First, let’s clear up one myth. Dogs do NOT have cleaner mouths than humans. Have you ever watched where a dog sniffs or licks?
Dr. Marty Becker, veterinarian and author, does reassure us however, saying that since “many of the bacteria in a dog’s mouth are species specific, it won’t harm the owner.” Dr. Becker further states that staph or strep are not transmissible between dogs and humans.
That cleared up, is your dog really kissing you? Let’s save that answer for last.
A dog licks for very definite reasons. When a female gives birth, she licks the newborns to remove the covering membranes and to stimulate them to breathe. For the first couple of weeks of her pups’ lives, she licks them to help them eliminate urine and feces until they no longer need that stimulation. Licking encourages mental growth and lets the pups know that mom is there to take care of them. At about 6 weeks old, the pups return the favor, licking mom’s lips. This is so that she’ll regurgitate food which the pups then feast on.
All dogs, pups and adults, lick themselves clean. Dogs in the wild did this so that their prey would not detect their presence by odor. Dogs retained this behavior when domesticated.
Dogs often lick their lips when they are under stress. They often lick areas excessively, causing wounds. One of my German Shepherds exhibited this behavior leading to self-inflicted injuries on her front paws called lick granuloma. If your dog licks in this way, I would seek the advice of an animal behaviorist to try to find the cause of the stress.
Dogs will also lick other dogs or people to show submission or respect.
We also train our dogs, knowingly or not, that licking brings reward, like getting more positive attention from us.
And some dogs just like the taste of our sweaty, salty skin.
All this being said, I believe our dogs exhibit many emotions, love being one of them. And I like to think this is apparent when our dogs lick or as I like to call it, kiss us.
Just for fun – I taught my pitbull mix, Murphy, to kiss me when I tell her to “say sorry” by pointing to a spot on my face and repeating the words, when she’s misbehaved. Since she doesn’t continue the unacceptable behavior, I’m betting she understands.