Why lick my nose? Questions I ask my dog

As my dog Oreo lies beside me on the couch, inching closer to the keyboard in what resembles an army crawl, I’m reminded of all I don’t understand about him. On a regular basis, his actions puzzle me to no end. I often find myself thinking, “Why, Oreo, why?”

oreocomputerWhy must you lie on my computer when I’m working? Why do you try to excavate my nose with your tongue? Why are you thrashing around on your back? Why do you hate the broom? Why are you afraid of the cat?

Unfortunately, Oreo can’t explain himself. So I have to make do with my own uneducated hypotheses. And when I get tired of guessing, I turn to the internet, where opinions of veterinarians and experienced dog trainers can be found in abundance.

I certainly don’t agree with everything written by “dog experts.” But I have read some interesting notions that I think are worth considering and sharing with you.

So why does Oreo lick my face, especially my nose?

Oreo licks my nose during a photo shoot. (I had to use peanut butter. He doesn't lick on command.)

Oreo licks my nose during a photo shoot. (I had to use peanut butter. He doesn’t lick on command.)

You’d be amazed at how many people have written about this specific topic on the internet. It took me a while to find an educated source, not just a dog owning blogger like myself. But here it is:

Puppies learn this behavior from their mothers, according to renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, host of Animal Planet’s hit TV series “It’s Me or the Dog.”

“Right from birth, that’s how the mother communicates with her puppies, how she stimulates them to start breathing and how she cleans them when they are born … In the wild and in domestic dogs, you’ll find they will lick around the mother’s mouth as newborns, and puppies still retain that instinct,” Stilwell states on the Animal Planet website, animal.discovery.com.

Also, in a dog pack, subordinate members will lick the more dominant members as a submissive gesture, according to Stilwell. But with domestic dogs, it’s more a sign of affection. Also, they may be enjoying the salty taste of your skin.

Other experts on the web said similar things about dogs licking their owners.

For example, an expert from the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wrote: “Dogs, just like people, have individual ways of expressing affection. Believe it or not, it’s not unusual for dogs to lick their owners on their noses and even nibble them there, too. It seems like this behavior closely resembles the mouth licking that wild pups exhibit towards their mothers and other members of their social group.”

Oreo rolls on the ground for no evident reason -- typical.

Oreo rolls on the ground for no evident reason — typical.

I only have space for one more question today, so I’ll go with Oreo’s trademark move: rolling onto his back and thrashing around. Why, Oreo, why?

It may have to do with something dog experts call FRAP — frenetic random activity period — or “canine crazies,” as Jennifer Coates, DVM, prefers to call it.

“During an episode of the canine crazies, a dog may race through the house, run around the yard, spin in circles, lie down and wiggle on his back… just about any exuberant, goofy behavior qualifies,” Coates states on PetMD. “No one is exactly sure why dogs behave in this way, but they are probably just blowing off steam.”

In a wolf pack, a member rolling on his back is a submissive gesture, according to many online sources. But I don’t view Oreo’s behavior as submissive, mainly because he’s thrashing around, twisting his body back and forth. Usually he rolls on his back when he’s especially excited, for example, when we’re about to go for a walk or when we’re playing with his favorite toys, which points back to “canine crazies.”

But the other time Oreo rolls on his back and thrashes about is when he’s on leash and I’ve stopped on the trail to observe a mushroom or take a photo of a bird. Often, he’ll roll over close to me, and when he thrashes, he kicks me with his legs, sometimes knocking me off balance. In this case, the behavior seems to be attention seeking or even a sign of impatience. And I only reinforce it by laughing at him.

So why go through all this trouble trying to understand my dog’s quirky behaviors?

I want to be able to communicate with him, and to do that, I need to understand his body language. But a word of caution: there’s a lot of opinions out there. Take everything with a grain of salt (including this blog post). Experienced trainers and veterinarians admittedly are more educated in their opinions, but each dog and scenario is different. In the end, your dog should always have the last word — or wiggle.

If you have questions about your dog’s strange behaviors, feel free to start a conversation in the comment section below.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.