Why Do Dogs Lick?

There are many different reasons that your dog will lick you, both environmental and biological. Dogs lick their owners, pack members and themselves for many reasons, and if you want to change the behavior, it helps to understand why they do it.

Reasons dogs lick

  • Affection
  • Grooming
  • Communication
  • Attention Seeking
  • Behavior issue
  • Medical issue
  • To show submission
  • Humans can taste good
  • They are rewarded for it

Affection

Most people assume their dog licks them because the dog loves them. And much of the time, they are right. Your dog licks you because they love you and the dog themselves will experience pleasure as well. Licking for affection causes your dog to release pleasurable endorphins that calm and comfort them.

Grooming

Most people think of cats as cleaning when they lick themselves but dogs often lick to clean themselves as well.

Communication

Dogs will lick other dogs to tell them all sorts of things. It could be “I’m hungry” or “I submit to you” as well as “Let’s be friends.” Your dog will do this with you and other people as well, but since humans just aren’t that good at “speaking dog”, we often miss the message. 

Attention seeking

Your dog craves attention from you and will do all kinds of things to get it. It’s really not any different than how kids (and even adults) will act up to get attention from people. A kid might not lick your face to get attention (or maybe they will) but your dog certainly will.

Compulsion

We know that dogs have feelings and emotions similar to humans do, from love to fear and even anxiety. Dogs can exhibit obsessive-compulsive behavior and also suffer from anxiety. Licking can provide stress relief, but obsessive licking won’t cure anxiety and if this is the case, you need to try and treat the root cause.

Medical issue

Dogs who frequently lick their feet may be trying to soothe a persistent itch caused by allergies. Dogs who lick their anal area frequently could be suffering from allergies or may need their anal glands expressed. Consult your veterinarian if you have concerns. 

To show submission

Dogs are pack animals with many related social behaviors. Licking is often a submissive gesture to the dominant pack leader. Your dog may be showing obedience and respect to you and other humans they love.

Humans taste good

You’ve seen your dog lick their bowl, the floor or a surface where food was or a spill happened. Dogs can taste very tiny food particles and it’s possible they could lick you because they taste yummy little bits of food. Sometimes they also enjoy the salt on our skin.

They are rewarded for it

You might be rewarding your dog’s behavior when they lick you. They get attention, they may get a good scratch or rub, maybe even a treat. That’s all positive reinforcement for their licking. As we mentioned before, they may also get some pleasant endorphins from licking, so that is a reward as well.

Most of the time, your dog licking you is very normal behavior. Unless you’re seeing some sort of obsessive behavior, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. 

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