“My dog loves my baby…he always licks him!” This is a comment from parents that will trigger me to ask many questions they may find silly such as: Describe the licks for me…are they fast, slow, quick and then dog moves away? Is it a full tongue or tiny bit? Full lick or quick flick? Is the child sitting and the dog approaches or vice versa, what level of mobility does the child have, is food present or remnant? So many questions…right??? But these questions help us to gather information to help us try to understand what the dog may be communicating. Details,context and patterns are essential aspects in understanding our dogs.
Here is a video that shows an example of a behavior pattern I have observed over the years in many dog and baby/toddler cases. (I am NOT sharing this to open up criticism of a parent!…any comments or posts of the sort will be deleted. The focus is on the dog)
After hearing over and over “I don’t understand…he always licked the baby…he loved him…why did he snap or growl? I began collecting more details, photos, videos to learn more. I first posted about this many years ago as I wanted to help parents consider and recognize that dog licks may not always be what they think are “affectionate kisses”, or indications of “love.” but could have other meanings. I have referred to this particular pattern as a “Kiss to Dismiss” and suggest several questions to be considered:
1. Is your dog in need of space?
2. Is your dog in need of space and there is a reason they may choose not to move? (example comfy spot, resource, pain)
3. Does this licking deter closeness or lead to an increase in space.
In this video, this dog is so gentle, as is the child – but this interaction is not something I would ever suggest. Dogs who are resting, enjoying a bone, or eating a meal should be left alone. Teaching safe boundaries to children begins early and at home.
That said, this is a great video showing an example of this particular lick. There are other exchanges in licks within the video, but only the below time segments reference the pattern I’ve identified as a “kiss to dismiss.”
At 1:02 Bruno (the dog) gives a quick lick. At 1:05, he repeats this lick while raising up a bit more. At 1:06-1:07, the child begins to move away. How is mom interpreting this at 1:09? She is saying that is enough, and baby is moving back. At 1:11, Bruno looks up at Mom. At 1:12, he glances at the bone he wants, but the child is still “too close” so more licking. Baby is moving away, and Bruno continues reaching with licks at 1:13 & 1:14. At 1:21, the baby reaches for the bone; Bruno is looking to Mom (the trusted adult) for input/help. Bruno sniffs the bone, then begins licking baby again. At 1:30,you see shoulders forward, more pushing the baby away with licks. At 1:32, Bruno gets up and continues to lick baby while leaving the bone. Mom corrects Bruno, and he tries to get back to his bone at 1:38. All the dog really wants to do is to enjoy his bone with some space. In the end, did licking work to increase distance?
Published January 13, 2014