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Dog licking woman‘s face

The essentials

  • Licking can be a sign of affection — Your dog may be licking you to show their care and devotion.
  • Licking is occasionally a symptom of underlying anxiety — Since licking often acts as a soothing behavior, it may be a sign your dog is struggling with separation anxiety or nerves.
  • Your dog might be trying to express a need — As much as you might wonder what your pooch would say if they could talk, all they have in reality is body language. Your dog may need more food, attention, or to go potty when they lick.

As dog owners, we’ve all experienced those wet, slobbery kisses from our beloved furry companions. But have you ever wondered why dogs lick you?

From a gentle swipe across your hand to an enthusiastic lick fest on your face, dogs lick people to bond and communicate with them. Licking can be your dog’s way of letting you know how much they love you, or it can also be a self-soothing tactic when they’re feeling stressed.

Not sure what your dog’s trying to tell you? We’ve put together this helpful guide to help you figure out what they’re trying to say.

Why do dogs lick you? 5 reasons behind licking

So why is your furry best friend licking you? Dogs licking humans is a natural behavior deeply rooted in their instinctive and social nature. While each dog is unique, there are several common reasons why dogs engage in licking behavior.

1. Sign of affection

When your puppy licks you, it’s often a sign of affection and love. Dogs use licking as a way to bond and show their loyalty and trust towards their human companions. This behavior is an instinctual way for them to display their attachment and strengthen the human-canine bond.

2. Attention and communication

Licking is a form of communication for dogs. It can convey various messages depending on the context. For instance, a dog may lick the hands of certain family members to express submission or to acknowledge your higher rank as pack leader. Additionally, licking can serve as a way for dogs to request attention, play, or food.

3. Exploration and taste

Did you eat some peanut butter earlier? Dogs use their tongues and sense of smell to explore and learn about the world around them. Licking allows them to gather information about their environment, including the taste, texture, and scent of objects and surfaces. When your dog licks you, they might be trying to gain information about your skin, taste any residual food scents, or simply explore their surroundings.

4. Instinct and hunger

In the wild, dog and wolf puppies signal hunger by licking the area around their parents’ mouths when they return from a hunt. The adults will then regurgitate some meat for them to eat. Experts believe this behavior has been passed to domesticated dogs through generations of evolution, which is why your dog might lick you whenever they start feeling hungry.

5. Anxiety and OCD

Dogs exposed to long-term stress or anxiety can develop a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) characterized by their constantly licking people, objects, and themselves. This serves as a soothing mechanism to alleviate their emotional distress, but it can also lead to the formation of bald patches in their fur and painful sores on the tongue. See a veterinarian if you think your dog might be suffering from compulsive licking.

When licking becomes a problem

While occasional licking is normal at certain times, excessive licking can – and should – raise concerns for pet owners. If your dog licks excessively and persistently, it’s essential to investigate the underlying causes and address medical problems appropriately. Here are a few possible reasons for excessive licking:

Allergies and irritations

Dogs may excessively lick certain body parts, like their paws or nose. This could be due to allergies, infections, skin irritations, open wounds, or insect bites. The licking behavior is a dog’s way of getting temporary relief by soothing the affected area.

If you notice redness, swelling, or skin abnormalities along with excessive licking, consult with your veterinarian to identify and treat any underlying allergies or medical conditions. For example, if your pup is licking its butt,  possible causes could be that their anal glands could be infected or irritated — possibly indicating anal sac disease.

Stomach problems

Nausea, acid reflux, and other gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are some of the most common medical causes of dog licking after allergies and skin infections. Dogs might lick at the air, lick unusual surfaces, or excessively swallow in an attempt to relieve their stomach pain. They may also lick their abdominal area when experiencing GI pain.

If you notice your dog exhibiting these signs, the best course of action is to see a vet. They’ll be able to run the necessary diagnostic tests and hone in on the cause of these behaviors.

Anxiety and stress

If your dog displays signs of anxiety or exhibits excessive licking in specific situations (like when you have been gone all day), it’s a good idea to consult with a professional animal behaviorist or a veterinarian. A vet can help address their underlying emotional needs in addition to potentially prescribing anxiety medication for conditions like OCD.

Boredom or lack of stimulation

Dogs that feel bored or lack mental and physical stimulation may resort to excessive licking as a way to alleviate their restlessness. Ensuring your dog receives adequate exercise, mental enrichment, and interactive playtime can help redirect their energy and reduce excessive licking episodes.

How to stop excessive licking

Remember, always check with your vet to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem that’s causing your dog’s licks. If there isn’t a medical issue and you find your dog’s licking behavior problematic or uncomfortable, here are some strategies to manage and redirect their licking tendencies:

Move away and stay neutral — Yelling and punishment never help dogs understand what they’re doing wrong, so it’s important not to get mad at your dog for excessive licking. When the licking starts, try moving away from them without giving positive or negative attention. If this doesn’t work, you may have to move to another room entirely. This gradually reinforces the idea that excessive licking isn’t something people enjoy.

Keep yourself clean — If you find your dog licks you more after you eat or exercise, you may be able to curb the problem just by keeping yourself clean. Shower regularly, and give the area around your mouth a good rinse after meals to rid yourself of any enticing crumbs and scents.

Reinforce alternate behaviors — You can always redirect your dog’s attention and provide alternative behaviors to replace excessive licking. Engage them in interactive play sessions, offer puzzle toys, or teach them new commands to redirect their energy positively.

👉 You can also use a lick mat to give your dog a safe, non-destructive outlet for their licking. Put a little dog-safe yogurt or peanut butter over the top of it, and they’ll take care of the rest. 

Positive reinforcement — Positive reinforcement techniques, such as treats, praise, and affection, can help reinforce good behavior and discourage unwanted licking. Reward your dog when they exhibit desirable behaviors and refrain from excessive licking.

Provide mental and physical stimulation — Ensure that your dog’s daily routine includes ample opportunities for physical exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction. This can help alleviate boredom and reduce the likelihood of excessive licking.

Consistency and training — Consistency is key when addressing any behavior. Establish clear boundaries and use positive training methods to discourage excessive licking. Professional dog trainers or behaviorists can provide valuable guidance and support in addressing specific behavioral concerns.

Is it dangerous for a dog to lick you?

While licking is perfectly safe in most instances, there are a couple of exceptions. For instance, if you feed your dog a raw or freeze-dried diet, they could transmit harmful pathogens to you and others through their saliva.

You should also make sure to have them regularly tested for parasites and vaccinated for diseases like rabies. Elderly and immunocompromised people should exercise extra caution when letting a dog lick them, and avoid letting them lick anywhere near their mouth or face.

This is how pathogenic bacteria from raw foods end up infecting humans. That ‘kiss’ will put you in the hospital.

Dr. Irish

Dogs lick you for various reasons, ranging from clingy affection and communication to exploration and sensory stimulation. Understanding the motivations behind their licking behavior can help strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion.

While occasional licking is a natural part of canine behavior, excessive licking may indicate underlying issues that require attention. By identifying the root causes and implementing appropriate management techniques, you can ensure that your dog’s licking behavior remains within healthy limits.

Frequently asked questions

What does it mean when your dog constantly licks you?

Dogs lick their owners for several different reasons. It could be their way of asking for attention, letting you know how much they love you, or that they’re ready to eat. In some cases, excessive licking can also be symptomatic of an underlying illness or mental condition like anxiety or OCD.

Why does my dog lick me when I pet her?

Dogs may lick as a sign of affection, to seek attention, or as a natural instinct. Licking can also be a way for dogs to communicate and show submission to their pet parents.

Why does my dog lick me and nobody else?

Dogs may lick their owners more than other people due to a stronger bond, familiarity, or the positive association they have with their owner. It could also be a result of learned behavior with new people or reinforcement.

Do dog licks mean kisses?

Not necessarily. Dog licks can be a sign of attention, but they can also be a dog’s way of communicating stress, hunger, or a need for attention. Pay close attention to your dog’s behavior and keep an eye out for any other side effects to help pinpoint the reason for their licking.

Is it bad if my dog licks me?

In most cases, no. But if you feed your dog raw food or a free-dried diet, do not let your pet lick you under any circumstances. The bacteria can lead to illnesses in humans once it spreads.