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Why Do Dogs Lick You – Is it Normal & What Does it Mean?

Dogs are known for their affectionate and loyal nature, but one aspect of their behaviour that often puzzles pet owners is licking. While licking is a common behaviour in dogs, it can sometimes be excessive or bothersome. Understanding the reasons behind licking can help pet owners better manage their behaviour and ensure a healthy, happy relationship with their four-legged friends.

Is it Normal for Dogs to Lick You?

Licking is a normal behaviour for dogs and serves various purposes, from grooming to communication. Dogs often lick themselves, their environment and their humans. Licking is a natural behaviour that starts from a young age, as puppies are groomed and cleaned by their mothers through licking. As dogs grow, licking becomes a part of their daily routine and communication with their human companions.

Science Behind Dog Licking

From an evolutionary perspective, licking serves several crucial functions for dogs. In the wild, canines would lick their pack members as a form of bonding, grooming and submission. Licking also releases endorphins in the dog’s brain, creating a sense of comfort and pleasure.

Additionally, a dog’s sense of taste and smell are closely linked. When a dog licks something or someone, it is gathering information about its environment, such as the taste, scent & texture of the object or person.

Top 10 Reasons Why Your Dog Licks You

While there are many reasons why a dog may lick you, here are the top ten most common:

  1. Affection and bonding: Dogs often lick their human companions as a sign of affection and to reinforce social bonds.
  2. Grooming and cleanliness: Just as a mother dog licks her puppies to clean them, your dog may be trying to groom and care for you.
  3. Tasting salts on your skin: Dogs are attracted to the salty taste of human skin and may lick you simply because they enjoy the flavour.
  4. Attention-seeking: Licking can be a way for your dog to get your attention, especially if they have learned that it elicits a response from you.
  5. Anxiety and stress relief: As mentioned earlier, licking releases endorphins in a dog’s brain, which can help reduce anxiety and stress.
  6. Submission: Licking can be a sign of submission, showing that the dog acknowledges your authority and position in the pack.
  7. Exploratory behaviour: Dogs use their tongues to explore their environment and gather information, so licking you could be a way for them to learn more about you.
  8. Habitual behaviour: Sometimes, licking can become a habit for dogs, especially if they have been rewarded or reinforced for the behaviour in the past.
  9. Reinforcement of licking behaviour: If your dog has been praised or rewarded for licking in the past, they may continue the behaviour to seek more positive reinforcement.
  10. Medical issues: In some cases, excessive licking can be a sign of an underlying medical issue, such as allergies or gastrointestinal problems.

Is it Safe to Let My Dog Lick Me?

While most dog licks are harmless, there are some potential health risks associated with dog saliva. For example, dogs can carry bacteria like Salmonella or Campylobacter, which can cause illness in humans. However, the risk of infection from a dog lick is relatively low and many people experience the benefits of dog licking, such as increased bonding and stress reduction.

To minimise potential risks, follow these guidelines for safe dog licking:

  • Avoid letting your dog lick your face, especially near your eyes, nose, or mouth. Wash your hands thoroughly after being licked by your dog, particularly before handling food.
  • Keep your dog’s vaccinations up-to-date and ensure they receive regular veterinary checkups.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene for your dog by brushing their teeth regularly and providing dental chews or toys.

How to Stop Your Dog Licking You?

If your dog’s licking becomes excessive or bothersome, it’s essential to address the underlying cause to effectively manage the behaviour. Here are some steps to help stop your dog from licking you:

  1. Identifying the underlying cause: Determine if the licking is due to anxiety, boredom, attention-seeking, or a medical issue. Consult with a veterinarian if you suspect a health problem.
  2. Positive reinforcement training: Reward your dog for not licking by providing treats, praise, or attention when they resist the urge to lick.
  3. Redirecting licking behaviour: Offer your dog a toy or treat to redirect their attention away from licking you.
  4. Consistency in training: Make sure all family members are consistent in discouraging licking behaviour to avoid sending mixed signals to your dog.

Are Some Breeds More Prone to Paw Licking Than Others?

While all dogs may exhibit licking behaviour, some breeds are more prone to paw licking than others. Breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Poodles may be more likely to engage in excessive paw licking due to their predisposition to allergies or anxiety. Factors contributing to breed differences include genetics, breed-specific behaviours and environmental factors.

Cultural Differences in Dog Licking

Attitudes towards dog licking can vary significantly across different cultures. In some cultures, dog licking is seen as a sign of affection and bonding and is encouraged, while in others, it may be considered unhygienic or disrespectful. Understanding cultural norms and attitudes towards dog licking can help inform pet-owner relationships and expectations.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your dog’s licking becomes excessive, disruptive, or is accompanied by signs of distress or health issues, it may be time to consult with a professional. Veterinarians can help identify underlying medical issues, while professional dog trainers or behaviorists can provide guidance on managing and redirecting licking behavior.

Understanding the reasons behind your dog’s licking behavior is crucial for maintaining a healthy and happy relationship with your furry companion. By exploring the science behind licking, identifying the reasons for the behavior and addressing any underlying issues, you can ensure that both you and your dog enjoy a comfortable and fulfilling bond.

Licking Information by Breed

Are you trying to find out how much a particular breed licks? See below for detailed licking information on all of the most popular breeds.

Why Do Dogs Lick You – Is it Normal & What Does it Mean?