Why Do Dogs Lick You? The Truth About Puppy Kisses

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13 Minute Read
Updated January 31, 2024

Why does your dog lick you so much? Are we really that delicious or could there be another reason for all those wet kisses? Find out why dogs lick and how to put a stop to overly affectionate dogs.

Have you ever wondered why your furry friend seems so fond of licking you, themselves, or even inanimate objects? Licking is a common behaviour in dogs, but the reasons behind it can be as varied as their personalities.

Why does your dog lick your face? Is it truly because they want to show their affection or are they trying to tell us something more serious? We are going to explore this and more so you can better understand what your canine companion is trying to communicate to you through this behaviour.

 

Why Do Dogs Lick You?

Many pet owners simply think that licking is a form of canine affection. The pooch simply wants to give you a wet slobbery kiss. Others will say that a dog licks because it enjoys the salty taste of your skin.

It’s true, some many old wives' tales and myths surround the question of why do dogs lick people. There is a bit of truth in most myths but there are very sound reasons for why your doggo likes licking you.

Dog Licking: An Expression of Affection

Wondering why do dogs lick you when you pet them? Licking is often viewed as a dog's way of showing affection. It's a behaviour they learn from birth, with mother dogs licking their puppies to groom them and stimulate their bodily functions. Puppies, in turn, lick their mothers and siblings as part of social bonding. When your dog licks you, they're expressing their love and strengthening the bond between you.

Communication and Sensory Exploration

Your dog explores the world with their mouth and nose. Licking allows them to taste and gather information about their environment, other dogs, and even you. It's a way of understanding and communicating with the world around them.

In a study carried out by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz at the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University it was reported that foxes, wild dogs, wolves and coyote puppies all lick their mother’s face and muzzle to encourage her to regurgitate food after a hunt.

Seeking Attention and Affection 

Dogs quickly learn that licking gets them attention from their human companions. Whether it's positive or negative attention, to a dog, it's better than no attention at all. If your dog is licking you excessively, they might be saying, "Hey, look at me!"

Healing and Comfort

All canines instinctively lick their wounds, so don't be surprised if your dog attempts to lick yours. Scrapes and scars may be the focus of your dog's licking behaviours, so while this isn't our chosen method of healing wound care, know that your dog thinks he's helping. Additionally, creams and ointments used to disinfect and moisturize may smell tasty to your pooch.

 

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Hands and Feet?

dog-licking-feet

One dog fact that you might be surprised to learn is that your hands and feet act like a road map to your dog. When your furry friend licks your hands or feet, they are gaining a mental picture of where you have been and what you have been doing.

As creatures that explore the world largely with their noses and taste buds, your hands and feet tell the story of your activities. Some dogs will also start licking your hands in an effort to gain attention. Your furry friend is trying to entice you to pet them and interact. 

Though well-intentioned, this behaviour is kind of gross. Dog's mouths harbour bacteria that could be harmful to us, and no one wanted to be slobbered on.

 

When Dog Licking Becomes a Problem

While dog licking is a normal behaviour, it can sometimes escalate into an issue that needs attention. Recognizing when licking becomes excessive or problematic is important for the well-being of your pet and the relationship that you have with your furry friend.

Excessive licking is characterized by its intensity, frequency, and the circumstances under which it occurs. It's one thing for a dog to give a few licks as a greeting or during play, but it's another if they are constantly licking the same object, you, other pets in the house, themselves, or even just the air.

Persistent dog licking, especially in one area, can indicate an underlying health or behavioural issue. 

Persistent licking behaviours in dogs should be taken seriously. If you find your dog licking excessively, especially if it's a new or escalating behaviour, it's important to assess their lifestyle and their health to identify triggers or possible causes. 

Stress and Behavioral Issues

Wondering why do dogs lick us? It’s because licking releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) which help bring your dog peace when they are anxious.

Just like humans might bite their nails or fidget when nervous, dogs may lick excessively in response to stress or anxiety. It can be a self-soothing behaviour for anxious pets.

Sometimes, excessive licking can be a sign of a behavioural issue, such as anxiety, stress, or boredom. Dogs with separation anxiety might lick excessively when left alone or may insist on licking you obsessively when you finally return home.

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Dogs often respond to stress differently than humans. Environmental factors might be contributing to your dog's licking behaviour.

The following things can often cause stress and spur excessive licking behaviour in dogs:

Once health issues are ruled out or treated, addressing the root cause of the licking is essential. For behavioural issues, increasing exercise, providing mental stimulation, and establishing a calming and stable environment can help. In some cases, working with a professional dog trainer or behaviourist might be necessary.

Remember, while licking is a natural behaviour for dogs, excessive licking can be a sign of something more serious. By being attentive to your dog's behaviour and seeking professional help when needed, you can ensure your furry friend remains healthy and happy.

Understanding why dogs lick is crucial in interpreting their needs and emotions. It's a behaviour that serves multiple purposes, from affection and communication to self-soothing and health monitoring.

By paying attention to when and how your dog licks, you can better understand and care for your furry friend. Remember, if you're ever concerned about your dog's licking habits, a visit to the vet is always a good idea.

 

Is it Safe for Your Dog to Lick You?

Dog saliva is not harmful to most humans, but it can carry bacteria and parasites that might cause infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems.

It's always good to maintain proper hygiene by washing the area licked by a dog and ensuring the dog is healthy and well-groomed. Proper dental hygiene is especially important. Regular dog toothbrushing can remove a lot of harmful bacteria that can live in your dog's mouth, and reduce the bacteria they transfer to you when licking playfully.

Fresh Kisses

If you have specific health concerns or a compromised immune system, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

When considering the safety of dog licking, it's important to understand that a dog's mouth can carry various bacteria like:

    • Pasteurella
    • Capnocytophaga
    • E. coli, Salmonella
    • Clostridium
    • Parasites

These might not harm the dog but can cause infections in humans. Though most people are not at high risk of health issues from dog saliva, those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, young children, or those with compromised health, are at a higher risk.

Regular hygiene practices, like washing the licked area and ensuring the dog is healthy and well-groomed, can reduce risks. However, if there are concerns, especially regarding specific health conditions, it's best to consult a healthcare provider for tailored advice.

 

How to Stop a Dog From Licking 

how-to-stop-dog-licking-you

Yes, an occasional doggy kiss (lick) might be fun, but excessive licking can quickly become annoying. Also, many visitors don’t want your pet to lick them. To discourage your dog from licking, it's important to understand and address the underlying cause of the behaviour.

Here's a list of strategies that can help:

Identify the Cause

Determine whether the licking is due to a medical issue, anxiety, boredom, or simply a habit. Check them for injury and monitor behaviour for any other oddities. If it's health-related, a visit to the vet is necessary.

Redirect the Behaviour

When your dog starts licking, redirect their attention to a different activity like an interactive dog toy, going for a walk, or practicing some fun dog tricks. This helps break the cycle of licking as a go-to behaviour.

Provide Adequate Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Ensure your dog gets plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation. A tired dog is less likely to engage in excessive licking as a soothing behaviour. Use puzzles, interactive toys, a lick mat, and regular playtime to refocus your dog’s licking and attention.

Avoid Reinforcing the Behaviour

Don’t give your dog attention, treats, or encouragement when they lick excessively. Instead, only reward them when they stop licking. We all love to give kisses to our furry friends, but reciprocating the behaviour only encourages them further.

Use Taste Deterrents

Some dogs will redirect their licking behaviours to inanimate objects, like furniture and walls when they don't get the desired response from you. In this situation, you can apply safe, bitter-tasting deterrents on the areas they tend to lick. These products are designed to be unappealing to dogs, discouraging them from licking.

Training and Commands

Train your dog with a command like “stop” or “no lick”. When they obey, reward them with a treat or praise. Consistency is key in training. Follow up this command by offering another activity to give them a different and appropriate outlet to express themselves.

Create a Calming Environment

If the licking is stress-related, try to identify and minimize stressors. Creating a calming environment, using pheromone sprays and diffusers, calming collars, or providing a cozy, safe space for your dog can help. Bring them to low-traffic areas of your home, and try calming music for dogs if some sounds and activities can't be avoided, like fireworks or construction.

Regular Grooming

Keep your dog well-groomed and make sure you have a consistent dog dental care routine. Brushing your dog's teeth is a great way to minimize bacteria in their saliva, but overall hygiene is important too. Dogs will lick areas of their body that get dirty, transferring bacteria from their skin and coat to their mouths.

Consult a Professional

If the problem persists or you’re unable to identify the cause, consult a veterinarian first to rule out health-related causes. A professional dog trainer can also be a useful resource for curbing annoying and excessive licking behaviour. They can offer specific advice and training strategies.

Positive Reinforcement

Reward and praise your dog for calm behaviour and for engaging in activities that don’t involve licking. Positive reinforcement can be more effective than punishment. Stock up on high-value dog training treats and natural chews to reward positive behaviours.

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Remember, patience and consistency are key when changing any behaviour in dogs. It's important to approach this issue with understanding and care, as excessive licking is often a sign that your dog is trying to communicate something important.

 

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

dog-licking-paws

In addition to licking you, you may find your dog increasingly licking themselves. Most dogs aren't avid groomers like cats, and while some daily maintenance is not uncommon, take note if your dog seems to be licking himself more often.

This is especially concerning if they repeat this habit in one specific area. This could indicate injury, illness, or even infestation. Prolonged licking habits can lead to skin irritations known as Hot Spots, which is an infection that can worsen if not treated quickly.

Hot spots, medically known as acute moist dermatitis, are areas of inflamed, infected skin that are typically very itchy and sometimes painful for dogs. These spots are often warm to the touch, hence the name "hot spots." 

Hot spots can be triggered by anything that causes itching or irritation to the dog's skin, leading to excessive licking, biting, or scratching in that area. 

Common causes include:

Licking can initially provide a soothing effect for an itchy or irritated area. However, when a dog licks excessively, it can damage the skin, leading to inflammation, infection, and the development of a hot spot. The moisture from licking further creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow, exacerbating the problem.

    • Red, inflamed skin
    • Itchiness and discomfort
    • Moist, oozing areas
    • Hair loss around the affected area
    • Bad odour from the infection

At Homes Alive Pets, we offer a wide assortment of products to help treat hot spots from licking such as Skout's Honor Probiotic Hot Spot Hydrogel for Dogs & Cats and Vet’s Best Hot Spot Spray. These treatments will speed up the healing process and reduce irritation. 

This won't immediately curb licking behaviours though, so you may need to cover the wound with cohesive bandages or make them wear a cone to prevent them from further irritating the hot spot and reducing the effectiveness of the hot spot treatment.

 

Dogs Licking Frequently Asked Questions 

dog-licking-problems

Why does my dog lick my hands?

Dogs often lick hands because they are one of the most accessible parts of our bodies. Hands also carry a lot of scents and can taste interesting due to residues from food, lotions, or natural skin oils.

Do dogs lick to show submission?

Licking can be a submissive gesture. In the wild, wolves lick the mouths of more dominant pack members. Domestic dogs might retain this behaviour as a way of showing respect or submission to their owners or other dogs.

Why do dogs lick you when you pet them?

Dogs often lick you when you pet them as a way of showing affection and enjoyment. This behaviour is instinctual, learned from puppyhood, and reinforced by the positive interactions and responses they receive from you during these moments of closeness.

What does it mean when my dog licks me? 

When your dog licks you, it often signifies affection and is a way for them to show their love or seek attention. This behaviour can also be a sign of submission or simply a way for your dog to explore their environment, as they gather scents and tastes through their tongue.

Can licking be a sign of anxiety in dogs?

Yes, some dogs lick as a self-soothing behaviour when they're anxious or stressed. If your dog licks excessively during stressful situations, it could be an indication of anxiety.

Why does my dog lick me when I come home?

Dogs often lick their owners when they return home as a greeting and a sign of affection. It's also a way for them to gather information about where you've been and what you've been doing.

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Homes Alive Pets

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