Puppies in human households try to lick the weird, flat, usually bald body part we have instead of a muzzle. When a cute little puppy jumps up to lick face, many people can only say “Awwww!” Hey presto! Jumping up has been rewarded. The puppy’s natural inclination is now a learned behavior. Too bad for the dog when he’s nine months old, bigger and less cute, muddying the pinstripes and knocking Granny to the ground.
Why do dogs jump up? A plausible explanation arises from their ways of communicating with each other. A puppy greeting an adult dog often licks the adult’s muzzle -- a polite, deferential behavior. Dogs, of course, descend from wolves, among whom muzzle-licking is how pups get the grownups to regurgitate food for them. Domestic dogs rarely nourish puppies this way, but muzzle-licking has survived, maybe because deferential behaviors are handy for a social animal. Think of humans saying “No, after you.” Muzzle-licking is also an appeasement behavior -- something you trot out to de-escalate a fight. A human might lift up his hands, palms toward the person he’s arguing with.
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