9 Reasons Why Dogs Lick People
Why do dogs lick people?
There are many reasons why a dog would lick someone, licking is an instinctive behaviour that dogs are born with. Many people think that every time their dog licks them it’s out of affection but it could be because of a variety of reasons such as affection, taste, communication, for a reward/attention, to show submission, a medical reason, enjoyment, grooming or simply to investigate.
Dogs love to lick people and many dog owners think they’re giving kisses and affection, but that’s not the only reason they do it. The amount a dog licks people varies from dog to dog, some love to lick and some aren’t as communal with their tongue. Just keep in mind excessive licking in the same spot might be a bigger issue that you should consult your vet about. Read on to find out some of the reasons why dogs lick people 👅
As a sign of affection
The first thing a mother does for her puppy when it’s born is lick it to clear its nostrils so that the puppy can breathe, this will also stimulate the blood flow when they are born. Often, the litter will lick the puppy too which will improve their packs bond. Both puppies and adult dogs naturally show affection by licking both people and other dogs.
Dogs tend to use their nose and mouth to pick up a lot of information and because of this, they will sometimes lick another dog's urine or faeces as a way of understanding what they're smelling more. Probably one of the biggest factors is that you taste good. Our skin can be quite salty or have some residue on it from the food we’ve just eaten and dogs love this. It’s an interesting taste that dogs love to explore.
In the wild, wolves would lick their mothers face when they wanted to feed as the mother would regurgitate food from their hunt. Dogs nowadays will often lick the mouth and face of dogs they meet as a form of communication. They may lick their owners or the face of a stranger or other dog to figure out their intentions too. This is not just for dogs either, you'll often see dogs lick the face of people too to try and work out what their intentions are or to show submission.
For a reward/attention seeking
When a dog licks us, we’ll tend to respond in a paw-sitive manner often paying attention to the dog and giving them a pet. Even if you’re just trying to get them off you, it’s more encouragement for the dog. To further this, when a dog licks it releases endorphins which makes the dog feel calm and comforted.
To show submission
For very similar reasons as the communication section, as puppies instinctively lick their mother’s mouth for food, licking other’s mouths is used as a form of interacting with other dogs and letting them know they’re superior to them or they mean no harm. A very subtle, but effective, way of communicating as a dog.
For a medical issue
If your dog is repeatedly licking the same spot this may be something more sinister. This could be something like anxiety or something a bit more serious like sensitive skin or an allergic reaction. If you see your dog doing this, it’s best to consult a vet and get a proper diagnosis. These can often be figured out and treated quite well, for example, sensitive skin or an allergic reaction can be very much down to diet.
Dogs can get bored or lonely and licking can provide a little bit of enjoyment from the endorphins released but also brings whoever they’re licking into the situation. It brings them attention and gives them something to do.
Your dogs have a much better sense of smell than us humans, they may lick you to get some dirt or something smelly off your skin. Similar to how a mum will lick their finger and wipe your face before you go out, a dog will lick you to clean you too.
Dogs are naturally inquisitive, and their tongues are packed with sensors. Their sense of taste and smell are very much connected and work in tandem with each other. You'll see them on a walk running around smelling and tasting everything. They are able to taste and smell a huge range of things after they lick you including where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing.
- Albuquerque N, Guo K, Wilkinson A, Resende B, Mills DS. Mouth-licking by dogs as a response to emotional stimuli. Behav Processes. 2018 Jan;146:42-45. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2017.11.006. Epub 2017 Nov 10. PMID: 29129727.
- Should I let my dog lick my face? The Guardian
- Dogs mouth-lick to communicate with angry humans University of Lincoln
- Should You Let Your Dog Lick Your Face? The New York Times
- Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face, and Is It a Problem? PetMD
- Why Do Dogs Like to Lick People? The Spruce Pets
- Why do dogs lick us? Dr Marty Becker
- Why Is My Dog Licking Me? American Kennel Club
- Why do dogs lick? Blue Cross