Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Ever wondered why your dog seems absolutely committed to the process of giving you a face bath with their tongue?

The first licking experienced by a puppy comes from its mother even before the pup’s eyes are open. Licking is used to groom the pup and, after feeding, to cause urination and defecation. It is doubtful that a young pup consciously considers licking a dominant behaviour.

However, the act of licking can acquire various other meanings to puppies as they mature and gain feedback from other animals (including people) they lick.

Licking by neonatal pups is usually aimed at the dam’s mouth and, at least in wild canines, elicits a gratifying regurgitation of food by the dam for its offspring. Oh yes, you read that right. It may suddenly occur to you, if you didn’t know already, that your dog’s licking attack is not a show of unbridled affection but more an attempt to make you throw up in order that they can scoff whatever it is you last ate. Sweet, yes?

Licking another animal can broadly be classified as care-seeking behaviour. However, in some females and apparently “feminized” males, licking may occur as a genuine mutual grooming gesture, which could be considered dominant behaviour in such situations. When one dog tries to lick the genitals of another, the behaviour is considered submissive. This is usually practised by submissive pack members toward their dominant counterparts.

When Excessive Licking Becomes a Problem

Licking seems to acquire different meanings when the puppy is brought into the human group. The significance of licking then depends on the type of feedback provided by the pup or its owners. The old idea that dogs lick our hands to benefit from the salt on our skin rarely applies to licking problems.

Rather, the problem generally involves a submissive dog and a permissive owner. In these cases, early episodes of licking are permitted (some people feel genuinely flattered when their dog licks them) and the dog appears to enjoy the owner’s response.

In many cases, licking is a factor in another type of problem behaviour. These usually involve the dog’s use of licking to dominate the owner’s attentions or to demonstrate its dominant feelings relative to the owner.

How Can Licking Be Prevented?

Licking is a problem only when the owner is present. Therefore licking is usually easily stopped merely by telling the dog not to do it or by moving away and avoiding it. After a few days or weeks of this rejection, the problem disappears. However, this procedure does not correct the basis of the problem, that is, attempts to dominate the owner.

In addition to discouraging licking, the dog must be taught to respond to commands, and owner adjustments made if the dog is “coddled” or otherwise doted on. When it seeks petting or tries to dominate the owner, it should be given a simple command, such as Sit, and then petted briefly as a reward for obedience.

It is recommended that you use some intervening stimulus when the dog begins to pester you. Whether this involves introduction of a chewable toy that the pet is urged to fetch, or a sharp sound, the goal is to divert the animal’s mind off licking and onto something else. During the initial stages of correction, there may be seen many types of substitutional behaviour, such as whining, pacing or self-licking. If ignored, this behaviour usually disappears in a few days.

Ever wondered how septic is a dog’s mouth might be?

Since bacteria do not break through the body’s protective barrier, namely the skin, we needn’t worry about having a dog lick us and our subsequently contracting a disease. However, from the point of aesthetics, dogs do sniff every conceivable pile or puddle of excrement deposited in the streets by other dogs, so many people may deem it ill-advised to allow a dog to lick them on the mouth. This choice is entirely personal. The people who sleep with their dogs usually allow all manner of familiarity, including kissing.

[sws_yellow_box box_size=”200″]  Worth a read: Is it Safe to Let Dogs Lick Your Face? [/sws_yellow_box]


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  1. Mike 4 years ago
  2. John Russell 4 years ago
  3. phil and hales 4 years ago

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