Why do dogs jump up & lick to greet you?
Does your dog jump up too excitedly and want to lick you when you first get home from work or an outing? Do you wish you could stop that behaviour?
Dogs jump at people for a variety of reasons— from overexcitement to plain old bad manners—but there is one primal reason that hasn't been fully explored.
It's well researched that wolves and dingoes will greet a returning alpha by eagerly licking their leader's jaw. There are two main purposes for this ritual. The pack is offering a gesture of affection and submission to the alpha and crucially, the wolves are detecting information from the alpha's breath about its health. A strong leader is essential for the safety and the survival of the pack. If the alpha is showing signs of weakness through ill health— which the pack can detect on the breath—he or she will be deposed and the next strongest animal will take over the pack.
For dogs, descended from wolves, we humans are their pack. And their sense of smell is many, many times greater than ours—in fact, 60% of their brain function is dominated by the sense of smell. So, when we come home from work or school, they're not interested in just looking at us, or hearing our voices; they want to smell us.
The two areas they access our scent most strongly are our groin and our breath. We usually firmly discourage dogs from shoving their nose in our groin area, but we fairly happily let them lick our face, right? This allows dogs the instinctual ritual of showing affection, but also smelling our breath, to check that we are still healthy and strong, and will keep the pack safe.
Because humans—even children—are generally much taller than dogs, how can they access our breath? They have to jump up to reach our face.
So, when you first get home, if you have a problem with your dog jumping all over you, do this:
Correct the jumping, wait till your dog is calm, then reward the behaviour by crouching down and allowing her access to your face. Let her sniff your breath and give you a few happy, submissive licks. You will then have completed the greeting ritual in a species-appropriate way for your dog. Make this your regular, consistent greeting, and you could notice, fairly quickly, that the annoying jumping-greeting behaviour will disappear.