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Why Do Dogs Lick Us?

Updated on October 6, 2012

Dogs Like to Lick People's Faces

There are many reasons a dog may lick their owner's face.
There are many reasons a dog may lick their owner's face. | Source

Why Do Dogs Lick Us?

There are many theories as to why dogs lick, and no one can be sure exactly why. Mother dogs lick their puppies to keep them clean and groomed, and to help stimulate the young dog’s body functions. Licking feels warm and gentle to a dog, and they may retain these memories as they grow.

It has been observed that wolf puppies and young adolescent wolves greet the adult wolves who return from hunting. All the pups gather around the returning wolves and lick them on the chin and the mouth to activate them to regurgitate a meal for them, or to taste the leftover crumbs from their meal. This also helps keep the other dogs clean, and reduce odors that animals who may prey on them could smell.

Licking is also viewed as a sign of respect and is almost always seen as a submissive behavior to the alpha dog and others that are higher in the social order of their pack.

Other reasons dogs lick:

  • Licking can relieve their boredom.
  • Licking can be a stress reliever.
  • Licking my be a sign of affection to us, to get us to pay attention to them.
  • Dogs may lick to show respect to their leader. It has been observed that the lower ranking dogs in the pack, tend to lick the most.
  • Dogs are looking for positive reactions back from us, when they lick us. Often, we unconsciously encourage this behavior by reacting to their kisses.
  • Dogs can sense when we are sweating and may lick us because of the smell of salt or other reasons.
  • Dogs most likely also lick for social reasons.

Training Your Dog

You can train your dog to not lick people.
You can train your dog to not lick people. | Source

There Are Many Reasons Dogs Lick People

When dogs become stressed or nervous, they may lick their lips, bite their feet, or excessively lick their fur. If your dog is compulsively licking themselves, it may be a sign that something is upsetting them. If your dog is licking furniture, walls, concrete, rugs, floors, and other unusual items, they may be bored, or there may be a condition that your vet might need to diagnose.

Dogs may lick us as a sign of affection. Dogs may lick us because they were licked by their mothers from birth. Mother dogs lick their newborn puppies to stimulate them to begin breathing. They lick their pups to keep them clean. Licking is a natural instinct that puppies learn from their mothers. Licking is also a gesture of submission.

Dominant dogs do less licking, and get licked more by the subordinate dogs. This is part of the social order and helps keep harmony in the pack. They lick you, to show that you are the one in charge. Licking also helps a canine use their scent receptors from their nose and mouth to gather information about the person they are licking.

Sweat gives a dog information about the person. Our feet have many sweat glands, and this may be the reason dogs are attracted to licking our feet. Dogs also like the taste of salt. Our sebaceous glands send signals about ourselves, whether we are feeling stressed, fear, happiness, and other emotions.

Dogs lick because it gives them pleasure and a sense of comfort and security. When a dog licks their owners when strangers are around, they are showing the other person that their owner is important to them.

What to Do With a Dog Who Licks Excessively

For as many reasons as a dog licks, it is very important to train your pet so that it is not done excessively to you or other people.

To teach a dog to not lick as much, there are specific things you should do and not do.

A dog that licks excessively is by nature, an insecure dog. They feel a strong need and desire to show their affection and get your approval. If you punish the dog by saying no or holding their mouth closed, the desire to lick will only intensify and make them more insecure.
You can help your dog feel more secure by reinforcing the behaviors that you want them to do. Reward your dog for sitting quietly on the couch next to you.

Help them understand that sitting side by side calmly can be rewarding for your pet. Rub their stomach, give them loving attention, and even give them a treat for this behavior.

Dogs have a purpose for licking their humans. It is a very common form of communication, as a greeting, to show friendliness. They lick our hands, often after sniffing it. Licking to a dog, is a form of social bonding, no different than primates who do social grooming or stroke each other.

Licking Begins From Birth

We will never really know the true answer, as to why dogs lick us. It does appear that dogs may do it at different times for different reasons. We know licking starts from the time the puppies are born. It is part of the mother’s biology to lick her newborn pups.

In addition to cleaning them up after birth and stimulating them to breathe. Licking also stimulates the puppies to eliminate feces and urine in the first few weeks of life. Additionally, licking helps mother and babies to bond, and becomes a form of comfort behavior. It is believed licking also spurs mental development. At about 6 weeks old, puppies lick their mother’s lips when they are hungry to signal her to regurgitate food so they can eat.

Licking is also part of the socialness and pack order of the species. Dogs who lick other dogs are showing submission and is another part of their communicative system. Dogs lick themselves as part of their grooming habits.

When dogs are nervous or feel stressed they will lick themselves, sometimes excessively. If they excessively lick themselves, they can injure themselves.

Some dogs will lick everything in sight, from walls and furniture to anything they see. It is usually the result of a dog feeling overanxious. Sometimes the dog may need medication to ease their anxiety and break the cycle of acting out on their nervousness.

Dogs may lick to please and show their affection to their owners. Some people attribute this to a form of pet kissing.

Some dogs lick their owners face, just because they can. They are demanding attention of the more dominant one. If a dog licks their owner’s face and their behavior is reinforced with attention and praise, they are likely to keep repeating the behavior.

Some Dogs Lick Their Owner's Feet

A dog may have a vestigal reason, something going back to their ancestry, for licking their owner’s face, but we attribute human qualities to it, and make incorrect assertions about the reason. When we give animals human traits, we anthropomorphize them.

Although we love our dogs dearly, and they most definitely are part of our family, they are not human. Their sense of smell and taste is far superior to ours. When they lick our faces, their sense of taste is hundreds of times superior to ours, and gives them information about us. Dogs, by nature survive in a world where pack order is part of their societal norms. By licking, they are showing submissive behavior.

Dogs sometimes lick constantly, out of boredom. Some dogs could lick because they have a mental problem. Licking may be a way for a dog to soothe themselves when they feel distressed.

Some dogs like to lick their owner’s feet. We secrete pheromones from the glands in our feet. Dogs probably smell these very strongly.

Licking may also be a form of playing and socializing. It can also be a form of obsessive compulsive behavior.

Licking Can Turn Into a Chronic Habit

It is always a good idea to speak to your veterinarian, if you feel your dog’s licking is out of control.

Never hit or yell at your dog for behavior you want to change like licking. The longer your dog has been allowed to lick you, the longer it will take to retrain the dog. In order to help your dog to not lick, it is important to help them substitute the behavior.

Licking may be deeply rooted within your pet as instinctual behavior. Licking starts as an act of submission and is part of their survival instinct from puppyhood. If you want to reduce or eliminate the amount of licking your dog does, teach your dog to respond to a command, such as no licking. Then work on activities that build up your dog’s self esteem. Ordinary obedience training works well to boost your dog’s ego. When your dog starts to lick you, and then stops licking, praise them so they understand the desired behavior. If the dog licks you, teach them to sit or lay down instead of licking. The whole idea is to give them something else to do that they understand they will be a “good dog” for behaving.

Some dogs begin by licking, but then it turns into a chronic habit.

Dogs are naturally pack animals. When they become part of our family, we become part of their pack. We are the leader of the pack, and the dog will, by nature, be submissive in the pack order to us. Part of their submissiveness is to lead the dominant members of the pack.

As leaders of their pack, it is important that we let our dogs know what we expect of them. In return they will be a cooperative member of our family.


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    • profile image

      Jimbo 18 months ago

      My dog bites me and scratches me constantly this is after she licks me what does it mean

    • profile image

      Kris kris 2 years ago

      This article is a good artilce because my be licking her puppy's and I want to know and I found a good article and one of the puppy died

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Ingenira, I am glad you learned some new things about why dogs lick us. Whatever the reason, it is nice to have an affectionate dog.

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 5 years ago

      Wow... there can be so many reasons for dogs licking us apart from just showing affection. Interesting to know. :)

      Voted up !

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Shai,

      Dogs are wonderful, sweet, and affectionate. Sometimes they lick us for these reasons, and sometimes it is for other reasons. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • shai77 profile image

      Chen 5 years ago

      This is a great hub topic, and such useful information. Dogs seem to lick sometimes for the same reason we kiss-- affection. How sweet. I thought they were just smelling the last thing we ate on our breath.


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