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Why Does My Dog Lick Me? Here’s the Answer!

Nicole Cosgrove

It’s no secret that man’s best friend tends to lick. Not all dogs will go crazy licking their owners but it’s not uncommon for we humans to get completely overwhelmed with dog kisses. Interestingly, there are quite a few reasons why our canine pals like to lick us. Let’s look at the reasoning behind this well-known behavior and what we can do about it.

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7 Reasons Why Your Dog Licks You:

1. Affection

Dog licking human's face
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

One of the most common reasons your dog likes to lick you is not so surprising, it is to show you love and affection. The act of licking releases endorphins in your dog’s brain that brings them a sense of comfort and calmness.

Licking is an instinctive behavior that begins in puppyhood. Puppies are licked and groomed by their mother from the moment of birth, and they return the favor. This tendency stays with them throughout their lives, both puppies and adult dogs will naturally show affection by licking people and other dogs or animals.


2. Communication

Not unlike their wolf ancestors, dogs will often lick the mouths and faces of other dogs they meet as a form of communication. Humans are not exempt from this behavior either, they may lick family members or strangers to gauge their intentions.

Dogs can also use licking to show submission to their human owner or another dog. Licking other dog’s mouths specifically is how an individual lets the other know they are submissive and see them as superior to them.


3. Exploration

chinook dog licking face
Image Credit: Holisticdogtraining, Pixabay

The scent is one of your dog’s strongest senses used to explore their world, but the taste is included as well since the two senses work together. Dogs may have fewer taste buds than humans, but they still rely on their taste buds. Licking people, objects, plants, and other animals is their way of touching things as humans do.

Dogs are intelligent and inquisitive; this is just another way they explore their world. However, if your dog is licking you frequently, it may not be a sign of exploration, as they have likely already gotten to know you quite well.


4. Grooming

Dogs groom themselves and each other by licking and chances are, you are not exempt from the behavior. Typically, they’ll be drawn to your skin by the scent of something unusual on you, such as food or dried blood. Licking is simply their way of cleaning you, whether you see it that way or not.


5. Attention

Cute dog licking woman's face
Image Credit: Ulrike Mai, Pixabay

Licking can be a sign that your dog is desperately seeking your attention. We may not always be giving our canine companions the attention they desire at any given time, and they will use a variety of behaviors to let you know they need a little more love or playtime. This type of licking will be accompanied by loads of excitement.

Puppies are known to lick to get their mother’s (or another dog’s) attention. If they lick you for attention and you respond by smiling, petting, or talking to them, it will reinforce their behavior, which may not be your preference.


6. Taste

Dog licking woman's ear
Image Credit: Lubo Ivanko, Shutterstock

Dogs will lick you for the simple reason of tasting. You may notice your dog likes to lick you after you’ve been sweating, as they tend to like the taste of salty skin. Coconut oil has been known to prompt licking since dogs typically enjoy the taste and a lot of us use it as a natural emollient nowadays.

Whether it be leftover food, lotion, sweat, or anything else we could have on us, remember that your dog has that excellent sense of smell to lure it in. It would not be unusual for a dog to just enjoy the taste of your bare skin either. You will want to pay close attention to when your dog licks you and what you have on you when they do.


7. Medical Condition(s)

Dogs may lick for a variety of medical reasons. We are just covering the medical conditions that could result in a dog licking you. Many different medical conditions are linked to a dog’s excessive licking of itself.

Your dog may have stress and anxiety issues and can develop compulsive licking. It is commonly seen in dogs with separation anxiety. When compulsive licking stems from extreme stress and anxiety or you feel it is possibly the reason for your dog’s behavior, you will need to consult your veterinarian.

It is in a dog’s instinctive nature to lick flesh wounds. If your dog notices that you have been wounded, they will try to come to the rescue and tend to your wound. A dog’s saliva has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that can aid in fighting against certain bacteria. When they lick themselves, it helps remove dead tissue and clean dirt from wounds. They are trying to do the same for you.

It is not recommended to allow your dog to lick your wounds, while their mouths contain healing properties for themselves, it also contains a lot of bacteria that could cause you to get an infection. It is a behavior that is best not to encourage.

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How to Stop Your Dog from Excessive Licking

vet examining dog's gums
Image Credit: Diego Cervo, Shutterstock

It is very common for your dog to lick you occasionally. Some dogs will lick much more than others and it can be a completely harmless behavior. No one wants their dog to excessively lick them though and if it is becoming a problem, it is ideal to start acting to get ahead of it.

When your dog starts licking excessively, you should first check with your veterinarian about any underlying medical problems that could be causing it. If your vet determines it is unrelated to a medical condition and is simply a behavioral issue, there are ways to stop your dog from excessive licking. Let’s take a look:

  • Reward Good Behavior. Regardless of what you are training, you are training your dog to do (or not to do,) rewarding their good behavior is an absolute must. Dogs are very intelligent animals, and they respond wonderfully to positive reinforcement. When teaching your dog not to lick, make sure to praise them and/or treat them when they are on their best behavior. Fear-based training and deterrents can do more harm than good when training your dog.
  • Ignore Them. When your dog begins licking you, try and completely ignore them. Your dog is most likely licking as a means to get your attention and if it works, it will encourage them to lock you more. If they lick you and you stand up and leave the room without paying any attention to them, it will show them that licking you doesn’t give them what they want. This will need to be done every time your dog exhibits unwanted licking behaviors.
  • Redirect Them. Another tactic to try when your dog begins licking you is to distract them. Redirect them to an activity that is unrelated to licking. You can take them for a walk, go outside and play fetch, grab a toy for them to play with, or even distract them entirely by doing a training session.
  • Be Consistent. One of the most important aspects of training a dog is consistency. It is not much different than when you are teaching a child. If you let your dog lick you sometimes and then discourage the behavior other times, this will be very confusing for the dog, and it will not understand that licking is unwanted behavior.You also need to be consistent with the training methods you use, though you can use a variety of training methods to see what works best.It can be difficult to stop your dog from licking you when you know they are acting loving toward you, but setting boundaries is best. There are plenty of other ways your dog can show you affection and vice versa.
  • Contact a Professional. If you have tried your best and still cannot prevent your dog from excessively licking you, you can consult with a professional. You can contact your veterinarian, a dog trainer, or someone that specializes in animal behavior.

 

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Conclusion

Now that you know the reasons why your dog is licking you, it is up to you to determine which reason(s) your dog has taken on the behavior. Dogs have a way of becoming part of our family and no one knows your dog better than you.

Remember, there are plenty of training tools that can be used to stop excessive licking behaviors and it is best not to get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. Our canine friends may have some quirky behaviors up their sleeve but we sure are lucky to have such wonderful beings to share our lives with.


Featured Image Credit: DavidAngelini, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.