To kiss or not to kiss, that is the question. While we all love our pets as actual living, breathing family members the old adage that our dog’s mouths are cleaner than ours is no longer holding up as true. A team of researchers collected dental plaque from 66 dogs and 81 humans and placed it under the microscope to be analyzed for signs of bacteria. It was concluded, and published in the journal Archives of Oral Biology, that both humans and dogs contain bacteria in their mouths, which could potentially be transferred to each other through “kissing.”
Kissing your canine can lead to gum disease. Three types of “peridontopathic” bacteria were found in the plaque of both dogs and humans. This bacteria is linked to a severe form of gum disease called periodontis which, according to the Pacific Northwest Veterinary Dentist & Oral Surgery Center, causes the destruction of the supporting tissues of the tooth leading to diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.
Ever wonder what your dog is thinking when you get that wet sloppy kiss? We may never know the real answer, but it helps to understand the psychology behind the lick. Dogs lick for a variety of reasons. Mothers lick their puppies to clean them and stimulate their urination and defecation. From about six weeks of age, pups lick their mom’s face and lips when they want her to regurgitate food for them. This behavior is left over from their wild ancestry when it was easier for the mother to carry food in her stomach rather than dragging it back to the den in her mouth. As puppies get older, they lick to groom themselves and their pack mates. It also becomes a way of increasing the bonds between pack members and welcoming others back into the pack. Adult dogs lick as a sign of submissiveness or deference to a dominant pack member. The dog doing the licking usually lowers its body to make itself seem smaller, looking up, thus adding to the effect of subordinate behavior. The dominant dog receiving the face lick stands tall to accept the gesture, but doesn’t return the favor.
As far as human to canine behavior, we have different means of communicating. Obvious human use of body language is mostly limited to easily read and recognized gestures. Dogs, however, need to rely on what we see as subtle gestures, expressions and broad motions to make their thoughts known to each other. The language they “speak” does not include kisses as we know them. They do have gestures of affection, like touching and rubbing against each other, or licking each other in a social way. Through many hundreds of years of domestication, most dogs are good at figuring out our communications to them. These traits have developed naturally in order for them to survive.
Now do dogs know what they are doing when they are kissing/licking you? Your smooching poochie may be doing it for his own benefit as much as yours. Kissing releases endorphins, making the experience highly pleasurable for him. In a pack, dogs bond and establish their submission by licking the pack leader, so his behavior may mean that you have been selected as his pack leader. Human skin collects natural oils and salt from your sweat, which dogs find that highly delicious so it may just mean that you taste wonderful to Fido. If he goes for the areas that collect the most perspiration, your dog may just like you au naturale.
Dogs can also learn this behavior by habit. Meaning, as a quick study, when they receive a positive reaction from you through happy attention such as laughing, snuggling and kisses back, they are more likely to repeat the behavior. This is the same concept as teaching your dog to sit, shake or roll-over. In turn, one of the first things to do if you want to stop the doggie kissing habit is ignoring your dog. This sounds cruel, but the approach is scientifically proven. If he’s not given positive feedback, he may bother less often and, possibly, the behavior will extinguish altogether.
So, in conclusion, does kissing your dog make you sick? Yes, it can. Their mouths are definitely not cleaner than ours. Do dogs realize what kissing is? Maybe. Maybe not, but anyone who owns a dog can pretty much say that licking and kissing are shows of affection.