If, like me you have wondered why do dogs lick you, then this brief article will answer your question, along with other dog relating licking matters!
A lick of love?
Licking is instinctive to dogs. They would have been licked by their mother and will see licking as normal behaviour. We don’t know the exact reason dogs like to lick their humans, but it could easily be they are licking you to show you respect and possibly affection.
Licking for Attention
Licking could also be a sign of your dog trying to get your attention. In my house, licking is not uncommon around the evening meal time. I’m in no doubt that licking at 1730 – 1800 hours is food related and the message my dogs are trying to convey is FEED ME …. NOW! I am also confident the reason they lick me in this instance is for attention.
What does it all mean?
No one actually knows for certain why dogs lick you, but we do know that our skin will taste a bit salty to them and dogs will no doubt like the savoury taste on their tongue, so that could be one element.
Dogs are pack animals and feel at their most comfortable when they know their place in the pack. If your dog sees you as their pack leader, it is possible they lick you to show respect by grooming you, in the same way their mother would have licked them as puppies.
In dog language, one dog licking another dog’s face is a mark of respect and polite submission. The dog who is licking is saying they consider themselves to be subordinate in rank. If the dog being licked then licks the subordinate back, it is a signal they respectfully accept the submission exhibited.
Dogs take their cue from us
Dogs learn very quickly. If we react when they lick us, they will see that as a sign to behave in the same way. A dog will not understand that you don’t want them to lick you if you say no and push them away as that is still attention. If you do not want your dog to kiss you, the best way to convey this message is to pointedly turn away. At the precise moment they stop trying to lick you, reward them with a treat. If the message needs to go up a notch, then (stand up and) walk away from your dog. They will soon associate this with undesirable behaviour.
The over-riding message to your dog is to deliberately ignore or walk away from poor or undesired behaviour and reward your dog when he displays desired behaviour. Make sure the message is consistent, whatever the behaviour, so that your dog doesn’t become confused.
If you don’t mind your dog licking you and want to encourage the behaviour, then show them you like the behaviour by rewarding them and maybe attach a cue word, such as ‘kisses’. Your dog will want to please you and in the same way we should not reward for undesired behaviour, clear signaling means we should let our dogs know (by praise or reward) when they have behaved in a desired way.
There aren’t any documented incidences of humans catching anything nasty from dog ‘kisses’ but contrary to popular myth, a dog’s mouth is not full of good bacteria. Just think of the things they lick or eat given half the chance!
Dogs can also suffer from compulsive behaviour and licking is one way of this manifesting itself. Excessive licking could be a sign of anxiety, so just take a moment to consider if there could be any underlying reason your dog’s licking seems excessive.
Animal Behaviorists could help if excessive licking is a problem and you are flummoxed as to the reason. I have sought the advice of an Animal Behaviorist in the past, even though I am an experienced dog owner and am first in line to sing their praises – they can often see things in dogs we can’t, so if you think you could do with the services of one, don’t hesitate to call one in.