Why Does My Dog Lick Me?

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Let’s take a look at the true reasons why our dogs lick us!  We’ll take a look at the reasons and explore what the behaviour means.  You know that your dog licks themselves as a method of self-grooming. You probably know that a dog licking his or her lips in certain circumstances is a sign of nervousness, but why do they lick us?  Read on and we’ll explain!

Licking is part of a dog’s vocabulary.  It’s one of their means of communication.  Different tail wags, growling and barking, are part of a dog’s vocabulary; in the same way your dog soon learns that licking is a tool to use to communicate with you.  Because we don’t share a common language, dogs use the tools at their disposal to communicate with us, and that includes licking.

Why Does My Dog Lick Me?

Okay, let’s take a look at the reasons dogs lick us:

  • Dogs associate licking with comfort and affection as soon as they are born.  Their mother will lick them clean when they are born; she may lick their noses to clear them so that the puppy can breathe.  If you observe a litter of puppies, you will see them lick each other.  Licking is a natural instinct to show their love.

In the wild, the wolf puppies lick their parent’s mouths when they want food.  Often this prompts the adult dog to regurgitate their food for the puppies to eat.  

  • In a pack, the dogs lick the pack leader as a sign of respect and submission.  Therefore your dog is likely to be licking you because they see you as the pack leader and want you to know that.  Sometimes, this is also a sign of submissiveness because they know they have done something wrong.  They are saying 

“I know I chewed the cushion and made a mess, I’m sorry”.

  • They may be trying to communicate with you that they want a walk or their dinner. By observing how they lick you in different situations, you might notice that the type of lick varies depending on what they want. 
  • You know how the dog’s sense of smell is incredibly strong already, but their taste sensors are powerful too.  It is likely that by licking you, they can pick up clues about where you have been and what you’ve been doing.

“Ah, I taste that particular coffee, you’ve been to Costa again, and I smell Rosie, I bet you met Rosie for coffee”.

  • Their sense of smell will pick up the scent of food on you, and they will seek out and lick where there is food residue.  They are likely doing this for the food, but equally, they may be doing it to clean you up.  You may have lovely salty sweat on you, and your dog likes the way you taste.  If you don’t realise it there may be small particles of food left on your skin, and it makes a delicious morsel for your dog.
  • If you observe your dog grooming themselves and they seem obsessive about it, they may be doing so because of the pleasure endorphins the licking gives them.  So, they may be licking you as part of the endorphin hit.   The release of endorphins helps your dog to relieve stress and so if he has been stressed from being left alone, the habit will serve him well for that purpose as well. 
  • Your dog might be licking you as a way of gaining attention, and when you like it he or she gains your approval, increasing the positive association with licking you.  It may be that they are feeling left out or just want some more of your attention.
  • Dogs use licking as a way of grooming each other and other dogs in the pack.  Your dog may be extending that behaviour to you.  If your dog often washes your dirty feet or sweaty arms, they are just helping you to get clean.
  • Dogs are incredibly empathic; it may be that your dog senses you are feeling down and gives you a big sloppy lick as a way to cheer you up.
  • Your dog sees you as the pack leader, and they love you, that big sloppy lick or gentle chin lick may just be that he or she is saying I love you, my human!

So, the next time you arrive home to be greeted by your dog eagerly giving you a soggy, big lick on the face take a moment to think about the reason why they are licking you?  It may be that they’ve missed you or there could be another reason. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read about My Dog is a Velcro Dog and Why do dogs dig?

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