Why Do Dogs Lick You?

small dog licking a persons hand

There’s a reason that dogs are known as man’s best friend. They are smart, loyal, obedient, and as affectionate as can be. Dogs view their owners as their family members and parents, and often want to show them just how much they love them. Because of their strong affection, many dogs lick their owners- a lot. Dogs love to lick people that they love for a variety of reasons. Any dog owner is familiar with these wet, slobbery kisses that they can expect from their furry family member.

Many dog owners believe that dog licking is a way of showing affection, similar to human kisses. This is typically a welcomed behavior in most households and even expected. But can licking mean something else besides love and affection? And when can licking become excessive and problematic? We’ll go over all of the dog licking basics and everything that you need to know about your beloved pup.

What Does Dog Licking Mean?

Dog licking is most commonly known as a sign of affection. While this is often true, there are some other reasons behind this typical licking behavior. What causes your dog to lick people can depend on a variety of things such as the specific dog and context of the situation that they are licking in. Licking can vary greatly and can even be a sign of underlying health conditions or psychological factors when it becomes excessive. Let’s dive into the different things that dog licking can mean.

dog licking a womans face

Affection

One of the most commonly known reasons dogs lick people is because they want to show their affection. This is why many people call licking dog kisses. Dogs may show affection to both humans and other dogs by licking them. This is a natural action and even instinct for dogs when it comes to those that they love and trying to communicate this feeling.

Dogs have learned the licking behavior when it comes to affection since they were puppies. Grooming and affection are normal parts of life that a puppy receives from its mother. Mothers to puppies love to keep their little ones clean, show them love, and even calm them with some gentle licking.

When showing affection, dogs may even try to lick their owner’s face, or any area of skin that they can reach, such as their arms, legs, hands, or feet. If your dog doesn’t lick you much, don’t worry! This doesn’t mean that they love you less than another dog who licks their owner often. Some dogs lick more than others. This can be because they learned how to show affection differently when they were a puppy, or because they might simply not prefer licking.

Attention Seeking

Dogs love to get attention from their owners and make them happy. This is why they are so easy to train and teach new commands. With positive reinforcement, dogs can easily pick up on what makes their owners happy. This is often a reason why they lick you.

Licking behavior often starts as a form of affection between you and your pup. With time, your dog may take reactions to their licking such as laughing, smiling, or petting, as reinforcement for this behavior. They know that when they lick you, they will get a positive reaction from you.

There are many reasons that your dog may be attention-seeking with licking behavior. Maybe they become bored or lonely and want to interact with you. When a dog is looking for attention, it will be satisfied with any reaction, even a negative one. Pushing your dog away or saying no can be enough to satisfy their need for attention and reinforce looking for more. If you want your dog to stop licking you to get attention, the best way to go about this is by ignoring their licking behavior completely. With time, they will learn only to lick you for affection rather than attention.

dog licking a womans face

You May Taste Good

Dogs have very strong senses of hearing, smell, and taste. They rely on these senses to explore and learn about the world around them. This is why they may pick up items that are not edible and even lick them. You may have a taste that your dog likes.

Have you just finished eating something that your dog finds delicious, such as chicken wings or a salty bag of chips? Your dog may want to lick your fingers and get some of that extra flavor from your skin. Even if you haven’t eaten anything recently, your dog might enjoy how your skin may taste. Dogs love to explore anything that has an interesting taste, including their human family members. While they often lick for affection, licking behavior may be as simple as tasting good!

Instincts

It’s important to remember that dogs are natural predators. Because of their wild past, they still have many of these instincts that kept them alive before they became domesticated. One of these may be licking their family members- both human and canine.

Researchers have spent countless hours studying dog behaviors, including why dogs lick people. Many researchers have found that wolves, foxes, coyotes, and other wild dogs will lick the face and muzzle of their mother when they are puppies. They will lick her face when she returns from a hunt to get her to regurgitate food for them to eat. Puppies that are too young to hunt for themselves will also often lick food from around their mother’s mouth. This may have caused licking behaviors to be passed down through genetics. Your dog may be hoping to get some of your last meal by covering you in licks and kisses.

dog licking its lips

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from various psychological disorders. Stress, anxiety, dementia, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder can all affect your pup. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be caused by prolonged stress and anxiety that a dog undergoes. This can be due to being in a shelter, abusive home, or other unfortunate circumstances before you adopted them. Why do dogs lick you? One reason might lie within these possible canine psychological factors and issues.

Constant licking, especially licking that involves various objects and surfaces rather than just humans, can become problematic for both you and your dog. If you are worried about excessive licking, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. They may be able to refer you to an animal behaviorist for help if needed.

Your vet or animal behaviorist may prescribe your dog medication to relieve anxiety and manage excessive licking. This medication may be used alongside training, and it may be used temporarily or long-term. If you would like to manage anxiety and excessive licking at home, consider using supplementation. CBD is a very well-known and trusted supplement for canine stress and anxiety. CBD can be found in both special treats and oil, and it naturally soothes and calms your pup. Be sure to consult with your vet before beginning any new supplements, including CBD.

Is Dog Licking Safe?

Almost all dogs will lick their owners at least once in their life, and typically much more than this. Which can cause you to wonder why do dogs lick you and if this licking is safe? Overall, there’s no harm in dog licking for you or your pup. If you don’t like to be licked by your dog, that’s okay, too! Some think this behavior is gross or unpleasant and don’t want their dog to lick them. This won’t cause any harm to your dog or your relationship with them.

There is an old myth that you have probably heard of before regarding dogs’ mouths being cleaner than humans. This is not true and can be dangerous. Dog mouths contain a lot of natural bacteria, which is why dog bites that puncture skin can be extremely dangerous. To avoid these bacteria, don’t let your dog lick your open wounds. Many believe that dog licks have healing properties, which also is not true. If you have a cut or open wound, it’s best to keep your dog from licking that area until you heal naturally.

dog licking a persons hand

When Dog Licking Becomes a Problem

While almost every dog owner loves to be licked by their pup, some might not, and some may even worry about licking becoming problematic. There are a few instances where licking may have underlying causes for concern. Some causes of problematic licking are more serious than others and all range in management and treatment that is needed. We’ll take a look at the most common ones so that you can be aware of these if you notice your dog licking more than usual.

Dominance

Human and canine relationships are complex things that have very different factors at play than relationships between humans and other animals. Many dog owners know about dominance and how this plays a role in any canine household. Dogs need a pack leader who is dominant and can provide them guidance on a day-to-day basis. This keeps them from acting out or trying to control the household, which isn’t pleasant for anyone involved.

Some may worry that licking is a sign of dominance, but it is the opposite. Researchers believe that submissive dogs will lick a dominant member of the pack. If your dog is licking you, it may be because they recognize you as the pack leader and are showing you respect and affection. You don’t have to worry about their licking leading to dominance issues and other unwanted behaviors that can come with this.

Underlying Health Problems

While licking is often thought of as adorable and affectionate, this behavior can signal a few different health issues. Dogs may lick to try and cope with or manage various underlying health conditions and the symptoms that they may cause. One of the most common health problems to cause licking is allergies. Dogs can experience three types of allergies: skin allergies, flea allergies, and food allergies. All types of allergies can make your dog’s skin itchy and irritated. To soothe this, your dog may lick their paws and skin to ease allergy discomfort. If you notice that your dog is licking their skin or paws excessively, consider getting them checked for allergies.

dog with its tongue out

Psychological Factors

No one wants their dog to be stressed, anxious, or scared. These feelings just aren’t enjoyable for humans or their canine companions. As stated earlier, dogs can be prone to a number of psychological factors. Some of the most common ones to cause constant licking include anxiety, separation anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Canine anxiety can be triggered by a number of things. Loud noises, new places, unknown dogs and people, boredom, and a number of other factors can cause your dog to become anxious and stressed.

When noticing stress and anxiety in your dog that is causing paw licking, try to get to the root of these feelings. If your dog seems bored, try to stimulate their brain through games or socialization. If they seem to be experiencing separation anxiety, consider crate training them to help calm this. All of these tactics can be used to help calm psychological problems that may be causing excessive licking. With some trial and error, you can find what works best for you and your dog.

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Licking You

There is no shame in wanting your dog to stop licking you, especially when this behavior becomes excessive and bothersome. When you want your dog to stop licking you, there are some ways to go about this that are better than others.

The most effective way to get your dog to stop licking you is through denying them attention. If your dog begins to lick you, stop looking at or touching them. If needed, you can even get up and walk away from them. As soon as they stop licking you, reward your dog with attention, affection, and even treats. With time, your dog will make a negative association with licking you and a positive one with not doing so.

Licking can even be a trained behavior. Some owners like to teach their dogs to kiss them on demand rather than whenever they feel like. Attach words such as “give me kisses” or “kisses” by saying this when they give you small and gentle kisses. When your dog gives you a small kiss after a command, be sure to reward them with attention, praise, pets, and even treats. Also be sure that you deny them attention when the kissing gets to be too much.

dog licking a womans face

Redirection

In addition to ignoring the behavior, redirection is a great tactic to help overcome problem licking. This can help reinforce that licking isn’t an activity that you want them to engage in excessively. Instead, they will find better ways to make use of their time.

When your dog begins to lick, consider switching up the activity to something different. Try to find something that is incompatible with licking, such as a puzzle toy that helps your dog works towards receiving a treat. You can also turn to behaviors such as fetch or obedience practice. All of these new behaviors will take their mind off of licking and help them find something to substitute it with.

Trick training and obedience is an especially effective way in reducing licking behaviors. Start by having your dog follow a simple command, which may stop licking on its own, and reward them when they successfully complete this tasks. This can help them to focus on pleasing you in new ways that you both enjoy rather than licking you.

One great thing about redirection is that it isn’t a harsh way to reduce excessive licking. Redirection allows you to teach your dog that you don’t want them to lick without having to use negative reinforcement. With practice and commitment, your dog will find other ways to communicate with you and show you affection that don’t involve licking.

Wrapping Up

Why do dogs lick you can be a very complex question to answer. There are meany reasons that your dog may engage in licking. Affection, instincts, need for attention, and simple taste are common reasons that your dog may love to lick you. Licking is a regular behavior that nearly all dogs participate in. If your dog doesn’t lick you very much, that’s okay! Some dogs just don’t prefer to lick as much as others do.

While licking can be an endearing action, it also can become problematic. Be sure to keep an eye out for excessive licking, especially when it comes to licking objects and surfaces besides humans or other dogs. This problematic licking can be a sign of other underlying issues such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even allergies. if you are worried about your dog’s licking, be sure to bring it up with your vet. They can help you get to the bottom of this behavior and find a way to manage it. With your help, your dog can live a healthy and happy life!

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