Why Do Golden Retrievers Lick You – Is it Normal & What Does it Mean?
Golden Retrievers are affectionate and sociable dogs and licking is a natural behavior for them. Licking can be considered normal for Golden Retrievers and many other dog breeds. It is their way of communicating and showing affection towards their owners and other members of their pack.
Science Behind Golden Retriever Licking
Instinctual Nature of Licking: Licking is an innate behavior in dogs that stems from their wolf ancestors. Wolf packs engage in grooming rituals to maintain social bonds and licking serves a similar purpose for domesticated dogs. It helps reinforce social hierarchy and strengthen the bond between dogs and their human companions.
Neurological and Physiological Reasons: Licking releases endorphins in dogs, promoting a sense of pleasure and relaxation. It also triggers the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” which helps in forming strong emotional connections and bonds.
Top 10 Reasons Why Your Golden Retriever Licks You
Golden Retrievers have various reasons for licking and understanding these motivations can provide valuable insights into their behavior. Here are the top ten reasons why your Golden Retriever may lick you:
- Affection and Bonding: Licking is a way for Golden Retrievers to express love and affection towards their owners. It reinforces the bond and helps them feel closer to their human companions.
- Grooming and Cleanliness: Dogs are naturally clean animals and licking is an instinctual behavior for self-grooming. They may lick you as a way to clean themselves or to help you clean specific areas, such as wounds or injuries.
- Communication and Attention-Seeking: Dogs use licking as a form of communication. Your Golden Retriever may lick you to seek attention, to communicate their needs, or to let you know they want to play.
- Submission and Appeasement: Licking can be a submissive gesture in dogs. If your Golden Retriever licks you excessively, they may be trying to show submission or appease you.
- Taste and Curiosity: Dogs have a keen sense of taste and they may lick you simply because they find your skin salty or appealing. They may also lick to explore and learn about their environment.
- Stress Relief and Comfort: Licking can provide dogs with a soothing effect, helping them cope with stress and anxiety. If your Golden Retriever is licking excessively, it could be a sign of underlying stress or discomfort.
- Anxiety or Insecurity: Dogs may resort to licking when they feel anxious or insecure. It can serve as a coping mechanism and provide them with a sense of comfort.
- Health Issues and Sensory Exploration: Dogs have a remarkable sense of smell and they may lick you to explore your scent or detect any changes in your body that may indicate an underlying health issue.
- Reinforcement and Conditioning: If your Golden Retriever has received positive reinforcement for licking in the past, they may continue the behavior as they associate it with rewards or attention.
- Environmental Factors and Learned Behavior: External stimuli, such as the taste of food residue on your skin or the texture of your clothes, can trigger licking behavior. Additionally, dogs can learn to lick through observation and imitation of other dogs or humans.
Is it Safe to Let My Golden Retriever Lick Me?
While licking is generally safe, there are important factors to consider to ensure both your and your dog’s well-being:
Zoonotic Diseases and Hygiene: Dogs carry various bacteria and parasites in their mouths, which can be transmitted to humans through licking. Although the risk of contracting zoonotic diseases from dogs is relatively low, it’s important to maintain good hygiene practices:
- Avoid letting your Golden Retriever lick your face, especially near the mouth, to minimize the risk of transferring bacteria.
- If you have open wounds, cuts, or skin abrasions, it’s best to avoid letting your dog lick those areas to prevent infection.
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water after interacting with your dog or allowing them to lick you.
Allergies and Sensitivities: Some individuals may be allergic or sensitive to dog saliva. If you or a family member experience allergic reactions, skin irritations, or discomfort due to licking, it’s important to take precautions:
- Avoid direct contact between your skin and your dog’s saliva if you have known allergies or sensitivities.
- Consider consulting with a healthcare professional to determine the cause of any adverse reactions and to discuss appropriate measures.
Training and Boundaries: Establishing boundaries with your Golden Retriever regarding licking behavior can help ensure a healthy and balanced interaction:
- Teach your dog the “leave it” or “no lick” command to discourage excessive licking.
- Redirect their attention to appropriate behaviors, such as sitting calmly or offering a toy, when they show signs of wanting to lick.
- Reinforce positive behaviors through reward-based training, encouraging them to exhibit alternative forms of affection and communication.
How to Stop Your Golden Retriever Licking You?
While licking is a natural behavior for Golden Retrievers, excessive or unwanted licking can become a concern. Here are some effective strategies to help manage and redirect your Golden Retriever’s licking behavior:
- Positive Reinforcement Training Methods: Use positive reinforcement techniques to reward desired behaviors, such as sitting calmly instead of licking.
- Redirecting the Licking Behavior: Provide your Golden Retriever with an alternative behavior, such as playing with a chew toy or fetching a ball, to redirect their licking impulses.
- Using Commands and Cues: Teach your dog commands such as “sit” or “leave it” to help control their licking behavior.
- Consistency and Persistence in Training: Consistency is key when training dogs. Reinforce the desired behavior consistently and discourage licking through gentle redirection or by withdrawing attention.
- Seeking Professional Help if Needed: If your Golden Retriever’s licking behavior persists or becomes excessive to the point of causing distress or harm, consult a veterinarian or professional dog behaviorist for guidance and assistance.
When to Seek Professional Help
While occasional licking is normal, excessive or obsessive licking can indicate underlying issues. Consider seeking professional help if you observe the following:
- Excessive and Compulsive Licking: If your Golden Retriever is obsessively licking themselves or objects to the point of causing harm, it may be a sign of underlying anxiety, allergies, or compulsive behavior.
- Physical Symptoms: If your dog’s skin appears red, inflamed, or infected due to excessive licking, professional intervention is necessary.
- Persistent Discomfort: If your Golden Retriever shows signs of discomfort, restlessness, or changes in appetite and behavior alongside excessive licking, consulting a veterinarian or dog behaviorist is recommended.
- Impact on Quality of Life: If your dog’s licking behavior affects their well-being or interferes with their ability to carry out normal daily activities, professional help should be sought.