this sort of familiarity from a stranger. We are also very respectful of his personal space and would not force hugs and kisses on him when he is sleeping, ill or obviously in a playful mood. Even Cockapoos have boundaries!

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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