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Why Do Dogs Lick You? Mystery Solved

Why dogs lick

Have you ever wondered why your dog licks you? Below, we solved the case of why dogs lick, what it means, and how to determine if it’s unhealthy or not.

Dog licking or puppy kisses are a natural way for dogs to communicate. Similar to humans, animal behaviors use body language as a form of communication. In this case, a dog licking your face could mean that they are showing affection, looking for comfort, asking for attention, or simply want to taste you (or the food you recently ate).

As a puppy, dogs have become accustomed to licking their mother’s mouth when hungry—this signals the mother to regurgitate food for the pups to eat. Dog licking is also a way for them to bond with their pack. Puppies will instinctively groom each other at a young age and as they grow old, they would lick other dogs to show submission as if to tell them that they mean no harm and want to become friends instead. In this case, your dogs licking your face could mean that they see you as someone who needs affection or the leader of the pack who provides them with food. While these sweet puppy kisses are adorable and generally mean no harm, it is still important to determine when excessive dog licking occurs, why it is happening, and if it is safe for us, humans?

Why Dogs Like Licking People

Dogs like licking people for multiple reasons. It can be a sign of affection, comfort, submission, taste, and excitement. They probably lick you because they miss you and it is their way of welcoming you back home. It can be because they really like you and it is their way of showing affection and gratitude. It can also just be because you taste nice. If you think about it, our skin tastes salty so it must be flavorful for them. The simplest answer though is perhaps because you ate something and they want to get a taste of it. 

Is it safe for dogs to lick you?

Yes, unless of course, they’re licking your open wounds. Otherwise, licking is completely safe for them.

Is dog face-licking a health risk for people?

Dogs licking your face is not generally a health risk for people. Although, it is good to note that as naturally curious pets, dogs like to stick their noses in places or things that are unsanitary. For example, a way for dogs to greet other dogs is by licking their behind—this makes it possible for them to ingest fecal matter. The common saying “a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s mouth” is a myth. Since we are genetically different from dogs, their saliva carries bacteria that are not harmful to them but are otherwise toxic for us. They may carry bacteria like E.Coli or Salmonella or parasites like Giardia, hookworms, and roundworms.

The good news though is that healthy people are less likely to get sick from dogs’ saliva. The transmission of disease or germs is less likely to be absorbed through skin contact. But it is still good to avoid getting licked on the eyes, nose, and mouth. Furthermore, small children, people who are pregnant, and anyone who is immunocompromised should avoid getting licked as well. 

Puppy licking woman

Reasons of why dogs want to lick you

Need for personal space

As mentioned above, licking is a way for dogs to communicate. Sometimes, dogs lick their owners when their personal space is invaded. Think of it as their way of saying “back off!” This type of licking is not typically aggressive, but it is still firm and direct. After knowing your pet, it will be easy to distinguish between affectionate licks and warning licks. 

Affection

Displaying affection through licking is a dog’s way of imitating how their mothers showed affection to them when they were a pup. As soon as puppies are born, their mother licks their nose to help them breathe and to stimulate blood flow. 

Comfort

This ties in with showing affection. Mothers groom their pups by licking their bodies; this helps them feel safe and secure. So when your dog licks you, it means they are trying to give you comfort. It lowers their anxiety and in turn, also lowers yours. 

Salt

Dogs like the taste of salt, and since our skin releases a slight taste of salt, this makes dogs want to lick us more. Sweating also makes the saltiness in our skin more pronounced. If you wonder why your dog is more adamant to lick you after a gym session, this is why. 

Food Craving

Puppies lick their mother’s mouth when they want to eat. As a dog parent, you are the one who feeds them so speaking from an evolutionary sense, dogs lick you because of food cravings. Maybe they are hungry and need to be fed, or they simply want some of the treats you hide in the cupboard. 

Licking people for taste

Other than the fact that our skin is salty, dogs will try to lick us because of something we recently ate. They are merely trying to get a crumb or a taste of the food by licking our faces. 

Dog licking hands

Why do dogs lick…

Your hands

Dogs will lick your hand when they want to greet you. When meeting a new dog for the first time, we instinctively offer our hands to them as a friendly gesture. Dogs licking your hands is kind of the same thing—it’s their way of saying hello.

Your face

As mentioned above, dogs licking your face can mean showing affection, wanting attention, or trying to get a taste of you. 

Your ears

According to Beverly Hills Veterinary, when dogs lick your ears, they are indicating a high level of comfort. It’s their way of showing respect and care. 

Your feet

If dogs are licking your feet, it might mean that they are simply curious about you and where you’ve been. According to The Kennel Club Organization, dogs “may prefer your feet because they’re bursting with scent information that tells them a lot about you.” As long as your feet are clean and healthy, then it’s totally fine for them to lick your feet. 

Dog licking face

What is excessive licking?

Excessive licking is when dogs are obsessively licking at the same spot. It could be triggered by anxiety or broken skin. Dogs can also develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder as a result of previous traumatic experiences. Other potential issues for excessive licking are separation anxiety, parasites, allergies, boredom, or gum injury. 

Is excessive licking bad?

Yes, because there may be an underlying issue as to why your dog is behaving this way. It’s best to consult your veterinarian if this happens. 

Should you allow your dog to lick you or should you stop this behavior?

This comes down to personal preference, but since licking is a natural behavior for dogs, there is no harm in letting them be. If you like being showered with love and affection then dog licks are perfectly acceptable! As long as you are aware of the health risk and you are in good health, then there is no reason to be worried.

If you don’t like when your dog licks your face, what to do?

If you don’t like when dogs lick your face, you can redirect their licking by conducting trick training. Trick training, according to the American Kennel Club, is “a good way to turn repeated undesirable behaviors into an opportunity for positive reinforcement.” You can redirect their licking by diverting their attention to a different activity.

If the licking is their way of showing affection, you can train them to hug you instead or teach them a new trick. The bottom line is, whenever you do trick training, it is important to reward them with positive reinforcement like giving them a treat, verbal encouragement, or physical affection. 

Dog licking child

Summary

To summarize, why do dogs lick you? Dogs lick you to show how much they love and care for you. It’s their way of showering you with affection, and also a way for them to give you comfort. Dogs like to lick their humans because they see them as a part of their pack and they want what’s best for them. It is generally safe for dogs to lick humans, especially if the person is in good health. However, small children, pregnant people, and anyone who is immunocompromised should avoid getting licked due to the bacteria and parasites that can be found in dogs’ saliva. 

Excessive licking on the other hand is caused by underlying issues that need to be addressed with a veterinarian. Stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, allergies, skin irritations, gum injury, or infection are among the few underlying issues that can cause excessive licking. 

Allowing your dogs to continue licking you is a personal preference, but dog licks or puppy kisses are completely normal and healthy. Besides, it’s their way of showing affection so why not embrace it? 

To redirect unpleasant licking behaviors, try doing trick training. Give your dogs positive reinforcement—by giving them treats, petting them, and giving them verbal encouragement— whilst redirecting their attention to a different activity. This should allow your dogs to stop unpleasant behaviors and replace them with something more favorable. 

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