When Your Dog Licks Is It Submissive Behavior?

I am skeptical that licking is a submissive sign in my dog’s behavior

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When I Googled, “Why does my dog lick my feet,” I found several posts like this one:

One of the main reasons a dog will lick a person’s feet is to indicate their submissiveness to their master. More importantly it indicates their happiness in this role. By displaying this act of domesticity and submission, the dog may ensure its place in the family by accepting the social order of the home.

Me? The master? Obviously, Reggie, my Shih Tzu mix rescue dog, has not read any of those posts. While he does lick my feet if I allow it, neither Reggie nor I believe I am his master.

Reggie is big on rituals, especially at bedtime. It’s always the same. It begins when I say, “Let’s go to bed.” He runs to the treat box and sits. He waits for me to get a Milk-Bone. Then he heads for the bed, stopping every few feet to make sure I am on my way.

Then I get into bed, and he crawls over me to lie between my legs with his head at my toes. And he licks them before getting up and going to lie between my feet and my husband’s feet. He lies there for a while, and when we are settled and ready to fall asleep, he gets up and goes around the house, turning over all the wastebaskets.

He does not like it if my husband and I don’t go to bed simultaneously. He checks on one of us and then the other. Then he goes back and forth between us until we are both in bed. The master of the house wants both of us tucked in. Together. Only then will he return to bed and settle in for the night.

In the morning, if one of us gets up before the other, he begins again to check on both of us. He wants all of his pack together, all of the time.

“Do you want to go for a walk” invites him to spin his paws on our wooden floors, running to get a toy, proceeding to the door where he sits until his halter and leash are put on him. When we return, he sits by the treat box and waits.

Reggie has always had a mind of his own. When we first got him from the Animal Rescue League, they ask that we bring our four other dogs to see how he would fit in. Loading three Great Pyrenees and a Border Collie at the farm and taking them forty miles to the ARL was problematic. So we only took “Jeb,” the Border Collie.

The ARL staff put Reggie, Jeb, Doug, and me into a small room and then put some food down. Reggie wouldn’t let Jeb near the food dish.

The staff member said, “We can’t let you have this dog. He’s too aggressive with your Border Collie.”

My husband answered, “We’re not leaving without Reggie.” We’d already picked out a name. The staff member called the manager.

“I’m sorry we can’t let you have this dog. He’s too dominant. Just look at your Border Collie.” Jeb sat quietly in a corner as Reggie stood with one paw on each side of the food dish, watching Jeb.

After some back and forth, she reluctantly agreed to let us take Reggie home for a trial.

A few days after we took him home, I had Reggie in the car with me. He looked for every opportunity to escape. He was six months old, had been picked up as a stray, and had lived on the streets for a while.

I stopped at the post office, and when I opened my door, Reggie leaped out and started running down a busy street. As I ran toward him, he ran further down the street. I could not catch him. I finally cornered him and got him back into the car.

When I got home, I said to Doug, “I’m not sure I’m ever going to love this dog!”

Reggie bonded quickly with the other four dogs before bonding with us. He assumed a second-in-command role right behind the protective, male Pyrenees who outweighed him by a factor of ten.

We raised cattle and sheep on the farm. The Pyrenees were to guard the sheep, and the Border Collie helped work the cattle and sheep. Reggie shadowed them on their jobs.

Once, our veterinarian had come out to help us castrate our bull calves. As the testicles were removed, the veterinarian threw them out for the big dogs. When we went to bed, we found that Reggie had hidden one of the testicles under our pillows.

As the working dogs aged and died, we didn’t replace them. My husband and I had reached a time to retire. It was time to give up the farm. Reggie was still a young dog when we moved into a townhouse development in Des Moines.

Reggie had some difficulty adapting. He believed the entire development was his. We had all been used to roaming free on the farm and didn’t like the restrictions imposed by urban living.

Once while out on a walk, he slipped his leash and ran to challenge a big chocolate Labrador Retriever. He had the retriever on the run.

Reggie knows several words like a treat, walk, movie, potty. Each word triggers a routine. (The Border Collie was the smartest dog we’ve ever had, recognizing about 100 different words.)

After three years, Reggie has adapted to city life. There are many dogs in the neighborhood, and he insists he is the top dog. He loves all the neighbors. Unless they are walking their dogs.

Submissive? I doubt it. Happy in that role? Not a chance.

I probably should be licking his paws.

Read an excerpt from Dr. Olson’s award-winning book, Finally Out, here.

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Gay father; Psychiatrist; Award-winning author FINALLY OUT. Chapter excerpt here: http://bit.ly/2EyhXTY Top writer on Medium. Not medical advice.

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