Why Do Dogs Lick Faces or Jump on Humans?

Body language and signals play an important role in the lives of dogs, as they use their bodies to communicate their intentions and feelings in the same way that we use sounds and spoken language.  These signals appear to be mostly inherited and instinctive, although they need to learn when to use them most effectively.  Dogs will try to use the same signals during their interactions with humans as they do when “talking” to each other, which can lead to all kinds of confusion.  Humans are guilty of doing this as well.

Let Me Lick You!!!

When a dog meets a human, he wants to be friendly and signals this by his forward movement, his “friendly” expression, and by his attempts to lick the person’s mouth.  Most people recognize this and wants to be friendly too, but, being a human, smiles, puts their hands on the dog and moves their head so he can only lick their chin at the most.  Licking is an appeasement gesture that signals that he is no threat to the person.  He does this hoping that they won’t attack him, as he doesn’t know the person well and is not completely sure of their character.

Most dogs have a special bond with their owners, and licking the mouth has become a ritualized greeting.  This action has its origins in the behavior of puppies in the wild who would lick the mouths of adults returning to the nest to get them regurgitate food they were carrying in their stomachs–something that is not likely to happen to your dog I hope.

Let Me Jump on You!!

Dogs that know you well will signal their greeting with their whole bodies.  They will strain against their leash to get to the person, but their body will be relaxed and not as tense as it would be if they were about to display aggressive behavior.  Their tail wags in a big sweeping movement from side to side, and their facial expression is a happy “grin”.  Dogs jump to get closer to our faces.  As puppies they want to be close enough to lick our mouths.  If this behavior is rewarded when they are young, it becomes a habit later in life.  (Boy do I know that!  My Harley was so cute as a puppy, and now I can’t get him to stop jumping on anyone who walks in the front door.)  They get anxious and excited and will have a wide mouth, pulled-back ears and protruding tongue.  They are seeking assurance from the person that they are accepted.  If a dog has been told not to jump on people in the past, they may still try but will keep their paws low in case they need to get down again quickly.  It is important to assure the dog as soon as possible in order to stop this action and calm them down.

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