A dog licking the lips of another dog’s lips is often viewed as a soft and friendly appeasement gesture. Face and lip licking is most often offered by young puppies, but can carry on into adulthood. Face licking does have boundaries in the dog to dog world of interaction and socialization. So, what face licking is appropriate and what’s out of bounds?
Young puppies are offered a lot of behavior leniencies by their elders. Their wiggly, squirming, jumpy, face licking greetings are often allowed by older dogs. The adult dog stops, stands still and allows the pup to do his thing before moving on. As a pup matures from puppyhood to adolescence, however, dogs begin to teach the youthful dog more appropriate, calm, and less in-your-face behavior. At times, if a pup’s face licking antics go overboard an elder will correct him with a snark, “Enough already, get out of my face!”
Incessant face lickers can get themselves into trouble and start trouble. If you’ve been following Dogspeak, you remember that dogs are prone to “sniff of the butt” greetings. Face licking relentlessly might be tolerated by some, but is considered rude and discouraged by others.
Face licking is more complicated than most of us may think. In some cases, dogs can use face licking to throw out appeasement gestures that are syrupy sweet on the surface but have an agenda.
In other dogs, the frantic face licking seems a reflection of anxiety. The dog is not overly self-assured and continues to offer the behavior as they have not developed a true confidence or natural ability to speak their own language more confidently and eloquently.
So, what seems within the range of normal and what’s out of bounds? Watch the reaction of the recipient. If the face licker is completely moving the recipient around a space — almost like herding the dog with his or her tongue, the behavior is likely over the top.
If your adolescent or adult dog offers incessant face licking with dogs that he does not have a solid relationship with, redirect his focus. Get him moving and doing something else. Do not correct him or physically pull him away (this will only fuel the issue), but call him off and tell him politely to go do something else (chase a ball, sniff grass). Other dogs in the park will appreciate your monitoring of his face cleaning services.
And about the dog that incessantly licks your face. Well, that’s up to you. If you don’t mind an organic dog face wash, well, go for it. If however the licking behavior is not calm, but overly excited and landing your dog into trouble with friends and other family members, probably best not to encourage it.