Why Do Dogs Lick You? 5 Main Reasons and What to Do

Ever had your pup suddenly sneak up to lick your face out of nowhere? It's a surprising experience that leaves most canine parents with questions like, "Why do dogs lick you?" While there are many theories on this age-old question, understanding the motivation behind canine licking will deepen your bond with your furry companion.

Dogs lick you due to your sweaty taste, as a sign of affection, and as a way to seek attention. While these are harmless reasons that serve as a form of expression, excessive dog licking can signify obsessive-compulsive disorder. You'll need veterinary assistance if your pup displays compulsive licking.

The rest of this article provides a detailed answer to the common question, "Why do dogs lick you?" I will also discuss when canine licking becomes a problem and what you should do. Keep reading to understand the licking behaviour displayed by your dog.

5. Reasons Why Dogs Lick You

Dog licking is a natural instinctive behaviour that is an essential form of communication. It conveys various messages that need your attention to create an emotionally and physically-fit environment for your furry friend.

Here are the main reasons why your pup licks you:

1.    Your Sweaty Taste

If you're a workout enthusiast, you may have noticed that your furry friend enjoys licking you after a workout session.

According to the American Physiological Society, dog tongues have taste buds that can taste salt. Your sweat contains tiny amounts of salt, which your pup can sense. That's why they instinctively lick you when you're sweating after a workout or on a hot summer day.

The sniffing behaviour helps the dog to know when you're sweaty for a perfect licking opportunity. Therefore, you should not be alarmed when your pup starts licking you after strenuous activity or on a hot day.

2.    Sign of Affection

 Dog licking a boy

Dogs are considered man's best friend for many reasons, one being their affectionate nature. Licking is an expression of love and affection that helps deepen your bond with your canine companion.

Your pup will want to lick you when they're happy and contented to express their love for you. Such a form of licking strengthens the connection between the two of you. For example, when you come home from work after a long day, your pup may lick you in a way that expresses their happiness.

It's worth mentioning that dog licking is a long-studied phenomenon. In the wild, dogs used to lick their pack mates as a way to welcome them home and show closeness. Moreover, mother dogs lick their puppies as a way of grooming them.

Consequently, those daily slobbers from your pup signify closeness and a warm welcome. It's also a way of grooming you after a long day out.

3.    Seeking Attention

Most pet parents are aware of this common behaviour among dogs.

You may have noticed how suddenly your dog starts licking your face when there is something it wants.

Dogs can be very active and need attention to lead healthy lives. That's why they use licking as a way of seeking your attention.

The dog may also lick to get your attention when it's hungry. This is an instinctual behaviour used by hungry puppies in the wild.

"Puppies lick the face and muzzle of their mother when she returns from a hunt to her den to get her to regurgitate for them,” says Dr Alexandra Horowitz from Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab.

4.    A Sign of Empathy

Dogs are empathetic animals with the ability to interpret and respond to human emotions.

Dogs possess the key building blocks of empathy that help them distinguish between positive and negative feelings. These building blocks of empathy help them pick up on emotions from different species, including humans.

If you appear sad, your pup may try to lick you to show empathy and comfort.

After staying with you for some time, the dog learns your behaviour under different emotions; it will know when you're sad and happy. Thus, the dog will use licking to cheer you up or offer comfort when you're down.

5.    Seeking a Reward

 white dog eating


Dog parents tend to pat their dogs every time they start licking them. If you're one of these canine parents, you should know that you play a central role in cementing the behaviour.

Patting your pup as a reward for licking encourages the behaviour and makes it more frequent daily.

The same applies if you offer treats or other rewards when the pup starts licking. Treating your dog after licking you means it will bring up the behaviour every time it needs a treat.

When Dog Licking Becomes a Problem

Sometimes, canine licking can become a problem.

If your pup licks excessively and aggressively, it could indicate an underlying medical condition such as anxiety or skin irritation.

An old dog licking excessively could be a sign of dementia. Dementia is a cognitive disorder in dogs associated with ageing.

Besides excessive licking, other symptoms to help you confirm dementia in a dog include:

  • Disorientation: The dog keeps wandering around while appearing confused. In severe cases, the dog will remain intact in the same position while staring at a given location, like the floor.
  • Sleep/Wake interruptions: The canine randomly wakes up at night or during the day and takes longer to fall asleep again.
  • Disruptive behaviour: The dog will start barking aggressively for no apparent reason.
  • House soiling: The dog may start toileting inappropriately within the house.

Dog licking also becomes problematic if it arises from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD arises when normal dog behaviours like licking become excessive.

If you notice that your pup licks excessively and aggressively, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. The vet will help determine the cause of the behaviour and provide appropriate treatment to get it back on track.

Is It Healthy for Dogs to Lick You?

It's healthy for dogs to lick you in places like arms and legs. However, letting dogs lick you in the face can have some health implications due to the harmful natural bacteria in their mouth.

"Dogs spend half of their life sniffing in nasty corners or hovering over dog poops so their muzzles contain bacteria, viruses and different types of germs that can harm a human face,” says Dr John Oxford, a  virology professor at the Queen Mary University of London in The Hippocratic Post.

It's also worth noting that bacteria in a dog's mouth can be harmful if they get into an open wound. These could include skin fungal infections like ringworms.

How to Deal with Dog Licking

Although dog licking is normal, it can become monotonous and boring. At this point, you may want to stop or minimise it.

If you want to discourage the licking behaviour, the first rule is refraining from rewarding it. Providing your dogs with treats every time they start licking you will only worsen the situation. Instead, you should offer positive reinforcement and praise when they display appropriate behaviour. Some of these reinforcements include:

  • Verbal praise: Tell your pup what a good dog it is for not licking you.
  • Petting and stroking: This helps to build the bond between you and the puppy.
  • Treats: Offer small treats to reward the pup when it displays desirable behaviours other than licking.

When dealing with excessive or obsessive canine licking, the best approach is to teach the pup alternative behaviours you can reward. Tricks such as shaking hands, sitting, or rolling over helps divert the pup's attention and make it focus on something other than licking.

Moreover, it's advisable to engage in physical activities that keeps your pup entertained and well-exercised throughout the day to help curb their attention-seeking behaviours like licking. You can prioritise the following activities:

  • Walks: Take your pup for regular walks to help it stay active and deplete excess energy.
  • Interactive play: Play activities like tug-of-war are a great way to keep your pup entertained.
  • Mental stimulation: Invest in toys that require mental effort, like treat puzzles, to keep the pup occupied and engaged when you're away or busy.

Finally, you should consult your vet if your dog licks you excessively. Excessive licking may indicate OCD, a situation that needs immediate intervention to correct.

Expert Tip: At the end of the day, dog licking is normal and should only be discouraged if it becomes excessive. Understanding why your pup licks you could help you deal with the issue more effectively and identify underlying medical conditions that may require further treatment.

Final Thoughts

Why do dogs like you? This behaviour can be an expression of love or a sign of boredom and anxiety. Dogs may also lick you due to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If this is the case, it's important to consult your vet to rule out an underlying medical condition.



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