An owner kissing their dog.

Do Dogs Like Being Kissed?

As humans, kisses and hugs are familiar ways for us to express our affection for those closest to us. Dogs are considered a much-loved part of most families, and they definitely deserve all the kisses in the world! But do dogs like being kissed?

Kissing is not a natural way for dogs to express love. They may learn to understand that a kiss is a sign of affection, but they aren’t born with that knowledge. In fact, some dogs may feel threatened and become aggressive when they’re pulled in for a kiss. If you’re trying to get to know an unfamiliar dog, it’s probably best to find other ways to show it your love!

The Benefits Of A Kiss

A kid leaning in to kiss their dog.
Now, this is cute.

In the human world, a kiss is a natural way to affirm relationships between lovers, family members, and close friends. Short of just making us feel good, research shows that kissing has many potential health benefits, such as increasing “happy” hormones like oxytocin and decreasing the stress hormone, cortisol.

Dogs, like people, are social creatures that live in family groups. They must maintain strong bonds with each other in order to survive. Different species have different ways of showing love toward others within their group. Even though kissing is commonly used to show affection between humans and other large primates such as chimpanzees, you’d hardly see a dog kissing another dog, no matter how close they are to each other. 

In today’s world, a domestic dog’s family unit is often made up of a mixture of humans and sometimes other dogs. They have co-evolved with humans over many millennia, and over the years, they have adapted themselves to understand our behavioral cues. Even though kissing is not a common practice in a dog family, a dog that grows up being kissed and cuddled by its human family will soon accept that kissing is a sign of love. 

A study on labrador owners found that owners that kiss their dogs have higher levels of oxytocin, the hormone that is responsible for warm, fuzzy feelings of love. Amazingly, the dogs that received the kisses also had higher oxytocin levels. The oxytocin levels of both the owners and dogs have closely associated with the frequency of kissing; the more kisses they shared, the higher their oxytocin.

Why All Dogs May Not See It That Way

Body language plays a huge role in the way dogs communicate with each other. Understanding dog behavior can help us interpret their feelings and avoid anthropomorphizing our pets. In other words, we’re not incorrectly attributing our human feelings to them. 

For us kissing is instinctive, and nearly every human culture has its own version that strengthens relationships. Dogs have their own ways of communicating affection. When a friendly dog approaches another dog, they often approach sideways with their eyes averted. They may nudge, nuzzle, groom, and rub up against each other. 

When we smooch our dogs, we often make eye contact, approach them head-on, lean close to them, and sometimes grasp them by the face or neck as we would with our fellow humans. But in a dog’s world, these are often interpreted as threatening behaviors that dogs use to intimidate other dogs. Unless your dog is extremely comfortable with you, they may react by snapping or biting in an attempt to protect themselves.     

What Else Can You Do To Show Them Your Love?

All dogs love when humans love them. Physical displays of affection are necessary to strengthen your bond and will ultimately benefit both you and your dog. But the best way to love a dog very much depends on the dog! A puppy that was raised with regular smooches will likely become a dog that loves kisses and recognizes them as a sign of love from their human companion. But a dog that grew up without much affectionate contact from humans will likely not be able to understand what we are trying to do when we kiss them. They may interpret it as a threat instead. If you’re not sure how a dog might react to a kiss, it’s best first to try other ways of making friends. 

What To Do

Especially if you are meeting a dog for the first time, the polite thing to do would be to try and communicate with them in a language they recognize. Approach them in a way that a stranger dog would. Remain a respectful distance away and get down to their level and avert your gaze.  Better yet, turn your whole body sideways and speak to them in a low calm voice. 

You may slowly extend a balled fist and allow the dog to sniff it. If the dog seems happy enough to let you pet them, experts recommend stroking the side of their neck or body because a hand looming over their head may be scary and cause them to become defensive. 

When you’re comfortable with your dog, all this becomes a whole lot easier as well. Paying attention to their behavior will make it easier to understand how they respond to different types of touch. 

While they may allow you to grab them in for a smooch, it’s best to incorporate some dog-centric expressions of love so that they understand what you’re trying to convey. Research shows that dogs respond best to long, deep strokes when being pet because this stimulates grooming behavior. It also includes deep-pressure touch that many animals find calming. Short strokes, ruffling their fur, or rapid patting can rile your dog up into an aroused state that may encourage play biting or snapping.

In Conclusion: Love Your Dog The Way They Want!

Dogs like us, are individual beings, each with their own experiences and preferences. Spending time with any dog will help you better understand them, and vice versa. If you know your dog loves kisses and is totally okay with an occasional smooch, then go for it! But kissing isn’t the only way to show your love. If your dog seems to shy away from your embrace, be respectful and experiment gently to see what other ways you can express yourself to them. 

So, what do you think about kissing and dogs? Let us know in the comments below!

Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Umaya Gunaratne is a veterinarian plus dog and cat mum currently pursuing her PhD in small animal cardiology. Her field of interest is degenerative mitral valve disorders in small breed dogs, but her passion lies in bridging the gap between academia and the real world. She enjoys helping pet parents understand the research-backed science behind raising their fur kids. She spends her free time playing football, clicker-training her cat, Ria, and spending quality time with her many houseplants.