Should You Smooch Your Pooch?

Health and behavioral considerations of kissing our dogs
By Karen B. London PhD, December 2019

Kissing our loved ones at the stroke of midnight on December 31st is supposed to bring good luck into the new year and scare away evil spirits. New Year’s Eve kissing is a tradition that may date back nearly 3000 years to the time of the Romans, and for these past few millennia, the kissing was generally assumed to be between people. With dogs becoming increasingly important as the loves of our lives, should we be kissing them instead of (or in addition to) humans? The answer is a personal one, but your decision should be informed by both health and behavioral considerations.

On the health front, there is evidence that canine kisses can transmit diseases to people that we are not able to handle. Some of the bacteria that can be spread by dogs to people include E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, all of which can cause gastrointestinal issues. Besides the microbes naturally present in their mouths, many dogs spend a lot of time with their mouth and muzzle in all kinds of unsavory places, from their own back ends to piles of dog poop to heavens-knows-what they find on walks and in the yard. Let’s face it, dead squirrels and old food wrappers are quite appealing to many dogs, however much we wish that weren’t the case.

Healthy human skin can generally protect us from the germs present in our dogs’ mouths, so it is not usually a problem for our dogs to kiss us by licking. And fortunately, it is not common for people to become sick from kissing their dogs, though anyone with a compromised immune system would be wise to be extra cautious. There is less risk of a problem if you avoid contact between your dog’s mouth and your own mouth, nose and ears as well as any cuts.

Another concern when it comes to ringing in the new year by kissing our dogs is whether or not our dogs like it. Kissing is a sign of love and affection in humans, but that doesn’t mean that dogs feel the same way about this behavior, which is not a natural part of their repertoire. Yes, dogs lick each other as well as humans, but that is about as close as they get to kissing. Putting your face right by a dog’s face can scare or overwhelm the object of your affection, even though you don’t mean to threaten or confuse your buddy. Many dogs learn to accept and enjoy human kisses, perhaps even learning to understand the warmth behind the actions, but it’s not fair to assume that your dog likes kissing just because you do.

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The best way to determine how dogs feel about kissing is through observation. In response to being kissed does the dog stay relaxed, lean in toward you, and maintain the same high tail carriage and perked-up ears as usual? Or, does the dog duck or try to get away, pull back the ears, drop the tail, tense up or show signs of anxiety such as yawning and tongue-flicking? If your dog shows no distress about being kissed, then there’s likely no harm in it, but if your dog exhibits any signs of discomfort, it’s a great kindness to find another way to express your love.

Nobody wants to have to hold back any expression of affection when it comes to dogs—I get it. People who want to kiss their dogs are going to kiss their dogs on New Year’s Eve and all other days, despite any downsides to the behavior. That’s because there are so many upsides—your dog won’t judge you or ask for a commitment, you don’t have to worry about your breath and it makes you feel close to your dog. It’s important to express your affection for your dogs in a way that they enjoy. That may or may not include kissing but nobody will deny that sharing some loving with your pup is the perfect way to usher in the new year.

What’s your take on kissing canines?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.

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