Dogs are pretty darn lovable, but why do they lick us?
It turns out that there is a lot to love about the dog’s tongue and its unique way of expressing it. Dog saliva contains natural antibodies and anti-inflammatory agents. It also contains digestive enzymes which clean wounds by breaking down blood clots and bacteria on contact so canines can heal faster than we could ever hope to.
Dogs’ tongues have a particularly strong odor, which they use to identify one another and mark territory. When dogs greet each other, they often sniff the ground where the other dog has been and then lick that spot. This is because when two dogs meet, they can smell any odors left by the other in this way and determine whether it was a male or female, its reproductive state (estrus), what species of animal it belongs to (even if it’s not visible), and even what mood the other dog may be in! Dogs also use licking as an appeasement gesture: when a dominant dog approaches a lower-ranking one, for example, he may lick the submissive dog’s mouth to reassure it that he doesn’t mean any harm.
However, licking is not just limited to other dogs. Dogs will often lick their human family members too, especially on hands and faces. A dog who licks you may be checking in with you or trying to soothe you, but it can also be an indication of anxiety or insecurity. If your dog seems anxious around new people or places, for example, licking could be his way of settling himself down. It can sometimes even indicate frustration: if your dog wants something very badly—to go outside, for a treat—but cannot communicate this well in any other way (for instance because he was recently hurt), licking your face may be his way of saying, “Hello! I want something!” It’s also possible that he simply likes the taste of your face.
If you find your dog licking you constantly, especially out of context to other situations, it might be worthwhile to talk to a trainer or behaviorist about learning more appropriate ways for him to self-soothe and non-invasively communicate with you. If you find that this behavior is related to a more specific issue, such as separation anxiety or fearfulness of other people, it might be best to consult a veterinarian first.
In short, dogs love us with their tongues! They use licking as an appeasement gesture and a tool for communication. In certain cases of more severe stress or anxiety, licking can be a way of dealing with feelings that you or your dog may not know how to handle otherwise.
Why my dog is licking me?
• Dogs lick you because they like to taste your face
• Dogs use licking as an appeasement gesture
• If the dog is anxiously licking, it could be a sign of insecurity or frustration
• Dogs may lick you because they just like the taste of your face
What can I do to stop my dog from licking me?
It’s possible your dog is licking you because he loves you (he might think of this as his way of expressing affection), or it could be a sign that your dog is anxious or frustrated. It might also be worth talking to a vet to see if there are any medical issues for which topical hormone therapy, anti-anxiety medication, and other treatments may be necessary (please consult with your veterinarian first). If the licking doesn’t seem like an issue that requires urgent veterinary attention, then keep these things in mind as steps you can take:
• If the licking seems particularly obsessive or intentional—regardless of whether it’s directed at family members or strangers—these actions probably have something to do with separation anxiety. In those cases, it might be time to start teaching your dog to feel more comfortable when you’re away.
• If your dog seems anxious around new people or places, he may lick himself in order to make himself less stressed or afraid. This is something called self-soothing, and if you want to avoid your dog licking you out of anxiety, it’s best to work on teaching your dog how to do this himself. There are lots of great resources online that detail exactly how to do this, so look around if you think it might be helpful for your dog.
• If the licking seems more related to general anxiety or unhappiness, try spending some time working on increasing your dog’s confidence and happiness. Look for apps and games you can play with your dog to make them more mentally stimulated.
When it comes to a dog licking a human, a hand, in particular, the primary cause is usually enjoyment, but there are many other reasons why dogs lick people—from appeasement or calming gestures when they’re feeling insecure or anxious, to an indication of frustration, to simply liking the taste of your skin. Ultimately it is up to you what you do with this information, but there are some things you might want to think about if your dog often licks your hands.
If your dog seems overly enthusiastic in his affection or appears obsessive in licking you regardless of context, then it’s likely that he has some anxiety issues that he is struggling with. In those cases, it might be worth consulting a professional for help; the trainer or behaviorist can work on teaching your dog how to deal with his feelings and anxieties in a way that doesn’t involve licking people (or other dogs).
If your dog is exhibiting any of the behaviors mentioned above, try looking for ways to relax or have fun with your dog so that he has something else to focus on. Maybe his licking is a sign of boredom or anxiety, so it might be worth investing in some new games or toys that you can play with him.
If your dog enjoys the taste of human skin—and comes running over to lick your hand every time you pet him—then a little licking probably won’t bother you too much. But if you’d rather not have your dog licking you all the time, it might be worth thinking about what triggers the behavior and working on either avoiding or addressing those behaviors so that your dog doesn’t feel the need to lick people in the first place.
Is scratching or biting by my dog normal behavior?
A common myth is that if your dog licks you this usually means he really likes you. Dogs will lick things they like to get the taste of it, so while licking can sometimes be an expression of affection, it doesn’t mean that he loves you more than other people simply because he goes out of his way to lick you. This would only be the case if licking was atypical behavior for your dog.
If You’ve Got Scratching or Biting Going On, This Usually Means Your Dog Is Anxious or Unhappy
It may sound counterintuitive, but if your dog scratches or bites his own paws excessively (or compulsively licks under his arms)…This could indicate anxiety issues and it’s important to take note of what’s causing him to behave this way. If you have been giving treats or trying to pet him, though, it could simply mean that he is feeling uncomfortable or nervous with a situation and he wants it to stop. In these cases, the best course of action is to try and reduce his anxiety rather than rewarding his behavior with attention. Sometimes the best way to help dogs like this is to ignore them as much as possible, and ideally not give him any attention (positive or negative) until he has stopped.
- If it’s only every now and then that your dog licks you, it may be a sign that he’s feeling insecure or anxious about something—or even a bit bored. If this is the case, try to find ways in which you can play or interact with your dog in a way that makes him feel better and secure in his environment.
- Try to find out under what circumstances he tends to lick you more, whether it’s when you’re sitting down or when you’ve been out of the room. If, for example, you’ve been out of the house all day and he seems to be licking you a lot more than usual when you walk in the door it may be a sign that he is feeling anxious about your absence or insecure about being left behind.
How do I train my dog to stop jumping on people?
A great way to deter your dog from this undesirable behavior is by calling him back when he has just jumped up. As soon as his paws touch the ground, very firmly say “No Jumping” and immediately walk in another direction away from whoever was in his path. This will let him know that when he jumps on people, he is not going to be rewarded with the fun chase game so instead of jumping up on his next pass, try using a command such as “sit” or “down” and reward your dog with a treat when he does so.