If you are a devoted dog lover and enjoy spending time with your four legged friends, then most likely you have experienced those lovely wet dog kisses. Some dogs come right in to your face for big smooches daily, while other dogs might just lick your hand or leg. Often times pet owners might wonder, why do dogs lick people and if this is something normal.
There are a lot of reasons for this canine behavior. Generally speaking, all of the reasons point to one thing: your dog loves you and wants to let you know. You may wonder if licking is a behavior problem, and typically, it is not.
So you can rest easy knowing that those slobbery smooches are mostly there to show you affection or gain attention.
What Is the Origin of Dogs Licking?
Licking goes all the way back to the dog’s ancestor, the wolf. When puppies are born, the mother licks them clean. She continues licking them to groom them.
The puppies get their food by sucking on the mother’s nipples, and they lick as they are sucking. As a result, licking is associated with love and eating.
When wolf puppies start to transition away from drinking milk from their mothers, they get soft food from their mothers.
Puppies lick their mother’s lips to encourage her to feed them the soft food that she has chewed and prepared for them.
Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face When They Are Hungry?
As a result of the way dogs’ ancestors got their food as puppies, dogs may lick your face when they are hungry. This is especially true of puppies, as most dogs have been taught not to do this by the time they are adults.
Puppies may be looking for something to eat, or they may want what you are eating. Either way, it is an instinct, and if you reward this behavior, they will never stop.
Even in the wild, when it is time for the puppies to start eating on their own, the mom pushes them away. She may growl at them to indicate through her body language that licking her lips is no longer necessary. You should do the same with your puppy. Teach it to eat on its own.
Is it Okay for Your Dog to Lick Your Face?
Most of the time, it is okay for your dog to lick your face. A gentle lick on the face won’t cause much harm. However, you should wash your face afterward.
Dogs’ mouths are all over things that people would never put near their faces, and dogs and people have different immune systems. There is nothing wrong with letting your dog lick your face, which is often called “giving a kiss.”
If you encourage your dog’s face-licking with attention or rewards, it is likely to continue. Your rewards reinforce this behavior.
You may think that it is cute that your puppy wants to share your food, and it might even be sweet. But if you reward this behavior by sharing, you should know that it will be a hard habit to break.
Dogs Lick You to Show Affection
There is a reason why people call dog licks, “kisses.” Dogs show affection by licking you, and they show it to other dogs this way too.
Puppies learn from their mothers that licking is a nurturing and caring act. When puppies are born, one of their first experiences is their mother licking them clean.
As they grow up, their mother grooms them and cleans them, and they learn to groom each other.
Licking is a natural way for dogs to show affection, and they transfer this to you when they come home with you.
Your dog might try to lick your face, or it may lick your hand, your feet, your arms, or your legs. If you want to limit this behavior, gently teach your dog that you don’t like it.
Remember that if your dog gets attention, it will think that you like it and continue licking you.
Dogs Lick to Get Attention
If you smile and pet your dog when it licks you, you are teaching it that you will respond positively to this behavior. Your dog will start to lick you when it wants your attention.
If your dog is bored or lonely and you are occupied doing something else, your dog may come over and start licking your arm.
If your dog is trying to get attention by licking and you respond, you are reinforcing this behavior. Even if you give your dog negative attention, you are reinforcing it.
In a dog’s mind, any attention is better than no attention. If you want to discourage your dog from licking you to get attention, you need to ignore it. However, if you like it, you can just enjoy bonding with your dog.
Your Dog Might Like the Way You Taste
Dogs lick things as part of their investigation into what it is. The taste also helps them know what is what. Your skin may have a salty taste to it, and your dog may really like it (kinda gross I know).
The only way to stop this is to teach your dog that it can’t walk up and lick you any time that it wants.
This is one of the reasons why some dogs will lick your feet. They smell and taste different from the rest of you, and dogs are naturally interested in this. There may be extra salt on your skin if your feet sweat in your shoes.
Dogs May Lick When They Are Stressed Out
One of the negative reasons why dogs may lick is based on stress. Sometimes a dog that has been through a lot will compulsively lick to calm itself down.
This type of licking regularly extends beyond you to objects, flooring, furniture, toys, and the dog itself. This compulsive licking may be a symptom of a bigger problem, and you may need to seek help from your vet.
This kind of licking is a sign of an underlying problem, and you should do what you can to help your dog through the anxiety. Melatonin for dogs has been proven to be very effective with this issue.
Sometimes spending more time walking your dog can help as well as getting it outdoors to play. If you determine the source of your dog’s anxiety, you will be able to help your dog overcome it.
Your Dog May Lick Your Wounds
Dog saliva has healing properties because it has enzymes in it that can kill bacteria. Dogs lick themselves to clean out wounds.
They remove dirt, bacteria, and dead tissue so that wounds can heal. If you have a wound, it is almost instinctual for a dog to try to help you in the same way.
Your dog may be drawn to an open wound and try to lick it to clean it out for you.
Your Dog May Lick You as a Form of Communication
Dogs need to find ways to communicate with people, and the first things they try are behaviors that they already know. They learn how to communicate from their mother and their litter mates when they are babies.
When a dog first leaves its dog family and comes to your home, it doesn’t know how to communicate beyond what it has already learned.
Some breeders spend time socializing their puppies so that they know how to communicate with people, but it is hard to resist sweet puppy kisses.
Your dog will try licking you at first, but just know that it won’t always be a sweet little puppy. If your dog finds that licking is an effective form of communication with you, it will continue this behavior.
Your Dog Might Lick You to Let You Know That Something Is Wrong
This is similar to dogs licking from anxiety. If your dog is suffering some kind of pain or if your dog has allergies, it might do a lot of licking.
Allergies make dogs’ skin itchy, and licking soothes the itch. If your dog is licking you a lot and you notice that it is also licking its paws or some other part of its body, you should investigate to see if there is anything going on.
If you find raw patches of skin, you should go to the vet as this is a clear sign of distress licking. Your vet may prescribe medicated shampoo to help with allergies or other items to soothe your pup.
You can also bathe your dog in oatmeal shampoo to ease the itching. There are a lot of treatable issues, so going to the vet is a great place to start.
How to Get Your Dog to Stop Licking So Much
Most people have no problem with an affectionate kiss here and there, but sometimes dogs just lick too much. Sometimes people get puppies, and the cuteness is too much to stop, but the puppy grows up, and the licking continues.
There could be additional reason as to why dogs lick people, ranging from stress, affection, or even personality.
Other times, people may adopt a rescue dog that has a lot of anxiety or one that simply hasn’t had any training.
Sometimes a dog who has been neglected will become comfortable in your home, and it may develop a super-close bond with you because it was starved for affection before.
There are many different scenarios that all lead to the same thing: your dog is licking you too much, and you want to teach it to modify this behavior.
If your dog is licking because it has anxiety, you need to find a way to help your dog feel comfortable. There are all kinds of training methods that you can use depending on the source of the anxiety. With this type of licking, helping your dog to reduce its anxiety or fear can control the problem.
If your dog is licking to get attention or communicate with you, you can also teach it to minimize this behavior. Ignore your dog when it licks you. Instead you might trying petting your dog to show that’s an acceptable method to receive affection.
When it gives up, approach your dog and give it a nice belly rub. As long as you give your dog a reaction, you are reinforcing the behavior. The way to curb the behavior is by ignoring it.
If your dog is licking you because it is bored, you will have no trouble solving the problem. You can add an extra walk into your schedule each day or spend time outdoors playing with your dog. Make sure that your dog is getting plenty of exercise and the licking will go away.
Is it Okay for Your Dog to Lick You?
As long as the licking isn’t a symptom of an underlying problem, there is nothing wrong with it. You should exercise caution if you have a compromised immune system or if you have an open wound, but if your dog runs over to give you a kiss, this is perfectly normal.
Dogs’ saliva has enzymes in it that kill bacteria, but it also has bacteria in it. This saliva can be easily absorbed through the membranes in your mouth, nose, and eyes, so you should limit allowing your dog to lick these areas of your face.
It is rare that you will contract a disease from it, but these types of diseases can be very serious, so you should avoid it.
Dogs check everything out with their mouths and noses, including dead animals that may be diseased and feces they come across outside. You should consider where your dog’s tongue has been before you allow it to lick your face.
The Bottom Line
People often wonder, “Why do dogs lick people, and why do dogs lick your face?” and the answer is that there are a lot of reasons for this behavior.
Dogs communicate with the tools they know and the tools they have, and licking is one of them. When puppies are born, they learn a lot about nurturing and affection from their mothers.
They also learn that licking gets the attention that they are seeking.
When your dog comes home with you, you need to find a new way to communicate. Puppies don’t know the difference between eating from a bowl or out of your mouth. You need to take the time to teach your dog how to live by human rules.
Once your dog learns how to communicate with you in other ways, you will probably still get a kiss when it is happy to see you. Hopefully, you and your dog can find a place of mutual understanding and use that as your basis for your relationship.