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Canine Behavior/New dog licking old dog


Foster dog
Foster dog  

Our newest foster (for 5 weeks) is exhibiting a behavior we have never encountered before and would like to understand.  At this point we would be reluctant to adopt him into a multi-dog household.

The cast of characters:
Ray - 2.5 years old male Pit mix (Dalmatian?)who has been with us for five weeks and was neutered 2 weeks ago. He was a stray so we have no background on him.  He was a little thin with a soft silky coat. When he came to us he was house trained but had no idea what a Nylabone, Kong, or tennis ball was for.  He has been friendly to all people and canines we have introduced him to.     
Buster - 7 years old male Entlebucher we adopted from a rescue. By his fourth day in rescue he was in his fourth foster home.  He was mouthy, nippy, bitey, with occasional explosions of out of control releases of pent up energy (things a rescue doesn't share before an adoption). When introduced to other dogs his normal greeting was to nip the other dog on the back of its neck.
Sunshine - intact 14 years old male Pit mix (his vets would not neuter him due to his age and a strong heart murmur). He was born into a hoarding situation and was nine to ten years old when he was one of twenty-eight dogs brought to the shelter where we volunteered. Every time he sees a dog he doesn't know he acts like he has found his new best friend.  He and Buster are bonded and he is the reason we have been able to bring other dogs into our home.  
After slow, controlled introductions Ray was allowed to be free in the house with our other two when we are present and not sleeping.

Ray sleeps overnight in the 'new dog' room. In the morning when they are allowed back together, Ray wants to lick Sunshine's cheeks and ears nonstop (I can best describe it as compulsive and insistent) The morning attack may also include attempts to initiate play (play bows and pawing). After we block him a number of times he will finally relent.  For the rest of the day all interactions seem pretty normal.

Thank you for your question. What you're describing - incessant licking upon initial greeting is referred to as "active submission". Many dogs - especially somewhat insecure dogs - will do this when greeting another dog after some time spent apart. Some dogs will greet all new dogs this way.

Licking the face is a hold-over from puppy hood when the pups would lick mama's face to encourage regurgitation so the puppy can eat the slightly digested solid food. We see this in wolf packs as well - the adults will go out and hunt and gorge, then return to the den where the weaning pups will lick the faces of all of the adults (male and female) to encourage regurgitation so the puppies can share.

Domestic dogs often hang onto this puppy behavior and use it as a type of greeting toward dogs they know and are bonded to (or in some cases as their first line of greeting for all dogs they meet).

It's referred to as "active submission" because the dog is actively demonstrating their subordinate role in that relationship, rather than a passive submission where they may just steer clear or lie down and expose their belly.

The intensity that you describe will sometimes get a dog labeled as a "groverler" in that they are groveling to the the other dog "please like me, please like me, please like me...." It's often accompanied by play solicitations as you mention.

My own dog used to do this to his "big sister" when she was still alive. Any time they were apart for more than a couple hours he would greet her by licking her face from lips to ears. She would stand and just look slightly away from him (rather regal) until I said, "That's enough" and then distract them with some other activity. This dog then did it also to the new puppy when he first arrived - a 7 week old puppy who was just 3 lbs. This is just my dog's greeting style. He has now taught it to that puppy (now 2 years old) and every morning, they greet with a little "making out". And if they've been napping in different rooms for a couple hours, they will do it when they first come back together. I usually only allow it for a second or two and then tell them "enough" and move them on to a different activity.

I would never describe it as an "attack" even when it's intense and an attack suggests malice and an effort to cause damage. There is nothing that Ray is doing that is malicious in this behavior. It's actually quite sweet, even if over zealous. How does Sunshine feel about it? I expect he either engages, or stands still and accepts the appeasement behavior for a minute and then walks away. Of course, Ray may follow and continue to try to do the behavior and so we do want to minimize it.

I've spent years telling my dog that one day he's going to get his face bit for greeting a total stranger in such a forward, literally in-your-face kind of way, even if he is being nice. And he has been told off once or twice. He doesn't usually greet strange dogs that way anymore.

I wouldn't put this on a list of reasons to hesitate placing this dog in a home with another dog or two. It just takes a little supervision and teaching an easy command like "Enough". Allow the licking to happen for 2-5 seconds, then announce "Enough" in a normal volume of speech and then promptly redirect them to another activity. That might be coming to you, doing Sits for a morning treat before breakfast, or to have breakfast or to go in the yard for a morning run-around and potty break... any activity that can occupy his brain for a couple minutes and he should be fine. As you point out, the rest of the day when they're together, he's fine.

Think of it like when a friend from out of town comes to visit and you hug and kiss on the cheek at the airport. Only you don't stop hugging and kissing the cheek. That's essentially what this is. It's not rude in intention. It's only rude in not knowing the polite time to stop the behavior. So we help by redirecting to another activity.

Perhaps sleeping in the same space would minimize the morning behavior. But perhaps not. In my own home, my boys have a little "make out" session almost every morning and they sleep touching each other. It's easy to redirect my dogs away from the behavior and so I'm not terribly worried about it.

In the end, it's a sign of a slightly insecure dog who is very sociable and friendly and just wants to be liked. I wouldn't be terribly concerned about it, though I wouldn't allow it to go on so long that Sunshine gets annoyed. Simple redirection to alternative activities that can't be done while also licking should do the trick for you.

Good luck. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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