My dog loves my baby…he always licks him!

My dog loves my baby…he always licks him!

“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

15 Replies to “My dog loves my baby…he always licks him!”

  1. Hello, I found this very interesting, and am grateful you’ve shared your observations with us. I am curious if the licking you described as kiss to dismiss always needs to be in contact with skin. The reason I ask is that I’ve long suspected my chihuahua does a repeated fast lick when she gets annoyed with us for interrupting an activity she is enjoying, but she doesn’t lick us, she just stares at us and air licks repeatedly. We jokingly have called it “getting a tongue lagging from Stella”. I’ve never really discussed it with colleagues thinking it was maybe just her thing, but I have long suspected it as a “leave me be” kind of response from her. Have you seen this, and if so would you interpret it in the same way? Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your comment! Great question. YES the licking in these cases that I am referring usually makes contact. It usually follows other signals…including a couple of air licks. Dogs have many interesting behaviors and it is sure fun learning how our own dogs I would love video of your dog and more context? Happy to give you my thoughts. Love seeing videos!

  2. Thanks so much for this post. Licking – another thing to add to the long list dog behaviors that we often misinterpret – tail wags, submissive grins, jumping up, etc..

    1. This video is an interesting one. I see a lot going on. I see a dog who is getting very ramped up and is unsure of how to respond to the child. The baby is stationary at first and the dog begins “a game.” Once the baby moves…the dog is more excited but also seems unsure. Towards the end the licking seems that it could be a “cut off” or maybe it is due to the game change of the kid approaching. Or it may be because the space is more crowded. There are many possibilities. That is why it is so great to consider many options as it ‘could” be many things. I would want to put this dog’s energy in a more structured game with rules for both kid and dog as well as parent guidance. Thanks for the post!

  3. Thank you for sharing this video. I found it very interesting because I have a very similar situation going on at home. My dog is constantly liking my 6 month old. I have had a hard time interpreting it. I’ve always assumed my dog was trying to be affectionate with my son. She (the dog) will go out of her way to approach the baby whether he is in my arms, in his swing–anywhere–to lick his hand, foot but mostly his face. When my husband and I come home from work, the dog comes running to greet us and then immediately runs to kiss the baby. But now I wonder if she is really trying to dismiss him. Our babysitter said that when we are not around, the dog kind of ignores the baby for the most part. But when we are home, she is all over him. What could this mean?

    1. Great question. Sharing video with us could help. It is hard to know exactly as this is something that can mean and be interpreted many ways based on the entire context. I would love to see examples of what you are saying. If you had any you would like to share I would welcome them. jen@familypaws.com I would then be happy to discuss what I observe in the footage. Please do not set up a situation but if you happen to naturally capture some of this…that would be great.

  4. Good Evening,
    I have a similar situation happening with my six year old dog and my 8 month old. Now that my infant is crawling around my dog is becoming more obsessive about licking her in the face, head, and ears. It seems like a nervous lick and it’s as I had mentioned she is almost obsessed with doing it. I’m worried that this might be a sign of aggression. My dog is otherwise very sweet to her family members. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am so glad that you are actively observing and noticing the changes in interaction here. That is so important and the first step towards success at this stage! Well done! I would recommend attending our webinar as we go into much more details on this topic and you will find it helpful.
      There are times that dogs may use licking to “dismiss” or cut off interaction. I have also seen situations where dogs lick to make another animal or baby uncomfortable and move from one spot to another. They might lick obnoxiously in this case. If you are concerned I would certainly encourage you to give us a call or email me privately. http://familypaws.com/?s=kiss+to+dismiss is also a blogpost you may find very helpful.

  5. Our situation is similar to the one mentioned by the lady w the 6 month old baby. We have a 7 month old baby. Our Jack Russell is a very nervous fearful do og so we do not force interaction with the baby, we figured he will show interest when ready and wants to. He is now comfortable with her and at times he will approach her when she is laying with us on the bed or couch and lick her feet, hands and head. It goes on for awhile and he usually stops when we tell him but sometimes he won’t.its almost like he’s fixated on doing it. Just curious what this could mean?

    1. Great to hear that you are following your dog’s comfort level and not forcing your dog. You are very observant and it is clear that you understand your dogs discomfort and recognize some of his stress signals. There could be many interpretations of this behavior but I always tell Moms to trust their gut. If something makes you uncomfortable then go with that. Make some adjustments as to what you allow and when. Discussing in what circumstances licking is ok and in what situations it makes you uneasy is important and then identifying the differences that you have seen. Ex: Position of baby, where you were located, body language of dog, type of lick etc. If you would like to discuss this in more detail please do not hesitate to call our toll free number. Thank you for posting!

  6. My in-laws dog who spends a lot of time at my house with my dogs appears very concerned when my 7 week old cries. It seems very much like she’s concerned for him and trying to make him better by licking him like a mama dog would lick a pup. She only tries when he cries. I usually keep her from it but every now and again she gets one in. Thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Thank you for emailing. I look at it this way. Your son is not a pup and you are the Mom. You are the caretaker. I would not allow a dog to lick my baby especially if there was any feeling of discomfort or concern. Dogs and newborns do not need to be sharing the same space physically. In fact it is ideal if they are developing a familiarity bond through observing and just “being” in the same room without direct interaction or physical connection. Often whenever there is this close physical contact there is also a concern or uncomfortable feeling a parent has. That feeling can easily be communicated through their response to the dog. It is best that we set our dogs up for success and allow them to relax and enjoy our company without expecting them to get close or be in the same space as our baby. If you in-laws dog continues to react to your baby then I would call our dog and baby support hotline so that we can refer you to a dog professional who specializes in dog and baby dynamics. 877-247-3407.

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