Dog licking owner as they work on laptop

Key takeaway

Dogs may lick you due to a variety of reasons, including a need for affection, attention seeking, stress, or underlying health conditions. If your dog falls into the habit of excessive licking, it can create issues for your dog and household. This behavior can be managed through several safe approaches.

If you have recently welcomed a new pup to your household, you might be enjoying all the mischief that they get up to around your home. But as your new dog runs around, gets excited for walks, and seems over the moon each time it sees you, you might start wondering about the age old question of why do dogs lick you. This also holds true if your older dogs suddenly can’t get enough of your attention, and shower you with affection every chance they get.

But as much as you may want to think that your dog’s licks are a sign of affection, that is not always the case. Apart from showing emotion via one of the most evident ways that they can, dogs may also lick you because they feel lonely, require attention, or even think that you taste nice. Licking is also a submissive behavior, so they may be asking you not to do something.

With several different explanations at hand, it is common to wonder which one is the most suitable reason for your dog to smother you with their slobbery kisses. Whether you are teaching dog commands or taking puppy photos, this line of thought may also make itself known at random moments of your day.

To help you put your mind at ease and find an answer to these amusing inquiries, here is a lowdown on some of the reasons dogs may lick people.

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Dogs may lick people due to a variety of reasons that range from their emotional joy to their physical discomfort. Keeping this in mind, the underlying reasons of why your dog is licking you may go deeper than a simple kiss from your pup.

With that being said, many of the reasons why your dog may seem eager to lick you are quite amusing in their explanation. This means that typically, you don’t have anything to worry about besides getting some slobbery kisses from your eager pup. But if the habit grows out of hand or your dog’s repeated licks disturb your peace, you may want to look into the cause of their behavior.

Apart from your own comfort, you may also want to determine a reason for your dog’s behavior for their own good. It’s because excessive licking may also relate to a number of problems that might be troubling your pup. Since these issues may range from separation anxiety to physical ailment, it’s helpful to learn about them and know when to do something more than wiping your face after your dog licks you.

Reasons dogs lick humans

What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks You?

Attention Seeking

When thinking about the question “why does a dog lick you”, you may come to a wide variety of conclusions.

Remember that it revolves around a critical aspect.

One of the biggest reasons relates to their need for attention. This is most often the case when your dog wants to burn off excess energy by getting some playtime. This behavior is also most apparent when you get back home after a day of work, only to find your pup being excited to go out or do other physical activities.

If you receive this call for attention with a smiling face and give your dog what they want in terms of playtime or pets, you may want to get ready for a repetition of this behavior. It’s because whenever you welcome a behavior, your pup gets the signal that it is exactly what they should be doing on a daily basis.

Affection

If you have ever had a general conversation about what does it mean when a dog licks you, the answers that you get mostly suggest that your dog is showing their affection towards you. While your dog giving you some well-deserved love is not the only reason behind them licking you, it is certainly one of the biggest motivators for their behavior.

Similar to how we show emotions through our words and physical gestures, dogs often outline their feelings by licking their loved ones. As a result, you may find yourself being subject to repeated licking whenever your dog is feeling extra affectionate towards you. It is their way of telling you that you are a part of their little world, which is not a bad thing at all if the licking doesn’t grow to an overwhelming level.

A dog who licks you may also be asking you not to do something. It’s important to be able to differentiate between affectionate and non-affectionate licking. Learning to read your dog’s body language can help you interpret what they’re trying to tell you. For example, if they are also showing signs of stress, they want you to stop your behavior.

Taste

This might be too amusing to hear, but your dog may be licking you because they think that you taste good. This is especially true if your dog cannot get enough of licking your hands or your face after a long day outside, which is an indication that they like the taste of salt that sweat brings on your skin.

Other reasons that may bring upon licking for taste is your use of certain toiletries such as body butters or lotions. Sometimes, your dog may want to lick your face right after you have had something to eat. While extremely adorable, this behavior can also grow to a cause of concern if it becomes too frequent for comfort. That is why you might need to look into controlling this activity before it affects the bond between you and your pup.

Dog licking human from stress

Stress

Some dogs may want to lick you when they are feeling particularly stressful. This type of behavior may stem from dog anxiety or frustration. In case your dog is worried about something and wants to call your attention to it, they may try to engage you through licking. They may also lick themselves, nearby objects, and even you to comfort and soothe themselves. Sometimes, this licking can be a result of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

This is where your responsibility as a pet parent stands out in full force and requires you to determine what type of thing or situation is stressing out your dog. This might be difficult to discover at first. But noticing other behaviors such as your dog not listening to you or sniffing the ground repeatedly may help you tell their stressed behavior apart from their usual call for attention.

Medical Condition

In some cases, the answer to why dogs lick you may lie within a medical condition. This could happen in situations where your dog is having problems about a physical change but remains unable to express their discomfort. For example, one study suggests that the excessive licking of surfaces (e.g. floors, couches, and walls) is connected to nausea and GI disease.1 Other common physical causes of frequent licking include:

  • Dental disease
  • Neurological disorders
  • Pain
  • Dog itching

If your pup is also licking itself a lot, the behavior may also open doors to a variety of other issues such as hair loss in dogs. This practice is also more apparent in older dogs who are disconcerted by mental struggles such as dementia. In case you cannot determine any other cause of your dog’s licking behavior, getting them checked by a vet would be a good idea. This helps you rule out or determine the medical reasons behind their licking.

When Does Licking Become Problematic?

A dog licking you is adorable to the point of being desirable by some pet owners. But even when you perceive it as a sign of affection more than anything else, the behavior is only cute to a certain degree. If licking behaviors start interfering with your daily tasks or your dog’s wellbeing such as sleep or playtime, it is time to manage the behavior and determine underlying symptoms.

When does licking become problematic?

Otherwise, this may lead to issues such as a misbehaving dog, or even cause physical ailments for your pup. In some cases, you may simply not like being licked by your dog to a significant extent. That is where you can take certain measures to put a stop to this behavior.2

How to Stop Your Dog’s Excessive Licking

If your dog’s licking behavior becomes too much for your comfort, you can follow some popular tips to put a stop to it.

How to stop your dog’s excessive licking

Address Underlying Medical Conditions

In case the licking behavior of your pup is not managed through behavioral training, there might be some underlying medical issues that are causing it. That is where you need to make sure that your pup is getting the care that they need. Telemedicine for pets is a good place to start and get qualified advice from the comfort of your home. But you can also take your pet to a vet for this purpose.

Help Them Spend Their Energy

In case frequent licking starts causing you discomfort, you can make sure that your pup is getting their required physical stimulation through a walk or playtime. For instance, if you are busy throughout the day, you can hire a dog walker to give your dog the attention they need. This makes sure that they don’t have any pent up energy that may manifest into licking. You can also invest in a food toy to give your dog a healthy outlet for their behavior.

Redirect the Activity

If your dog seems keen on licking you every time they see you, you can look into redirecting the activity without rewarding their licking. For instance, you can ask your dog to sit and engage them with a toy as a reward. This helps you steer clear from reinforcing the behavior while also stopping excessive licking in an effective way. Redirection can also work with other behaviors such as playing fetch or taking your dog outside.

Engage in Trick Training

Trick training is an excellent way to keep your dog stimulated through mentally and physically engaging behavior. These activities are also quite enjoyable for a lot of dogs, which means that you are also fulfilling your pup’s need for fun on a regular basis. This is yet another measure to curb any excess energy from your dog. For trick training, you can employ a variety of approaches and commands to keep your dog busy and away from licking behaviors.

Deny Attention When Licking Occurs

If your dog is licking you too much for no apparent reason, deny them attention when they’re doing the behavior. This means not looking, touching, or speaking to your dog as they lick you. You can also walk away and out of the room for a few seconds.

This step is particularly helpful when your dog is simply licking you because they want to release their energy. This tells them that excessive licking is not rewarding them and stops the reinforcement of their behavior in the long run.

Why Do Dogs Lick You?: Frequently Asked Questions

Why does a dog lick you?

There are several reasons why your dog might lick you. These include but are not limited to a need for attention, a likeness for the taste of your skin, high levels of stress, or underlying health problems. In many cases, the cause is as simple as your dog showing you some love.

Is it OK for dogs to lick you?

It is fine for dogs to lick you. But if the licking grows to an excessive degree, you should look into it and work towards managing the behavior.

Are dog licks kisses?

Dog licks can be equivalent to kisses when they are trying to show affection, but that is not always the case. In many scenarios, your dog might be licking you due to some other reason. It is important to determine the cause to make sure it does not stem from any discomfort.

Final Notes

Dog licks are considered a sign of affection by many pet parents. But that is not the only cause behind them. When licking behaviors grow excessive, it is time for you to look into managing them. In some situations, you may also need to rule out physical health problems or mental health conditions such as itching or OCD that might be causing the licking behavior.

At Dutch, our platform connects you to qualified vets who specialize in managing pet behaviors. Through our remote solutions, highly skilled vets are able to answer your questions regarding your dog’s licking behavior and provide medical intervention when required. This not only helps you take care of your pup to the best of your ability, but also lets you get high quality care right through your phone’s screen.

To see how our convenient solution can help you, don’t hesitate to explore our platform today. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything, our team is just a message away.

References

  1. Bécuwe-Bonnet, Véronique, et al. "Gastrointestinal disorders in dogs with excessive licking of surfaces." Journal of Veterinary Behavior 7.4 (2012): 194-204.
  2. American Kennel Club. 2022. Why Is My Dog Licking Me? Tips To Identify And Alleviate Problem Licking. [online] Available at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/advice/why-is-my-dog-licking-me