I’ve never been a fan of licky dogs, but I do pay attention to how and when a dog offers kisses and other licks — because, just as all tail wags do not signify a happy dog, not all dog licks signify affection. A recent Whole Dog Journal article on puppy socialization described it really well:
When dogs lick humans with affection, it’s typically one quick flick, or a sustained activity of leisurely soft licks. But the lick that’s worrisome – the one that trainers call the “kiss to dismiss” – looks different. It’s intense, sometimes fast, hard, even frantic. Parents often misinterpret this, thinking the dog is finally learning to love the toddler, but that licking is designed to get the advancing human to stop!
Orly is a very affectionate girl, and her trademark kiss is a tiny tongue flick that just grazes the tip of the nose of her target. It’s usually combined with a sweet snuggle, and the whole package lasts only a few seconds. It’s adorable. (Orly specializes in “adorable.”)
She frequently greets her hike leader with a sweet kiss and cuddle, and pretty much anyone who leans over her is in danger of getting a tiny nose kiss.
Orly will occasionally do the “leisurely soft licks,” but I tend to discourage that.
I’ve seen the “fast, hard, even frantic” lick too. Cali would do that sometimes when I was grooming her. She was not a huge fan of the nail routine, for example.
This intensive, insistent licking is a clear stop sign from any dog, whether you’re grooming her, holding her too tightly, or — where it often shows up — if a child is overwhelming her with attention or simply too much presence.
When people say a dog bite “came out of nowhere” it’s often the case that they missed this — and other — warning signs that the dog was reaching her limit. A stressed dog who can’t escape may well escalate from these clear but harmless signals to snapping or biting.
Check out the WDJ article for more canine stress signals that are easy to miss or misinterpret; though the article focuses on puppies, the stress behaviors hold true for dogs of all ages.