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Why Does My Dog Lick My Nose? Understanding Canine Communication - PawSafe

Why Does My Dog Lick My Nose? Understanding Canine Communication

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

Why Does My Dog Lick My Nose

Have you ever wondered why your dog licks your nose? Dogs are known for their affectionate nature and unique ways of showing love and communication. One of dogs’ most common behaviors towards humans is licking, particularly on the face, including our noses. But did you know not all dog kisses are affection? In fact, there are many reasons that dogs may lick your nose, mouth, or eyes, and not all of them are a sign of love.

Of course, doggy mouths are full of bacteria, so if your dog loves to give you kisses on the face, invest in a good dog mouthwash to keep things hygienic.

While it may seem adorable and endearing, this behavior serves a deeper purpose rooted in canine social dynamics and communication.To answer this question, we’ve consulted Professional Dog Trainer Brenda Aloff’s Guide Canine Body Language as well as Bronagh Daly, a certified dog instructor from Five By Five Canine. So let’s delve into what’s so special about this behavior.

Let’s break it down further into why dogs like to lick your nose and face.

Face Licking is an Appeasement Signal

To understand why dogs lick our noses, we must go back to their development’s early stages. This behavior originates in puppyhood, where licking serves as an appeasement behavior and a way to establish social bonds within the pack. 

Puppies instinctively lick the mouths of adult dogs to persuade them to be friendly and to show their submission, indicating that they mean no harm. It means, “I respect your authority, and I come in peace (and feed me!).” This behavior can continue into adulthood, like in the video below, which shows one dog using face licking to win over the black dog.

As dogs grow and become part of human families, this learned behavior transfers to their interactions with humans. When a dog licks your face, especially your nose, it’s an instinctual display of their submissive nature and their attempt to establish a harmonious relationship. 

This is what we mean by “appeasement behavior in dogs,” which are behaviors intended to “inhibit, reduce, or end aggressive behavior of social partners” By licking your face, they show that they accept your role as the dominant figure and wish to maintain a peaceful connection.

Face Licking as a Greeting

Licking the face becomes a natural behavior that dogs use on people too. This means they often want to lick your nose when you come home as part of a greeting and reaffirm your bond.

You will also notice that dogs who lick your nose may try to lick the faces of strangers. This is the same behavior as licking other dogs’ mouths. These friendly dogs desperately want to make friends through very natural appeasement behavior. Of course, strangers may not appreciate a dog trying to lick their nose, so teaching your dog how to greet people politely can give them a better chance of making friends.

Lick To Dismiss: When Licking Means “Please Go Away”

It’s vital to understand that not all face-licking is a sign of affection. One example is the “Kiss dismiss” behavior, which communicates that they want to be left alone. This behavior involves a brief lick followed by the dog turning away, often showing the whites of their eyes and a tense, closed mouth. They might even hold a toy or food item during this interaction, using it as a clear signal to communicate their need to be left alone. 

The video below shows typical lick and dismissive behavior. Pay attention to the Pitbull with a bone while the toddler keeps grabbing it. Can you recognize why this may be dangerous?

Understanding the “lick and dismiss” behavior is crucial because it may appear friendly on the surface, but in reality, the dog politely asks to be left alone. This scenario can become problematic, especially when children are involved and fail to recognize the cues. It’s vital to teach children about these subtle signals and the importance of respecting a dog’s boundaries to prevent potential misunderstandings or accidents.

If your dog is licking your nose or face or someone else’s face, and you notice a “whale eye” or a “side eye,” where the dog looks out of their periphery, and you can see the whites of its eyes, this is a sign of stress, not affection. It’s better to respect your dog’s space at this time.

Licking Your Nose For Attention Seeking 

Licking Your Nose For Attention Seeking

Another common reason your dog may lick your nose is to grab your attention. Sometimes this is out of affection, but it can also be a sign of stress. A common reason young dogs lick your face is to initiate playtime.

Dogs Licking Your Nose Out Of Stress Or Anxiety

When a dog feels anxious or stressed, they may turn to you and lick your face to try to express their worry. When a dog is licking from stress, you will notice the following:

  • The licking will be very rapid and intense;
  • The face will be tense;
  • You may then lick their own nose or lips;
  • Raping panting;
  • Ears are tightly pinned back; 
  • Stress yawning; and
  • The infamous “side eye” or “whale eye”.

In the video below, Bronagh shows us precisely what the difference is between what a dog licks out of affection looks like versus a dog licking her nose out of stress.

@fivebyfivek9

Reply to @uncrushable2000 What are some signs that “kisses” are affection vs. anxiety-driven? 🧐 #dogaffection #dogkisses #doglicking #caninecommunication #dogbodylanguage #dogsoftiktok

♬ original sound – Five By Five Canine

Why It’s So Important to Understand What a Dog Licking Your Nose Means

Knowing the difference between when a dog licks your nose out of affection or stress is vital.

In some cases, this submissive behavior can escalate to more extreme displays, such as submissive urination. In other cases, if a dog is giving you a quick “lick to dismiss,” it’s important to recognize this because if one mistake this for affection, your dog may need to escalate. This could mean raising their hackles, snarling, or nipping.

Dogs may exhibit these behaviors when they feel overwhelmed, anxious, or uncertain. It’s important to recognize these signs and respond appropriately, providing a calm and reassuring environment for your canine.

Should I Let My Dog Lick My Nose?

Should I Let My Dog Lick My Nose?

Letting your dog lick your nose is a personal choice. It is completely fine to let your dog lick your face if you are sure your dog is doing it out of affection and if you are up to date on your dog’s deworming. However, you may not want to let your dog lick your nose, eyes, ears, or mouth area if you have a compromised immune system or allergies since you can be allergic to their saliva.

Also being sure that you understand your dog’s behavior is key.

If you are sticking your face in your dog’s face for kisses and they don’t really like it, then it’s essential to recognize the signs and respect their boundaries. This is especially true for children who may not understand when a dog is uncomfortable, and the licking behavior is not as friendly as it looks.

Likewise, it’s important to recognize when your dog is licking your face from stress or anxiety because these are underlying issues to address. Regarding strangers, you may also want to invest in dog training so your dog knows how to greet strangers politely. After all, not everybody might like doggy kisses as much as some of us do.

The video below deals with how to train your dog, not to lick your face or nose.

Final Thoughts

When interpreting a dog’s behavior, it’s essential to consider the context, body language, and other accompanying signals. While licking our noses can signify affection and submission, it can also indicate the need for space or a request to be left alone. Pay attention to your dog’s overall demeanor, including their body posture, facial expressions, and vocalizations, to better understand their intentions.

The act of dogs licking our noses stems from their innate social behaviors and the desire to establish a peaceful connection. It begins during puppyhood to appease adult dogs and show submission. When dogs lick our faces, they continue this behavior to communicate their submissiveness and maintain a positive relationship. However, it’s crucial to recognize the “lick and dismiss” behavior, where dogs briefly lick and then turn away, signaling their need for solitude. By understanding these communication cues, we can foster a better understanding between dogs and humans, ensuring a harmonious and respectful bond.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.