Ask anybody what a dog means when it comes up and licks your hand. Mothers explain this behavior to their young children with words like, “Look, dear, Sampson is giving you dog kisses.”
The thing is, this is often incorrect. Licking behaviors can mean many different things, depending upon the context…
In the article, Why Do Dachshunds Love To Lick Your Face, we discover that in the wild, and during the time when puppies are weaning, they would run and greet adult dogs returning from the hunt and would lick the adults’ mouth. They would do this in expectation of the adult to regurgitate some of the meal they had just eaten (yes, this is true). Even with today’s domesticated dogs, this behavior is part of their genetics. So, one reason that the dog may be licking your face or mouth is to say that it’s hungry… or simply out of genetic instinct.
For dogs, there is much social significance to the lick. Licking can communicate information about dominance, intentions, and state of mind, and, like the yawn, is mainly a pacifying behavior. These behaviors usually soften the mood of a threatening animal and will normally avert any sort of physical attack. In effect, the dog is saying, “Look how friendly I am,” “I’m no threat,” and perhaps the submissive plea, “Please accept me and be kind.”
Face licking in adult dogs can be a sign of respect or deference to a more dominant dog, which might be you the human in his pack.
None of the dog’s intentions when they lick are hostile in any way, so I suppose that telling someone that they’re being kissed when the dog licks them, is certainly as harmless a myth as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny…