Ever since I was a little girl, I never understood the fascination with puppy breath. To me, it always smelled a little milky. A little puke-y. It’s common at adoption events to see droves of adults holding squirming fur balls up to their faces. These grown humans squee with delight as the puke-breath nuggets lick their noses and and sometimes inside their mouths. I can usually be seen crinkling my nose or covering my mouth. As I watch, I wonder if they’ll get worms. To each their own, I suppose.
I will admit that I have acquired a tolerance for puppy breath. It’s not as gag-inducing as it used to be for me. Still, it’s not something I actively seek out. See, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a preference for shelter dog breath! The stinkier, the better. Here’s why…
The moment a shelter dog first licks my face, my heart skips a beat. It is as though the dog is saying “you’re alright, lady.” Like a stamp of approval. A promise of what is yet to come. There is truly no better breath in the world.
Okay, okay, I know sometimes shelter dog breath can smell pretty rank. Even then, it does a good job of getting the happy hormones flowing. If resilience, hope, and new beginnings had a scent, they’d be partly made of shelter dog breath.
I should probably caveat all this with a word about how I interact with shelter dogs. My approach to every dog is much different than the average dog lover. I have more education under belt to know better than to promptly go nose-to-nose with any animal I’ve just met. Children and adults get away with that sometimes because our dogs are so resilient. But sometimes they don’t.
If you saw me engage an unfamiliar dog, you might not realize just how much I like dogs. Because I prefer to give animals space and allow them to come to me when/if they feel comfortable. That’s definitely a learned skill. Like everyone else, my knee-jerk reaction is to want to hug and squeeze every shelter dog I meet.
Interacting with dogs on their terms makes my encounters with shelter dog breath even more meaningful. Now, when a dog chooses to lean into me, nuzzle me or plant one on me, it feels more endearing than if I had forced them to. That makes sense. It is the same courtesy we extend to humans but often forget to give our dogs.
As you can see from the photos, there are many ways in which one can experience shelter dog breath on their terms. My favorite is the side lean then neck extension. Where the dog lifts his nose to meet mine and sweeps a sticky tongue across my face. I live for moments like these.
On a final note, I should add that scientists have different theories on face licking. Alexandra Horowitz gave a good discussion of the ethology of face-licking in her book, Inside of a Dog. She outlined the ways in which face-licking may not initially serve the function we think it does. Dog lovers can be assured though that there are some instances wherein what we think our dog is saying with a face lick is likely what they actually mean. So, as long as you are being safe and savvy, keep enjoying that shelter dog breath!