Owner kissing her Saluki on the head

Dogs don't naturally understand that kisses are a sign of affection from humans, but they can learn this through positive association.

© Maja Erwinsdotter - Unsplash

Does my dog like kisses?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

For many dog owners, kissing is a natural way of showing their four-legged friend affection. But does your dog actually like being kissed? Here's the answer. 

For us humans, a kiss is a universally recognised sign of affection, but for your canine companion this isn't necessarily the case. Our pets are pretty good at putting up with behaviours from their people that they may not understand, so it's important to consider whether your pet is simply tolerating a smooch, or is enjoying the love and attention. 

Whether or not your dog likes being kissed will depend on past associations and their level of comfort around the person doing the kissing.

What do kisses mean to dogs?

While kissing may come naturally to people, it's important to consider that this isn't how dogs show each other affection. They do this through play, cuddling and close proximity to one another.

As dogs don't instinctively understand kisses, they have to learn what this means from a human perspective. 

Do dogs like kisses? 

Whether or not your pet likes being kissed will depend on how confident they feel around people and what past experiences they've had.

To kiss a dog, we typically lean towards them, sometimes petting or hugging them at the same time. If your dog has learnt that this is a positive experience they will most likely enjoy being kissed. If, on the other hand, these actions have never built positive associations or the dog doesn't fully trust the person, kissing may cause stress and confusion.

Does my dog like kisses on their head?

Dogs typically approach each other sideways, avoiding direct eye contact face on greetings. This minimises confrontation. To have a face approaching for a kiss may overwhelm some dogs, particularly if they aren't familiar with you as a person. 

Your dog may reciprocate a kiss on the head with a lick, which is often believed to be their way of showing love. Licking is a complex behaviour, which surprisingly is not always used to show affection. 

In some cases, dogs lick each other to strengthen their bond. This is particularly evident between mothers and puppies, who use licking as a way to comfort and groom. As puppies grow older they may be seen licking around their mother's mouth, which is an instinctive behaviour passed down from wolves, who do this to get their mother to regurgitate food. 

Licking releases endorphins which are hormones that make your dog feel good. This in turn reduces stress, leaving them feeling happy and relaxed. In many cases licking can be used to get attention, particularly if this behaviour has been rewarded in the past. As social observers, your dog may have learnt that a lick after a kiss on the head gets them more cuddle time with you.

Licking can also be an appeasement gesture, to show deference or to calm a situation of tension. It's important to observe a dog's body language to see whether they are showing signs of stress as they lick you. If so, it's best to leave them enough space to approach you for more attention once they're ready. 

Do dogs like hugs? 

In much the same way a kiss may feel overwhelming to certain dogs, a hug can have the same effect. A more confident dog may loom over a more nervous dog during moments of confrontation, and a hug may emulate this behaviour if the dog in question isn't fully comfortable around you. 

Take the time to read the body language being displayed. Are they showing any of the following signs? 

  • Lip licking
  • Yawning 
  • Tucked tail
  • Whale eye
  • Panting
  • Stiff body 

If so, this indicates they may feel threatened and need space. If your dog is older with an unknown history, it's particularly important to consider they may have past trauma meaning a hug is not right for them. Respecting your pet's behaviour will help to build trust and understanding in the long-term. 

How do I tell my dog I love them? 

Some dogs do like kisses and others feel more comfortable with alternative forms of love and affection. The great thing is, there are many ways you can show your dog affection. From gentle pats to head massages, many dogs love physical contact with their owners. Exercise is another great way to bond with your four-legged friend, taking them to explore new scents and environments on a regular basis. 

When it comes to play, take the time to work out what your pet's play style is and what toys make them particularly happy. 

Dogs are brilliant at adapting to us and our funny ways, even learning to enjoy behaviours they don't necessarily understand. Checking they're happy and comfortable with the attention received will help your bond strengthen and grow over time. 

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Frequently asked questions

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