One of my blog feeds yesterday turned up this letter from an advice-seeking owner.

I have a 5-year-old Papillon who licks my husband’s pillow two or three times every night while we are watching TV. We play with her and she is with us most of the day. We wonder why she is doing this. Is it a control situation, fighting over the Alpha role, or she is mad at him?

A Papillon who licks one person’s pillow and not the other’s: pretty funny. The explanations the owner came up with for her dog’s behavior: Not so much.

Someone has been watching the Dog Whisperer or getting hand-me-down versions of his ideas.

I understand misplaced concerns about dog emotions — thus the name of my blog. But as I’ve written (see Dog Hatred and Canine Couture), dogs let their incisors do the talking when they’re really upset. They don’t lie in wait, plotting revenge for perceived slights — say, by licking the offender’s pillow every night.

And there are many ways to interpret the head rest situation.  If I was married, say, and Frankie had taken to licking my husband’s pillow, I might fret:

  • Why does Frankie like my husband better than he likes me?
  • Has my husband begun washing his hair with meat-scented shampoo?
  • Have I started leaving dog-repelling dandruff on my pillow?

So, let’s recap. We’re talking a Papillon (you know cute, little pink tongue):

Untitled, by Kodemari
Untitled, by Kodemari

Not a bulldog (equally appealing but seriously slobbery).

Dogpark by Feeferlump
Dogpark by Feeferlump

And we’re discussing licking a pillow, not peeing on it.

No question: Studies of canine cognition and behavior  have a long way to go. The Papillon’s licking ritual is mysterious, and until the pup gets a translating collar like the one in “Up,” we’ll just have to guess at its meaning. In the meantime, you must remember this. Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss, not a bid for household domination.

6 thoughts on “Dominance Theory Gone Wild: The Angry Kiss of the Papillon”

  1. I read that last week and had the same reaction: who CARES if a Papillion licks a pillow two or three times? The dog isn’t even obsessively licking the pillow!

    1. The answer — or I should say nonanswer — was pretty weird too, didn’t you think? I didn’t want to diss any “experts” but c’mon. If someone asked me that question, I would either ask why is this troubling you or I wouldn’t have dignified the question by printing it.

  2. Edie I think you’re right. Sometimes dogs just do strange things and we have no way of knowing why. So if it’s not hurting anyone why worry?
    Our two dogs (Labrador and Bichon Frise) don’t seem at all concerned over being the dominant one. There are certain things they will not tolerate the other doing, and after three years together they know each other well and respect each other’s boundaries. With us neither of them has ever pushed their luck in any way.
    We can scare ourslves or each other to death thinking our dogs are constanly scheming to usurp us. Interesting subject.

    1. Julie, nice to find you in my comments section! Yes, this whole dominance thing has gotten out of hand. The wolf studies on which it’s based is flawed, in part because the wolves were not in the wild & so did not behave normally and also because, well, dogs aren’t wolves. As you say, most dogs co-exist quite happily without having to pull rank on each other all the time — or without trying to dominate us!

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