We all cherish the affectionate gestures of our furry friends, but have you ever paused to ponder, “why do dogs lick you?”
Is it a sign of their love for you, an indication that you might need a bath, or could it be that they simply find you tasty?
Out of all the ways dogs interact with us, why is licking one of their favorite activities? Some pet parents relish these slobbery kisses, interpreting them as expressions of affection.
On the other hand, an equal number of owners find this behavior somewhat off-putting. And, of course, there are health considerations to bear in mind as well.
Regardless of how you feel about your dog’s licking habit, it’s a behavior that can be challenging to curb. So, what’s the real story behind dogs licking you, and what does it truly signify?
Just like the science behind dog names and other intriguing canine behaviors we’ve explored, there could be some fascinating explanations for this drooly conduct.
Why Do Dogs Lick You and Everything Else Around
1. Your pal just wants to clean you up a little
It’s no secret that one of the most comically famous observations is that dogs absolutely love to lick themselves.
The reason for this – despite whatever else you might think – is strictly for cleaning purposes. Moreover, their cleaning instincts don’t stop with themselves.
Canines believe that cleaning you is also part of their job and that is why they normally lick your face, ears and hands.
Puppies learn the habit of licking things clean from their mothers. As we all know, just like most mammals, mother dogs lick their pups clean while trying to take care of them. Your dog most likely feels the same need to take care of you.
2. They love you and it must be demonstrated in public
Another reason mother dogs lick their pups is to show affection. Licking her pups can help her stimulate the bonding process.
Your puppy also learned this trick from his/her mother and licks you to foster bonding and show you all the affection.
Licking is one of the earliest social bonds that a dog receives, and because of that, it has become a vital social signal not only for canines but many other animals as well.
Furthermore, while it may sound slightly disturbing, Alexandra Horowitz, author of one of the most popular canine books called Inside of a Dog (and dog’s sense of fairness research), has explained that dogs also lick their mothers’ face as a way for the mother to regurgitate her food so the puppy can eat it.
Your puppy may not be licking you to say thanks – he or she is probably trying to get another serving of your own lunch… that you’ve already ate!
3. “If I lick you, you have my respect”
It’s true – licking can be a sign of respect and submission from your pet’s side.
They are pack animals, and typically there is an alpha dog in any pack. Just as they instinctively sleep while touching someone they adore, dogs show their respect and submission to the pack leader by licking them.
Identical instincts apply to your own pet, and they look to you as their pack leader.
Licking can also help a dog in understanding how you are feeling.
Our skin is covered in sweat glands and they secrete more than just water and salt. Other waste products like chemical signals or hormones are also released through our sweat glands.
It may sound strange, but it’s possible that your dog might be able to tell your feelings by the way that your skin tastes. If they can figure out how you are feeling, then they can better understand how to please you, which is a sure sign that they believe you are the dominant member of the pack.
If only people could do that.
Regardless of whether the above is possible or not, which is yet to be proven, dogs do in fact sense people’s distress, as one exploratory study from 2012 has observed. And we’ve recently written about the fact that puppies also experience jealousy.
4. You just taste so good to them
This sounds like an obvious answer, but it really is accurate. Your dog could simply like the way you taste, whatever it is.
Have you ever noticed how your loyal pal licks you more often when you first get out of the shower or after you use a certain kind of lotion or skin care product? Okay, this one’s easy to guess.
But it’s also plausible that your dog likes the way your skin tastes without any “additives”, therefore, they enjoy your taste.
However, if you do notice that your pets lick you more after you put something on your skin, you may want to find a new product, or stay away from your pet until your skin absorbs it. Nothing good can come out of feeding chemicals to your pets.
5. What to do if your dog is an obsessive licker?
Yes, it can be fun, funny and just nice to know that your dog loves you. But excessive licking can also become quite annoying.
Not only that, but your furry friend’s obsession with licking may signify that your dog has a problem.
One of the most common reasons for dogs to lick excessively is anxiety or stress.
Puppies do love this wet practice, therefore, they may sometimes use licking as a way to soothe themselves. Usually, dogs with anxiety or stress problems will lick themselves or lick objects around the house.
Further to that, it is also possible that they lick you just to comfort themselves.
Currently, animal behavior psychology science isn’t mature enough to know answers to all these questions and theories proposed in this article for sure, so we can only speculate.
6. Licking behavior and dog’s health
Let’s continue. Other reasons your puppy may lick excessively are changes in routine, cuts or abrasions, as well as due to some kind of illness.
For example, a recent study has found that such OCD-type of behavior can be due to your dog having an underlying gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
In this case, the first thing that you should do if you notice your dog licking excessively is to check what’s going on and why.
If nothing can be found but your pooch continues this practice for prolonged periods of time, it might be a good idea to call your veterinarian.
Your vet will ask you some questions about the behavior to diagnose exactly why they are licking so much. If they find out that it is due to severe anxiety, some canine medication can be used to help your dog cope with the stress.
When you don’t wish to medicate your dog, you could try it the natural way and simply redirect their licking energy.
One common trick is to use a hollow toy, like a Kong, and fill it with peanut butter. Tasty peanut butter will keep your dog interested and the licking will help soothe their anxiety.
Dogs are creatures of habit, so if the anxiety is caused by a change in your routine or environment, there usually isn’t much you can do to fix the issue, but you can work with your puppy and help them cope with it.
For example, when a new person has entered your home or when you have just moved to a new place, your aim should be to observe and if necessary help your pet become comfortable around new people or new places.
Sometimes, dogs don’t have to be too obsessive with licking in order to bother you with this practice, so you can try using the most basic obedience training commands to show them that you are not happy with this behavior.
Once your puppy realizes that their licking is not pleasing to you they may stop, or at least avoid doing it too often.
Licking comes very naturally to many dogs as it’s part of their instinctive behavior, so just try to be patient. Normally, licking will turn into an obsessive behavior only if dog owners let that happen, so if you do want it to stop, you will need to nip it in the bud when they first develop the habit.
You probably already know this: the old wives’ tale that a puppies mouth is very clean and can help you fight bacteria is definitely false.
So in addition to the above, remember that allowing your dog to lick you right on the face can help the transfer of bacteria from them to you and vice versa. Avoid saliva exchange with your pet at all costs.
Whether your puppy is licking to show affection or because they have doggy OCD, there are ways that you can help them stop.
Remember that your dog is eager to please you and they may not be licking you just for the fun of it. Breaking your dog’s licking habit may be frustrating, but it can be done and sometimes even must be done.