It's another form of communication.

By Meghan Overdeep
December 04, 2019

Of the countless reasons to love dogs, their willingness to express how they feel is near the top of the list. With wiggling bums and tip-tapping feet, it’s easy to tell when a pup is feeling happy, the same way their heart-wrenching whimpers make it clear when they’re sad.

But in between the tail whips and howls of despair, dogs have a whole vocabulary for their emotions—humans simply need to learn their language.

We know that pups put their paws on us to show their love and will even move their eyebrows to pull on our heartstrings. But did you know that dog nuzzling behavior is yet another form of communication?

So, what exactly is Fido trying to get across by rubbing his face all over you? Any number of things, it turns out. As Dawn Kovell, director of behavior and training for the Marin Humane Society, explained in the San Francisco Chronicle, interpreting dog nuzzling is all about context.

If your canine nuzzles and rubs his head against a new person after giving them a sniff, it’s likely an indication that he likes what he smells. In this context, that adorable nuzzle is actually an invitation of friendship.

As for why a dog might nuzzle its doting and devoted human, there are actually a number of possibilities. Fortunately, every one of them means he likes you. A lot.

If your dog runs the roost, this cute little behavior might actually be a way of displaying ownership over you. Dogs have scent glands in their faces, so when your furry child rubs its head on you it might actually be an attempt to mark you with its scent. This kind of territorial marking serves as a signal to other dogs to steer clear.

Nuzzles in the context of a good ol’ snuggle session, however, are much more straightforward. Puppies nuzzle their mothers for comfort and when they grow up, they might nuzzle their humans similarly. It’s a sign of affection and happiness. (Aw, he really does love you!) Dogs are also highly attuned to our emotions and have been shown to want to help their humans in times of distress. A sweet little nuzzle when you’re feeling down could be your pup’s way of cheering you up.

And then there are the utilitarian nuzzles. We hate to put a damper on the romance here, but dogs also like to rub their faces on things (like humans!) when they’re itchy. That’s right. What might look like an act of affection could simply be a sneaky attempt to get a good scratch in. Some dogs even nuzzle their humans after they eat or drink as a way to wipe their faces! Sneaky, sneaky.

So, the next time your precious pup rubs his cute little face all over you, take it as a reminder that he’s your number one fan.

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