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Why Do Dogs Like to Lick People?

If you have a dog, you’ve had your dog lick you. Whether you love or hate this common behavior, read on to learn all about its potential underlying causes as well as the signs you should consult your vet.

dog licking people

Hate it or love it, getting licked (and licked, and licked again) is just part of owning a dog. Most pet owners assume sloppy kisses are a sign of affection, but is there more to the common canine behavior? Licking is a natural and instinctive action and there are several reasons dogs engage in it. It’s part of their grooming process, helpful for forming bonds, and a useful method for self expression. Sometimes, however, a dog can take licking too far, showcasing an obsessive and annoying habit. If this happens, you may need the support of your vet or an expert animal behaviorist to address licking.

It’s a myth that a dog’s mouth is much cleaner than a human’s. In reality, the canine and human mouths house comparable levels of bacteria.

6 reasons your dog might lick you

Instinct

Licking is just part of being a dog, a behavior handed down through the generations in your pet’s DNA. Dogs lick themselves to keep clean and they lick their pups and pals to both groom and communicate with them. In the wild, wolves regurgitate meat for their pups. The pups then lick the meat from around their mother’s mouths. Dogs also groom their fellow pack members (that includes you) as a way of showing love and affection. 

Affection

When a mother licks her pups, they feel safe, comfortable, and loved. The process releases dopamine and endorphins that help them relax and stay calm. The pleasure they get from being licked and licking continues as they mature. If you’re a favorite target for kisses, you might just be the most beloved member of the pack. Maybe you give the best kisses back! Don’t take it personally, however, if your dog isn’t in the habit of smothering you with licks. Some breeds are more prone to licking than others. A few breeds that especially love to lick include Retrievers, Poodles, Chihuahuas, and Pugs. Keep this in mind if the behavior is a deal breaker.

Empathy

Dogs are very good at responding to human emotions. If your pet has picked up that you’re anxious or under the weather, they may lick you in an effort to soothe and cheer you up. One study showed that pretending to cry was more likely to attract licking or nuzzling from a canine test subject than humming or simply talking.

Attention seeking

If you’ve even been startled by a sudden lick you’ll agree – the behavior is most definitely attention grabbing. It’s probably bound to inspire a response. Maybe you react by stroking your dog, talking to them in a soft voice, or even offering a tempting treat or two. Your clever pooch will likely respond to this by licking you even more. Attention-seeking licking, however, can get out of control. If a dog licks you every time they’re bored or feeling a little lonely, and you play along with a response, you’re reinforcing what could end up becoming an irksome, obsessive behavior.

We taste good

To dogs, our skin has a salty tang, especially if we have just finished a workout or it’s an especially hot day. When you wake up in the morning, you taste like the sweat and oils you’ve secreted during the night. This helps explain why dogs love to say ‘good morning’ with their tongues. They may also be tasting remnants of your last meal or even hints of moisturizers you’ve used. Remember that some of these beauty products may be toxic to dogs. Take care not to let your dog lick you after you’ve applied any products that could contain poisonous or stomach-upsetting ingredients. When in doubt, keep your dog at arm’s length.  

Anxiety

Licking is comforting to many dogs and you’ll often see them self-soothe by licking their legs or haunches. It’s effective at calming them down if they’re stressed and anxious. Maybe you’ve gone out to work and left them alone or you are in the vet’s waiting room. As with us humans, some dogs are more anxious than others. 

Human saliva contains a compound called amylase that aids the digestion process by beginning to break down food. A dog’s saliva does not contain this compound. The canine stomach and intestines do all the necessary digestion.

Is letting dogs lick our hands and face a good idea?

As we’ve seen above, dogs love the slightly sweaty and salty tang of our skin. They especially enjoy aiming for our hands and face which are more likely to be uncovered. Whether you let your dog lick you (and to what extent) is a matter of personal preference. Before making that decision, you should remember that a dog’s mouth and saliva are full of bacteria. It’s even possible for your dog’s mouth to play a role in transmitting parasites. Some dogs may even eat poop when they’re out and about! While the chances of getting sick from an errant lick are slim, you might not want to risk it. If your dog is keen on licking your hands and face, make sure you always wash with plenty of soap and water afterward.

dog like to lick people

When does licking become an obsessive problem?

While true obsessive compulsive disorder is rare in dogs, some pups can develop a form of it. This condition is often linked to long-term stress and may be more apparent in rescue dogs or dogs with chronic illnesses and allergies. A symptom of doggy OCD is repetitive licking of themselves, objects (such as furniture), and people. They can even lick themselves so much that they cause bald patches and sores on their skin. When they lick you, the behavior can become annoying and distracting. If you work from home, you may find it challenging to get anything done. If licking grows obsessive, it’s time to address the behavior and consider professional support. 

Dealing with obsessive licking

First, you’ll need to rule out any underlying illnesses or anxiety disorders that could explain your dog’s behavior. If it’s simply an annoying habit, start by trying to ignore it. Resist the urge to distract your dog with treats, as this could reinforce unwanted behavior. Remove yourself from the situation entirely by walking away. It’s possible to retrain dogs to provide quick licks on the command when they hear “kiss” or a similar phrase. Offer praise and reward for appropriate kisses and licks, while ignoring dogs who get carried away. 

Your dog may be licking you because they’re just plain bored. Strapping on their leash and heading out for a brisk walk or providing some mental stimulation with scheduled play sessions may be enough to break the frustrating habit. Make sure your dog has plenty of chew toys and puzzle games to keep them engaged during alone time and swap these around regularly to avoid boredom. Whatever methods you take to deal with the problem, make sure your efforts and responses are consistent. If you waver, you might confuse your dog, make them more anxious, and inadvertently encourage obsessive licking. A dog in a high state of anxiety will be unreceptive to your lessons. Your vet may prescribe some anti-anxiety medication to administer alongside the above measures. 

Calm and anxious dogs alike require a lifetime of close care and attention to stay as happy and healthy as possible. Animalia Pet Insurance makes it easier and more affordable to offer everything your pet needs. Learn more today.


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