Why do dogs lick you? It’s something we’re all familiar with as animal lovers, but do you know why dogs like to lick you? Or why do they instinctively go to lick your face or the air when you pet them? While some of us love to be licked by our dogs and others, well, not so much, there is a reason behind this slobbery behaviour. So, why do dogs lick you, and what does it mean?
Why Do Dogs Lick You When You Pet Them?
Dogs lick for several reasons, and it is a natural and instinctive behaviour learnt from their mothers as puppies. Mother dogs will lick their young to keep them clean, provide comfort and help them toilet. Puppies will then start to groom themselves and their littermates.
So, why do dogs lick you when you pet them as adults?
- Affection: One of the most common reasons why your dog likes to lick you when you pet them is to show affection. It’s a way for them to express their love for you and practice bonding and grooming. When dogs lick, they get a rush of endorphins, which makes them feel calmer and more relaxed. It also provides an alternative way for them to communicate with you. However, not all dogs like to lick. If your dog isn’t a licker, this isn’t a reflection of their feelings towards you. Some dogs just don’t enjoy licking or may have learned differently as a puppy.
- Attention: No doubt effective; dogs will lick for attention. Often starting off as affection, dogs quickly learn that showering you with wet kisses is a successful way to gain your attention – and what do we do when our four-legged friends show us some love? We reciprocate and reinforce the attention-seeking behaviour by acknowledging them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s our dog’s way of communicating to us that they need something and why they will randomly lick you. Though there is always a time and place for everything, and if your dog is starting to develop negative habits using licking, we recommend redirecting this behaviour with positive reinforcement.
- Exploring: Like we use our hands, dogs use their mouths and tongues to explore and understand their environment. It’s their way of touching and discovering things, and why dogs lick your hands when you pet them.
- You Taste Good: Now, we don’t mean that your dog’s picturing you as their next tasty meal, but as they like to explore with their tongue and love anything that has an interesting taste, you might just have an appealing flavour that your dog enjoys lapping on. Dogs can taste sweet, sour, salty and bitter, so if you’re particularly sweaty, your dog may show extra interest as the salt and acidic chemicals we release present a delectable treat. They do rely more heavily on their sense of smell due to their small number of tastebuds, which is why they go for our stronger-smelling body parts, such as hands, face, feet and ears. Food residue, creams, lotions or plant extracts are other reasons your dog could find you appetising.
- Grooming: Learnt from their mothers at birth, puppies are taught to lick as a grooming method. It’s a way for them to provide comfort, cleaning and bonding, as well as a sign of love. Dog’s tongues contain some antibacterial properties, though they are not antiseptic. Grooming is also a sign of respect and a way to demonstrate submission to let you know you are in charge.
- Instinct: Similar to how dogs are groomed as puppies, it can be instinctual behaviour for pups to feed off the food from their mother’s mouths – a habit they continue as adults. Additionally, dogs have naturally exhibited signs of affective empathy, using licking to assess moods and provide comfort.
- Anxiety: As licking provides soothing and calming benefits for dogs, anxiety is another reason why dogs lick you so much when you pet them. It is an excellent way to relieve unwanted feelings and stress and help them feel less anxious – granting it is not an obsessive habit.
- OCD: Whilst licking to self-soothe is not considered a problem, excessive, long-term licking could signify a compulsive disorder. If your dog has taken licking to an obsessive level, we recommend seeking veterinary advice.
- Medical Conditions: An underlying medical condition could answer why your dog constantly licks you. In older dogs, it can even be a sign of dementia.
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Why Do Dogs Lick Their Lips When You Pet Them?
Dogs lick their lips as another form of communication. It’s a signal they give to convey they are not a threat and a way for them to receive feedback to ensure they are not in danger. This is also why dogs lick the air when you pet them – it’s an appeasement gesture.
Why Do Dogs Lick You in The Face?
As dogs lick each other in the face to communicate, it is only natural for them to do the same with us – after all, we are their family. We, humans, have two types of sweat glands – the eccrine and apocrine – which secrete fluids from our feet, palms, face, armpits and groin. This is why dogs automatically reach for these areas, as it provides them with the most information about us. Given our heads receive the most significant amount of exposure to our surroundings, it is only natural it’s a dog’s first point of contact to obtain information about us and why they lick you in the face. Especially as we regularly touch our faces with our hands, transferring more data to the area for them to deduce.
Why Do Dogs Lick You in The Morning?
Waking up in the morning to a kiss from your furry friend is a delight many of us enjoy. The logic behind why dogs lick you in the morning is even more beautiful – a form of greetings to show they are happy to see you. An added bonus for your pooch? The scent of sweat and oils secreted in your sleep to taste.
Why Do Dogs Lick the Air When You Pet Them?
Dogs can lick the air for various reasons: to amplify their sense of smell, to combat nausea and communicate concerns. However, if your dog licks the air when you pet them, chances are it’s an appeasement gesture telling you to keep going and continue petting them.
Dogs are incredible companions and enrich our lives with continued loyalty and love, communicating with us through various behaviours, including licking. By effectively expressing emotions and behaviours through licking, dogs are able to develop strong relationships with us as humans and other animals through non-verbal communication. Like any connection, it is all about actively listening, understanding cues and interpreting the information in front of you. When, where, how and why your dog licks will provide you with all the answers you need to know how your dog is feeling and how they feel about you.