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Why Do Dogs Lick + How to Manage Excessive Licking

A kiss from our favorite pup is bittersweet - the sentiment is so genuinely sweet, but the face full of slobber can be pretty gross. When our dogs aren’t licking us, they’re grooming and testing the world around them with their tongues - learn more about the many reasons our dogs lick instinctually. 

Like us, dogs use their five senses to understand and interact with the world around them. And, as food-driven animals, they often choose to taste and experience things with their mouths and tongue.

Why do dogs lick you? 

A dog is licking you because he loves you! Or because you have some tasty morsels on your hands from lunch. 

There are plenty of reasons why our dogs lick us, so let’s go through the common causes for dog licking behavior to help you decipher what your pup is trying to communicate to you. 

When Does Licking Begin?

A pup learns about licking straight from birth. Female dogs lick their newborn puppies to clean and comfort them.

The initial lick from a puppy’s momma is more than just a clean-up job - licking stimulates a pup’s blood flow and helps get their intestines moving so they can begin to defecate and urinate properly. 

As pups grow, they continue to find reasons to lick themselves, their littermates, their owners, and the world around them. 

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Why Does My Dog Lick Me?

Dogs lick people to communicate something to them - usually, they’re expressing affection, but also for many other reasons. 

Reason #1: They Enjoy Our Taste

Humans have salty skin, which becomes even saltier as we exercise or release extra sweat. Some dogs find this salty taste pretty delicious and will lick us to get a little more of this tasty treat. 

A dog’s sensitive little nose can pick up on so many scents that ours can’t, and while you may think you’ve cleaned up well after eating, your dog may think otherwise - if they smell food residue on you or your breath, you can bet they’re gearing up to go in for a big lick to ‘help you clean up.’

If you’ve eaten peanut butter anytime in the last 3 hours, prepare yourself for some serious puppy attention. 

Reason #2: Expressing Affection

Does your dog try to lick your face often? Well, wild pups lick their returning scavenging mother’s face to help her regurgitate their next meal. Yuck.

So, is your dog trying to make you throw up your food for them? 

Not likely, as experts claim that adult dogs lick our faces as a greeting and to show affection. So instead of throwing up some food for your pup when they lick your face, take it as a sweet way of saying, “Hi, I’m glad to see you again!”

This love is one of the best reasons to get a dog - our pups completely live to be with and around us and show their love.

Pups will usually lick the face if they can, but they’ll settle for other body parts like your hands, feet, legs, and arms instead if they can’t reach that high. 

Some dogs lick for affection more than others, which comes down to how their mothers raised them. If a mother dog licks their pup a ton, the doggy will likely lick more often than puppies licked less often. 

Reason #3: Attention-Seeking + Rewards

A bored pup that requires some affection will start pulling out the cutest and sweetest tricks in the book to try to garner some of your attention.

We usually respond well to a pup sweetly licking us, and dogs learn that this behavior tends to get them some positive feedback. 

Our pups will lick us for treats, water, exercise, bathroom breaks, or merely some loving affection.

Reason #4: Sign of Submission

Why does my dog lick feet?

Dogs are pack animals, and every grown dog knows their owner is their alpha. Why? We’re in control of their food and safety, first and foremost. 

Our dogs will lick us, especially our feet, to communicate that they know and acknowledge that we are their alpha, as a sign of submission.

It’s a sweet and practical gesture that helps dogs stay deeply entwined with their pack so the alpha doesn’t feel threatened to reject them. 

Reason #5: Medical Issues

If your dog displays excessive licking behaviors, they may be struggling with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other medical issues. 

If your dog’s licking seems out of control, head to a vet to get them tested for other underlying emotional or physical issues, as they may need further treatment.

Reason #6: Grooming and Self-Soothing

Grooming us is another sign of affection from our canine companions. As pups learn licking as a grooming tool from their mamas, they learn to groom the things they love - in this case, us. 

I guess they didn’t get the memo that a shower works just fine for us humans.

Reason #7: Investigation

If you return home and your dog starts licking you out of curiosity, not affection, they’re using their licking as a tool to figure out where you were, what you did, and who you saw! And most importantly, what other dogs and food you touched without their consent.

Hopefully, you did not commit the cardinal sin, and dared go to visit another dog without them present. 

A dog’s tongue is so sensitive that it makes a handy investigative tool, especially combined with their sniffing snouts. 

How to Stop a Dog Licking Your Face

Do you find your dog licks you a little too much or goes in for a face lick when you’d prefer them to lick your hand?

As we mentioned, if your pup’s licking seems genuinely out of control with underlying concerns, take them to the vet for an exam. 

Otherwise, there are ways to train this behavior out of your pup.

  • Whenever your dog starts to lick, ignore them completely. Once a puppy realizes they aren’t going to get attention in this way, it will become a much less appealing tactic for them. 
  • Get up and walk away as your pup is licking. When the dog stops the behavior, offer it attention, rewards, and lots of love, so they learn that not licking will pay off better than licking ever did.
  • You can also train your dog to give kisses as you see fit, without getting out of control. Work on a command word of your choice, like “Kisses,” and show your pup the place they may lick you within reason. Give them verbal rewards for the desired behavior, and deny attention if they go overboard with the licking. 

May you have many sweet, slobbery kisses in your future!

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