Many people love getting dog kisses. "Oh, I don't mind," they say, as your dog washes their face with her tongue.
I am not one of those people.
Fortunately, my current dogs aren't lickers, but we used to have a tricolor cavalier, Darcy, who was nicknamed "the quicker licker-upper." No amount of trying to train her out of it worked, mainly because other people encouraged it.
Dogs love to lick us for all kinds of reasons. In the wild, a pup licks its mother's face and lips, stimulating her to regurgitate food for it. And mother dogs, wild and domestic, lick their puppies clean. Some dogs probably enjoy the salty flavor of our skin, while others are intrigued by the tasty scented lotions and creams we rub into it.
Licking can be soothing. When dogs intensively lick certain areas, it's often an attempt at pain relief.
Any way you look at it, licking generally has a pleasurable connection for dogs. And for some people.
Those who love dog kisses say that they enjoy "that extra show of affection with your dog." Or that swapping spit with a dog is great for the immunity — and the soul. Or that the enthusiasm a dog shows in licking is heartwarming.
Sweet as they are (for those who appreciate them), dog kisses can have some drawbacks.
Overly enthusiastic canine kissers can bash heads, break noses, give black eyes and knock people down in their attempts to give smooches.
A study in Japan found that bacteria that cause gum disease are transferrable between dogs and humans — going both ways.
Your dog may also be kissing you immediately after gulping down garbage, snacking on poop from the cat's litter box, gnawing on a dead squirrel or licking his own behind. The latter can result in accidental ingestion of parasite eggs or larvae lurking in your dog's saliva. There's also a high concentration of the canine allergen present in a dog's saliva.
It's not only an issue for humans. Dogs also can be at risk of illness if they slurp skin infected with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) or other body fluids present on skin or clothing.
Therapy dogs must learn not to give kisses, particularly if they visit people with health issues. They are sometimes taught not to give kisses when they're wearing their therapy vests.
To lick licking — if that's your preference — try these four training (or retraining) tips:
• Turn your face away when your dog tries to lick you. But beware: If other family members and friends don't do the same, your dog will keep on licking.
• When your dog stops licking, immediately offer praise and a treat. Gradually, you can add a cue such as "no kiss" or "no lick."
• Teach an alternative behavior such as a high-five or twirl. Anytime your dog tries to kiss, give the cue for the alternative — "Shake!" or "Spin!" — and reward him for that great trick.
• Teach your dog to give kisses on cue so they can be reserved for people who want them.
Of course, the hardest part may not be teaching your dog not to lick: It may be discouraging other people from letting your dog kiss them.
But if you're serious about stopping the licking, say, "Please don't let her kiss you; she's in training." Some people may ignore you, but hold firm.
In the end, getting a little sugar from a dog you love isn't the end of the world. Just thoroughly wash your hands and mouth afterward — and maybe swish with mouthwash to kill any lingering germs.