Do dogs understand what our kisses are?

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Robin:
I know its nice to think they do, but when you read books about the language of dogs (which I've only skimmed, not read completely), many things that THEY do, we misinterpret as affection, when it might be a communication asserting their dominance, such as placing their paw in your lap. I believe I read that their licking us is NOT a sign of affection but of something else, I don't recall what.

For those of you who are trainers or well-read on this subject, when we hug and kiss our dog, especially when its done with emotion, do they know its a communication of love, or might they be perceiving it as something else?
Robin

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Leah:
[nq:1]I know its nice to think they do, but when you read books about the language of dogs (which I've ... I read that their licking us is NOT a sign of affection but of something else, I don't recall what.[/nq]
I don't think every time a dog puts a paw on a human that it's an act of dominance. Dominance is the boogie-man - some people see it everywhere, even when it doesn't exist. :} I think some dogs are touchy-feely, just like some people are touchy-feely. And though some people will deny that dogs lick us for affection, I believe that they do. Not always - sometimes there's submissive chin licking, sometimes they're tasting what we've eaten on our fingers, sometimes they're grooming us, but most often it's a "kiss."
[nq:1]For those of you who are trainers or well-read on this subject, when we hug and kiss our dog, especially when its done with emotion, do they know its a communication of love, or might they be perceiving it as something else?[/nq]
If they enjoy it, I believe they see it as affection. I've read that it's not natural for dogs to "hug," as in chest to chest, but I think some dogs either naturally enjoy it or are trained to read it as affection and enjoy it. I know that two out of my three dogs have always loved hugs, and one (MacKenzie, who was a year old when I got her) started out a bit uncomfortable with it, but now solicits it. All three of mine have always loved to be kissed, and will close their eyes, wag their tails, and snuggle in to me when I'm smooching on them, occasionally trading me some gentle licks. Madigan solicits kisses by putting her cheek or nose up to my lips, because that's where I love to kiss her.

They don't naturally hug and kiss each other for affection (muzzle licking is an act of submission), so I suppose that's why some people will insist that it's not a sign of affection to them. But most of them *do* naturally snuggle into and kiss us as very young puppies, so I can't read it as anything else.

As adults, however, I think a lot depends on conditioning. If you try to hug and kiss a dog who's not used to being hugged and kissed from puppyhood, you may lose your face. :} And, of course, some dogs are only comfortable with being that physically close to their owners, not strangers.

Because children will often run up to a dog, grab it, and start hugging and kissing on it, I use a "gotcha" exercise in puppy class to help child-proof them. I have the owners grab them from behind when they're not looking, say "Gotcha!" loudly and cheerfully, either grab their collars and/or pick them up, and begin hugging and kissing them while giving them treats. That way they're trained to see being suddenly grabbed and hugged as a familiar act of affection instead of a threat, and it's less likely that they'll panic if it happens.

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Alison:
Licking is a calming signal and I think it relates to when wolf cubs lick their mothers mouths to make then regurgitate the food they have brought them back from hunting. Dibby my dog licks a lot when he gets anxious. It's supposed to be submissive sign. Behaviourists are now telling us not to get to hung up on submissivenes and dominance. I kiss my dog on the top of his head because he is so cute. I don't know what he thinks this means but he doesn't seem to mind:) Alison
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Sionnach:
[nq:1]I don't think every time a dog puts a paw on a human that it's >an actof dominance.[/nq]
Same here - in fact, I'd go far to as to say that most times, it ISN'T "dominance".
[nq:1]Dominance is the boogie-man - some people see it everywhere, even when it doesn't exist. :}[/nq]
Very unfortunately true.
[nq:1]sometimes they're grooming us,[/nq]
For my part, I think grooming can be a form of expressing affection/closeness. Dogs don't generally groom each other at random; it's something usually reserved for pack members they're comfortable with.
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Rocky:
[nq:1]For those of you who are trainers or well-read on this subject, when we hug and kiss our dog, especially when its done with emotion, do they know its a communication of love, or might they be perceiving it as something else?[/nq]
Heh, that they put up with such affectation is an indication that our dogs like us.
I have more trust in dog communication when it's initiated by them, though. Little things, like Friday getting on to my bed in the middle of the night and sniffing my nose before he settles down.

Matt. Rocky's a Dog.
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Sionnach:
[nq:1]Licking is a calming signal[/nq]
Licking CAN BE a calming signal; that doesn't mean it always IS a calming signal.
One of the biggest problems I have with the current fad of ID'ing "calming signals" (I'm not aiming this at you, Alison, but commenting on what I've been encountering in RL) is that so many people don't get it that every single time a dog lick, sniffs, etc. is NOT an automatic indication that the dog is "stressed" or "trying to calm".
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Leah:
[nq:1]One of the biggest problems I have with the current fad of ID'ing "calming signals" (I'm not aiming this at ... time a dog lick, sniffs, etc. is NOT an automatic indication that the dog is "stressed" or "trying to calm".[/nq]
Agree. I will tell people to watch for signs of stress during training, to make sure they don't overdo and overwhelm or shut the dog down. I'll tell them, "See if the dog is scratching himself or yawning. It could mean that he's trying to defuse tension. If he was focused and paying good attention, and now he's not giving you eye contact and repeatedly engaging in those behaviors, they may be calming signals." But I add, "It could also mean that he's itchy or tired. It's all context."
Muzzle licking is a calming signal, but it's not just a dog who is licking you in the face. He will normally be crouched, with his ears held back, licking your lips or chin, and probably have just been caught doing something he shouldn't. If I leave the garbage out and come home to garbage on the floor, I get muzzle licks while I'm cleaning it up. Even though I don't yell at them, they pick up on the fact that I'm annoyed. :}
But at night when I first go to bed, I get kisses. Both MacKenzie and Madigan have to come wash my face before we go to sleep, and it's not a calming signal - it's affection. Madigan loves to lick my eyes, and MacKenzie has this endearing habit of planting her tongue firmly on my face and just holding it there for a few seconds. I've never seen another dog do this.

A habit Kenzie has that is not endearing is punching me in the eye. It's usually when I'm murmuring sweet nothings to her and kissing her, and she's giving me soft, full eye contact full of love and nuzzling and kissing me back, and she suddenly lifts a foot and goes PING.
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FurPaw:
[nq:2]I don't think every time a dog puts a paw on a human that it's >an act[/nq]
[nq:1]of dominance. Same here - in fact, I'd go far to as to say that most times, it ISN'T "dominance".[/nq]
Among my dogs, I see it mainly as solicitation of food or pets or play, rather than dominance. You might argue that when a dog paws you, they are demanding something from you, but they do it very gently (usually) and then wait for a response.
Sometimes Dylan taps Gordo and Chile or-so-gently on their butts, but she always has a play-face, and usually does a play bow when she gets their attention. All of the dogs use their paws to solicit pets, but only after we've initiated petting, and then stopped. Then they wave a paw in the air, and the petting starts. We wonder, who has trained whom? And of course, the presence of food is often good for a paw requesting a share.
FurPaw

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Alison:
[nq:2]Licking is a calming signal[/nq]
[nq:1]Licking CAN BE a calming signal; that doesn't mean it always IS acalming signal.>>.[/nq]
yeah good point. That's something shelly would have pointed out. Have you heard from her? I quite miss her-:)
[nq:1]One of the biggest problems I have with the current fad of ID'ing"calming signals" (I'm not aiming this at you, ... single time a dog lick, sniffs, etc. is NOT an automatic indicationthat the dog is "stressed" or "trying to calm".[/nq]
Again good point but whether it's a fad or not, I feel it's good that people are on the look out for these signs and have some understanding of them.
Alison
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