Estimated Read Time: 3 ½ minutes
Summary: In this blog, we learn all about why dogs lick people! What does it mean when a dog licks you, how can you discourage this behaviour (if you so wish!), and whether there’s a specific reason your dog likes to lick you so much! Read on to learn why dogs lick people…
We’ve all received a sloppy kiss from our pooch, or a few rhythmic tongue glides on our hands or feet – sometimes when we’re not expecting it! But, why do dogs lick people? Is it a sign of affection, a request for attention or is it simply because we taste that good…?
A dog’s tongue is loaded with sensors, meaning their taste and smell work together to provide information about their surroundings. When they lick you or smell you, they are learning about where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing.
Our skin, particularly when we’ve sweated, can taste quite salty and some dogs really dig this! In addition, we may have caught some food on our arms/hands/legs and your dog’s just being an opportunist…
Licking can help release endorphins (the happy hormone) when your dog is feeling lonely or bored and can help them feel comforted. This action usually ends in a response from us, their owners, too. And, even if this is a negative reaction from us (asking them to “get off” or “down”), it’s still the desired outcome for them: attention.
When dog’s lick the faces of people they are trying to determine what the person’s intention is, to let you know that they mean no harm or that they’re safe but they're also in charge. This comes from when they’re a puppy. A puppy will lick a mother’s face to instinctively ask for food. This behaviour has evolved from when dogs were wild wolves - a mama wolf would regurgitate food from her hunt for her babes and they would lick her face to ask her for it.
Because they have a far superior sense of smell when compared to us, they may smell dirt or something that shouldn’t be on you and are helping to get it off. Their tongue offers some antibacterial properties which is why they lick their own fur, but it’s a myth that a dog’s saliva is antiseptic. Dog’s mouths, like ours, contain both bad and good bacteria. Read why a dog’s oral health is so important here.
The first thing a mama dog does when her pups are born is lick them clean of their amniotic sac so they can breathe and to help get their blood flowing around their body. Licking then develops into an act of affection between other dogs and their trusted humans to enhance the pack’s bond: Fido could simply be telling you you’re part of his pack!
If your dog is excessively licking you, an object or themselves, particularly if it’s a certain place repeatedly, get them checked over by a vet to rule anything medical out. Once you have the all-clear, you can focus on helping redirect this habitual behaviour.
A good starting point is to distract them with an activity that they can’t also lick during. For example, a game of fetch, or an interactive doggy puzzle that ends in a treat. They’ll then begin to associate not licking with a reward!
Never punish a dog for licking. Dogs do not understand punishment – this will just make them scared or anxious of you. Positive reinforcement and praise is the kindest method, and the most likely to result in the desired outcome when it comes to encouraging a new or different behaviour in a dog.