Similar to the evolutionary basis of appeasement licking, affiliative licking may have originally developed in young pups experiencing parental licking to keep clean and generalised into a shared bonding and tactile behaviour amongst littermates.
Others have suggested that dog licking can be used to 'dismiss' people or increase space. This is interesting (outlined here by Dr Patricia McConnell), and although it has not been published in the scientific literature (to my knowledge), it is something I can relate to from scenarios with my own dog. If I blow in Caleb's face - he will 100%, always, absolutely - lick me. If I do it again, he will 100%, always, absolutely box me with a front paw - usually right in my face. This can be teamed with a play bow and launch into play, he might move his face away or he might leave by walking off altogether. To the left I even managed to interrupt the old man's sleep on the couch to demo this for you (n=1).
So do you think his lick saying "go away"? Or is it a variation on appeasement? Or affiliative? Food for thought. Speaking of food...
Taste: licks to sample?
Maybe we just taste good? We often have salty, sweaty hands and faces, don't we? We put delicious things into our mouths every day, so why wouldn't dogs be interested in having a sample of the residue?
We can be fairly sure that licking, in addition to smelling, brings a whole host of information to dogs about where we have been, not just what we've ingested. It also gets our attention which may lead to more interaction, feeding, patting - things that serve to reward the behaviour and reinforce dogs that good things come from licking people.
So Julie - and Charlotte - licking is a lot of things. It can be appeasing and it can be affiliating, it can be exploratory and it can be tasty, it can get our attention or maybe even dismiss us, it can be stress relieving and it can be a sign of anxiety. The initial question asked 'Why do dogs lick you lots when they like us" - but can we assume that because they lick us, they like us? Maybe.
But perhaps not always. It's certainly nice to think so. Alexandra Horowitz said, "It is not a stretch to say that the licks are a way to express happiness that you have returned". But then again - it could just be that leg moisturiser you just applied.
What an conundrum licking appears to be - but it certainly seems important to dogs!
I think it's important we keep asking these kinds of questions and considering the answers from the dogs' perspective.
Til next time, big slurps to all!
Mech L.D., Wolf P.C. & Packard J.M. (1999). Regurgitative food transfer among wild wolves, Canadian Journal of Zoology, 77 (8) 1192-1195. DOI: 10.1139/cjz-77-8-1192 Horowitz, A. (2010). Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know. Simon and Schuster.
Abrantes, R. (2013). Dog language. Dogwise Publishing.
Serpell, J. (Ed.). (1995). The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Cambridge University Press.
Bradshaw J.W.S., Blackwell E.J. & Casey R.A. (2009). Dominance in domestic dogs-useful construct or bad habit?, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4 (3) 135-144. DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2008.08.004 Bonanni R., Cafazzo S., Valsecchi P. & Natoli E. (2010). Effect of affiliative and agonistic relationships on leadership behaviour in free-ranging dogs, Animal Behaviour, 79 (5) 981-991. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.02.021 Photos by Chris Sembrot used with permission.
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