Man’s best friend often behaves in ways that seem mysterious to humans. They have lots of habits and quirks that we simply can’t comprehend. One behaviour that seems to be common to all dogs is licking their humans.
Puppies regularly invade your personal space. They want to snuggle, sit in your lap, sleep on top of you, lean against you, and follow you everywhere you go.
They also love to lick. A lot.
Licking isn’t just for puppies, either. Lots of adult dogs continue to lick their owners when given the chance.
People often assume that dog licks are a sign of affection, similar to cuddling. Some dog owners even refer to licks as “puppy kisses.”
But is that why dogs lick you? Or are there other reasons your dog treats your face, hands, feet, and any other exposed skin like a lollipop?
Why Do Dogs Lick You?
According to experts on canine behaviour, there are several reasons your dog may feel compelled to lick you. The motives for this behaviour may be mixed; the urge to lick you may come from a combination of reasons and not just one.
With that caveat in mind, here are some of the reasons a dog may feel compelled to lick your skin.
Love Is All You Need
Dog owners aren’t entirely off the mark when they refer to dog licks as kisses. Licking you is one of the ways a dog shows its affection.
Think about the way a dog acts with her puppies. In addition to feeding them and guiding them, mommy dogs lick their babies to clean them. So it’s possible that puppies learn from birth to associate the act of licking with love, affection, safety, and contentment.
It only makes sense, then, that they would engage in that behaviour with the humans they love the most.
You’re the Boss
Interestingly, licking is not only a sign of affection. It can also be your dog’s way of showing submission.
Dogs have several ways of indicating their submission to more dominant animals, including humans. These behaviours are generally divided into two categories: deference (passive submission) and appeasement (active submission).
Deference involves passive signs of submission such as crouching, tail-tucking, avoiding eye contact, rolling over to expose the belly, and even urinating. Dogs exhibit these behaviours when they want to divert the attention of the more dominant animal.
Appeasement, on the other hand, takes place when the dog wants to attract attention from a more dominant individual.
In addition to licking, typical appeasement activities include jumping, lifting paws, and “bowing,” when the dog lowers its head and shoulders but keeps its hindquarters at full height.
So the next time your dog licks you, remember that it might be because she considers you the Alpha and wants your attention.
While it’s certainly a less heart-warming explanation than his undying love for you, your dog may actually lick you because he likes the way your skin tastes.
Dogs have flavour palettes similar (although not identical to) ours. That means, just like us, they can taste and enjoy salt.
Human skin has a slightly salty flavour on its surface, especially just after exercise or exertion. When sweat evaporates, it leaves a layer of salt behind. This salty tang may be what your dog is after when she licks you, especially your feet.
Share Your Lunch
Why do dogs lick your face? The answer may be less picturesque than some of the other motives discussed above.
Your dog may lick you, especially your face, because your lunch smells appetizing.
When dog mothers begin to wean their puppies, they often regurgitate their food and allow the puppies to lick it off of their muzzles. So when your dog licks your face, it may be less about you and more about the smell of your food around your mouth.
If you have facial hair, it’s also possible that your dog detects tiny morsels of food in it.
Dogs use their tongues to explore the world. There’s a reason puppies want to lick and chew every new item they encounter, including the furniture and your new shoes.
Puppies rely heavily on the senses of taste, touch, and smell to navigate and learn about the world. Licking you – and everything around you – engages all of these senses at once.
Think of a dog’s tongue like an antenna. Dogs use it to pick up information about the world around them. They learn to identify items by their textures, smells, and flavours.
When a dog gets bored, she looks for stimulation wherever she can find it. Since licking is one of her ways of gathering information, her tongue may go into overdrive when she’s got nothing else to do.
Is It Safe For Dogs to Lick People?
Generally, licking poses no danger to a pup’s favourite human.
While the idea that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s is a myth, their mouths usually don’t carry any diseases that a human can catch through skin contact.
Individuals with compromised immune systems may want to avoid dog licks. Also, never let a dog lick an open wound, as this can result in infection.
Should You Stop Your Dog From Licking You?
In the end, the answer to this question is up to the individual dog parent.
If you like the sensation of your dog lapping you with his tongue, you can certainly allow it. Many pet owners experience a strengthening of the bond with their dog when she licks them.
On the other hand, some people just find dog licks gross. If you have a strong aversion to saliva, you can easily train your dog not to lick.
The Bottom Line
Dogs can have several motives for licking you: affection, submission, the flavour of your skin, a desire for you to share your food, or plain old boredom. Sometimes, he may be motivated by several of these factors simultaneously.
Your dog licking you is generally not a health hazard, but you can train her not to lick if that’s your preference.