Furry friend’s licks are fine
Our columnist doesn’t really mind having his face licked in the morning.
THIS keeps happening.
It’s early morning, the sun just starting to peek through the blinds, I roll over and sense something is wrong, something is in bed with me and it’s not my girlfriend ... then something moist runs itself over my forehead, then my nose, then my eyes. My dog is licking my face. There are several problems with this, the first being that an animal licking your face with the vigour of small child attacking an ice cream cone makes it very difficult to sleep. Or you do sleep and all you dream about is drowning – which is not a recipe for feeling rejuvenated in the morning.
The second problem is the dog isn’t allowed on the bed. Over time he’s learned that waking us up with a boisterous leap results in us kicking him off, so he hops up with the stealth of a ninja warrior and settles in somewhere hoping we won’t notice him. That is, until he springs his trap of subtle face licking that quickly builds into fullfledged tongue fury.
So why is my dog licking me, and more generally, why do dogs lick their owners?
First, for all you non- dog owners, I know what you’re thinking: Gross. And a dog licking you while you’re asleep? Extra strength gross.
And let me assure you, you’re not wrong. Being licked by a dog, even if it’s your trusted buddy dog, is pretty disgusting. It’s not just the disgusting idea of dog saliva dripping down your cheek – which does happen – it’s the sound. Something I’m acutely aware of when I’m half asleep with my eyes closed. It’s the sound of being in a starving person’s mouth as they devour a cheesecake. It’s the background noise in the Walking Dead whenever the zombies land a fresh meal and dig in like it’s a newly baked lasagne.
This is the noise of being licked by a dog. Why put up with it? This is partly answered when we look at why dogs lick people.
Primarily, dog experts agree, we taste great!
Humans think they’re clean but really, we’re covered in stuff that dogs like to taste. Bits of food and, of course, sweat. Even when we’re not sweaty, we’re sort of sweaty and dogs love a salt lick. Maybe that’s what we are. Giant, moving salt licks.
Dogs may also be looking to communicate. They want your attention for something. Maybe there’s no more water in the bowl, no more food in the tray, maybe the creepy neighbour just got home, who knows what the dog is trying to tell you, but honestly, when you’re a dog you have a limited number of communication methods.
And the most common reason dogs lick people is affection. It’s a great show of affection in the canine world to lick their friends and family, so a dog licking an owner could be the ultimate sign of respect. Even if that sign of respect is manifested on your eyelids at 5.30am.
But what about the gross factor to being licked by an animal? My dog licks all sorts of stuff, from the sidewalk to the stinky spot on a brick wall – and now he’s licking my face. That’s a health risk, right? Let’s see.
Dogs can be hosts to parasites and may show no symptoms while a human becoming infected can result in intestinal disease, blindness and brain disorders. But transmission through licking is unlikely. Unless your dog is eating faeces, which – come on – don’t let your dog do that.
Dogs also have bacteria in their mouths, particularly salmonella and E. coli, but there has been little proof that licking can be a major means of transmission. But are there any benefits from being licked by a dog?
Maybe. In France there’s a medical saying: “A dog’s tongue is a doctor’s tongue.” Indeed, researchers found dog saliva contains the chemical histatins that increase wound healing by increasing the spread and migration of new skin cells. Researchers also found a protein called nerve growth factor that “halves the time for wound healing”, according to petmd.com. And to top it off, saliva coming in contact with skin creates nitric oxide, which inhibits growth of bacteria and protects wounds from infection.
Crazy. Though I still think I’d prefer professional medical assistance than letting my dog lick my open wounds any time soon.
So maybe my dog licking me in the morning, isn’t so bad after all, except for the fact that I’m tired – but, ultimately, the reason why I, and maybe other dog owners, put up with it is because we know it’s just their way of saying they love us. Let’s just be happy that their way of showing appreciation isn’t wanton urination. That would be awful.
Jason Godfrey big smile, no teeth