Your dog’s licking behavior might seem like a simple, sometimes annoying act, but it’s packed with layers of meaning. From slobbery kisses on your face to enthusiastic washing of your hands or legs, these actions are part of your dog’s instinctual behavior. It’s how they communicate from the very beginning, a behavior learned from mother dogs. 

6 reasons your dog is licking

Dogs lick people for various reasons, including affection, grooming, taste, and communication. Some dogs will choose to lick your face, hands, legs, or feet. 

dog licking mans hand
  1. Sign of Affection  One of the most common reasons your dog licks you is as a sign of affection. It’s their way of bonding with you, similar to how human beings hug or kiss. This behavior is deeply rooted in their instincts, mirroring the affectionate licks received from mother dogs in their early days.
  2. Communication – Dogs may use licking as a form of communication, expressing submission or seeking attention.
  3. Tastes and smells – Dogs are drawn to the taste and scent of their owners, as well as any remnants of food on the skin.
  4. Grooming – Your dog’s licking is a natural grooming behavior, helping them clean themselves and their human companions.
  5. Stress relief – Dogs may lick as a way to alleviate stress or anxiety.
  6. Exploration – Licking is part of a dog’s exploration behavior, allowing them to learn more about their environment and the people in it.

It’s important not to encourage excessive licking, as it can be a sign of anxiety or discomfort. 

Licking can also be a submissive behavior. In the wild, lower-ranking members of a pack will often lick the faces of higher-ranking members to show respect and submission.

Excessive licking could have multiple causes, and it’s essential to understand the underlying reason for your dog’s behavior to provide the appropriate care and support.

dog licking mans mouth

Is your dog’s mouth clean?

Contrary to a common misconception, dogs’ mouths are not dirty. A dog’s mouth has a self-cleaning mechanism. Dog saliva contains enzymes that help break down bacteria and prevent infections, but their mouths can still harbor bacteria. 

While excessive licking of open wounds can be problematic, occasional licking can be beneficial for their hygiene.

Dog owners need to practice good oral hygiene for their pets, which may include regular teeth brushing, providing dental chews or toys, and scheduling dental check-ups with a veterinarian. Just like humans, maintaining good oral health in dogs can contribute to overall well-being and prevent dental issues.

Did you know dogs have fewer taste buds compared to humans? They have around 1,700 taste buds, while humans have about 9,000. This is why dogs rely more on their sense of smell then their sense of taste when exploring and identifying food.

dog licking mans nose

Managing constant licking

It’s important to find the underlying cause of your dog’s licking behavior. If they are occasionally licking you as a form of affection, then you do not need to worry. If they suddenly start to lick you, it could be s a sign of a behavioral issue or even a medical problem. 

If your dog licking you is bothersome, make sure they are getting enough physical and mental exercise. Using positive reinforcement can help manage your dog’s licking behavior. Whenever your dog is not licking you, reward them with praise, affection, or treats. This will encourage them to repeat the non-licking behaviors, and they will associate this with receiving positive attention.

If you feel your dog’s dog’s licking is becoming an obsessive behavior, they could have an obsessive-compulsive disorder or separation anxiety. In this case, you should seek the help of your veterinarian or dog behaviorist.

dog licking a lick matt

Distracting with toys or activities

Provide your dog with alternative ways to entertain and engage themselves, such as interactive puzzle toys or regular exercise. Physical activity and mental stimulation help reduce boredom and release endorphins, which in turn may decrease their desire to lick you excessively.

Here are some ideas to distract your dog:

  • Lick Mats: These can engage their minds and redirect their attention, especially during stressful situations.
  • Chew toys: Give them something acceptable to chew on, like a sturdy rubber toy or a Kong filled with treats.
  • Exercise: Engage your dog in regular physical activities such as walking or fetch to help release pent-up energy.

In rare cases, dogs may exhibit compulsive licking behaviors indicative of a behavioral disorder. Seeking professional help from a veterinarian or a certified dog behaviorist can provide insights and strategies to manage such conditions.

When to consult a veterinarian

Sometimes, your dog’s licking behavior might indicate more than just affection or a need for attention. In certain cases, it could be a sign of an underlying health or behavioral issue that requires the attention of a veterinarian.

You should consider consulting a veterinarian if your dog’s licking becomes excessive or obsessive. This could include your dog licking themselves, objects, or you for extended periods, and doing so repeatedly throughout the day. This type of behavior could indicate an underlying health issue, such as allergies, skin infections, or gastrointestinal problems. Additionally, excessive licking can also be associated with anxiety, stress, or even compulsive disorders.

Another reason to consult a veterinarian is if you notice a sudden change in your dog’s licking patterns. If your dog suddenly starts licking more frequently or excessively, there could be a specific reason behind the change, and it’s essential to rule out any health issues.

Also, if your dog’s licking is accompanied by other signs of discomfort or pain, such as limping, scratching, or yelping, it’s essential to have them examined by a veterinarian. This could be a sign of an injury, infection, or other health issue that requires immediate attention.

dog licking girls face

Conclusion

Most of the time, when your dog licks you, it’s like their way of saying they love you.  Dog’s licks are a form of communication too. It’s a very natural behavior. 

Licking can be their way of showing submission or just asking for some attention. They’re also into grooming you, especially if you’re skin tastes salty or they smell the oils leftover from food.

And yes, licking can be a stress reliever for your dog. Lick mats can be a good way to redirect your dog’s licking. 

So, next time your dog gives you a lick, it’s not just a random or annoying, slobbery moment; it’s a whole communication package filled with love, curiosity and a bit of stress relief.

What’s Next?

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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