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Courtesy of Breanna Norris, KPA-CTP

Q:  What do my dog’s kisses and rollover really mean?

A:  You may believe when your dog licks you that this is a sign of affection, like kissing. However, dogs usually do not show affection this way, so licking is likely for other reasons, such as taste or anxiety.

Sometimes they are licking your face or hands because they smell food. Since small children are often at your dog’s face level, it is easy for your dog to lick traces of food from around the mouth. This behavior is reinforcing since they get a taste of food, and your child squeals excitedly. Your dog may also lick sweat or water off your arms or legs after exercising, swimming, or showering. These licks are often different and self-reinforced and do not indicate anxiety.

Dogs sometimes lick faces asking for distance. This often happens during play, a hug, or sitting close. This may be a sign that your dog is feeling anxious and needs space. Another sign of discomfort is staring. It is best to turn your head and direct your gaze away. If they do not move, walk away and call your dog using a jolly voice. When they come, direct them to another area. Changing their environment gives them the room needed to avoid escalating tension.

A closer look at your dog’s body language while cuddling or during play with children may show how your dog avoids eye contact, yawns, and licks their lips in an attempt to move the child away. If they feel cornered or the children continue, your dog may growl, raise a lip, snarl, and bite.

Your dog may show discomfort by rolling over on their back. Your dog may be asking for space instead of inviting affection or a belly rub. Context is always important when interpreting body language. The tail may thump very slowly or rapidly, or it might be tucked up against the abdomen. Your dog may lick their lips or close their mouth tightly, look away or sneeze. They may appear frozen while on their back, or they may roll to face away. Talk softly to your dog as you turn and move away, so they feel comfortable to sit up.

If your dog has a slack mouth, soft eyes, and a wagging tail stretched out from their body while they are wiggling on their back, this is more likely an invitation to play. Call them over to you and play with a toy or do activities your dog enjoys. Children should be closely monitored during these interactions.

Kisses or exposed bellies are two potential early signs of anxiety. Rather than encouraging the licking or reaching to rub the belly, move away to reduce their stress. Practice good management and educate your children about respecting your dog’s personal space. Call your dog to you rather than force affection on them.