Max licks a lot of things. The carpet, bushes, grass, himself, me. And he licks me a lot.
Last night he went to town. I had spent all day outside and upon my skin were layers of sunscreen and sweat and who knows what else. And Max acted like he was a kid who stumbled into Willy Wonka’s factory – he couldn’t get enough.
But Max also licks when there is no accumulation of dirt and grime on me. Growing up, I internalized a belief that dogs lick in the same way humans kiss. It is a sign of outward affection. This comforted me a great deal especially when our dachshund would smother me in “doggy kisses”. It meant I knew for a fact that he liked me as much as I liked him.
After some research, I realized this is not far from the truth. Though dog licking is multifaceted, often it is a sort of sign of affection. Or at least a way to urge the sharing of affectionate attention.
Then, as I thought about all of this more, I realized that I don’t depend on Max’s licking for proof of his affection. And I don’t think he depends on my head or belly scratches either.
There are more subtle ways we relate to each other that convey those things too. The way we respect each other, spend time with each other, eat with each other, look longingly into each others’ eyes… (ok, maybe not so much that last one, but definitely a lot of non verbal communication conveying appreciation and support).
Max has taught me that sometimes you just gotta lick. Sometimes you have to let other people know in a very obvious way how much you like them. And sometimes you just have to spend time together and embody a spirit of love and care for others that will bleed out in all you do.
So thank you Max for the licks. And thank you for your caring presence. And thank you for teaching me that there are many ways to convey love and that sometimes you gotta be very obvious with it.