A dog will lick their owners for many and varied reasons. You have to look at the licking behavior from a dog’s perspective as to why they do it!
Here is a quick list of possible reasons why dogs lick.
- To indicate that they are subordinate to you.
- When they lick you and you reinforce that with laughter and attention, they will repeat the licks because of the reward.
- They like the salty taste on your skin.
- Your dog may be asking for food, a walk, or even a game.
Your dog has learned to lick you repeatedly because you respond by rewarding them with affection and kindness.
Licking is a way of communicating for dogs, which we humans often regard as a kiss, but in reality, it is a a natural habit to get them what they want – to maintain a strong bond with you.
Your dog will lick you as a greeting when you return to them because it strengthens your bonds.
They will lick you if you are not feeling well to say they care and understand. They are trying to make you feel better.
Whatever the reason your dog licks you, call it kisses if it makes your feel good, because it means that they think you are pretty special and you are an important part of their life.
The Purpose Behind a Dogs Lick
If your dog licks your face, it is your dog’s normal social behavior which could mean several things.
- It may be a social gesture showing respect for your position in the household.
- It could be a signal to try to get some food or a snack from you – they are asking for food. Young puppies do that to their mother to get her to regurgitate some food. The licking around the mouth is a signal for the mother to feed her youngster.
- If they lick a young child’s face, it could be simply the act of cleaning food residue off their face, especially a toddler who may have jam plastered around their face!
- If your dog licks a stranger’s face, it may be an attempt to appease the person so that they will not harm the dog or his family.
- When a dog cannot reach your face to lick, they will often lick the closest body part which may be your arm, hand, or toes.
- When a dog licks your fingers, it may be a grooming process where they can smell the residue of food on your hands, and they are cleaning it off. Dogs also like the salty taste of the sweat on people’s skin.
- Dogs are adorable creatures, they love to please us, and the act of licking is a socially acceptable way to tell us that we are pretty special to them.
Licking is Your Dog’s Way of Communicating
People use words, sounds, or body language to communicate their thoughts and desires. Dogs use their bark, wag their tail, bare their teeth, and growl to communicate.
They are either trying to tell or warn you about something they think you need to know. But licking is a more subtle method of communication.
Licking you and showing excitement could be asking you to go for a walk, or if they roll their ball to you at the same time, they want to play.
Licking is a way of confirming they want something from you, whether that be a cuddle, a snack, or just a welcome home.
You can learn to interpret their behavior, especially when it is connected to their movements. Licking you then racing to the fridge is pretty obvious, they are hungry.
Licking you with a big smile on their face as you come home from work and wiggling like a worm all around you is also pretty obvious, they are welcoming you back and are happy to see you.
Licking then looking and standing by the door to the garden possibly means they need to go outside to the toilet.
An observant person can pick up on a dog’s subtle and not-so-subtle moves.
It could be as simple as your dog just thinks you enjoy being licked, especially if you giggle or laugh and hug them back when they do it.
When a Dog Licks Your Face Is it A Health Risk?
For a healthy adult or child, dog saliva is not a health risk for intact skin. But it is not healthy to allow your dog to lick an open wound. The dog’s saliva may keep the wound moist and open to infection, which can allow bacteria to thrive, which in turn could lead to a skin infection.
Pet Md.com reported in December 2018 that there had been 12 cases over the last year where it was reported to the CDC that people got sick due to the bacteria called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which was the culprit. This bacteria is found in both cats and dogs, and is harmless to them but not to us.
The reason I am pointing out that report is to make you aware that if you allow a dog to lick your mouth or an open wound, you could get very sick.
A dog’s mouth contains a host of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and yeast, that could harm humans if their immunity was compromised.
And these things are not only inside the dog’s mouth but could be on your their face and muzzle because dogs have a habit of poking their noses into some places that are far from clean!
But having said that, your healthy immune system will soon take care of most of these intruders, but if you are immune-compromised, it would be wise to avoid dog licks on the face.
Dogs have been our companions for about 10,000 years, and we get along without too many problems. But hygiene should always be the foremost concern with animals in and around your home.
Washing your hands before you eat is important to avoid catching some of your dog’s bacteria and other nasties.
And make sure you keep your dog vaccinations, deworming, and parasite prevention up to date to protect not only your dog but for yourself as well.
Should You Allow Your Dog to Lick Your Face?
For most healthy people, a dog that licks your face or other parts of your body i.e. arm, leg, toes, and fingers, poses a minimal health risk.
- A dog’s mouth is alive with bacteria, so it is best to wash your hands after your dog has been licking them.
- If you have any open skin wounds, it is preferable not to let your dog lick those areas, as you never know what your dog has been licking before you arrived home!
- The same goes for licking your mouth, you never know what your dog licked previous to their ‘kiss.’
- For those concerned with a health risk, you can offer the underside of your chin or your fingers to lick, then use an antibacterial sanitizing spray or gel to wipe the area clean.
- Small children have less control over a boisterous dog, so train your dog not to jump up on them or lick their faces in case the licking makes them ill. Always supervise your dog when there are small children around.
- Don’t encourage a dog you don’t know to lick your face for health and safety sake.
Most pet owners love their dogs licking them, as it makes them feel loved. So it is a personal choice as to whether you train your dog to not lick your face.
Puppies are Introduced to Licking at Birth
Puppies are introduced to licking at the moment of birth, where the mother dog licks the puppy clean from the afterbirth. Licking stimulates them to breathe, and helps the puppy to go to the toilet.
The puppy is dependent on their mother for the first few weeks of their life, and she has her paws full caring for a litter of puppies. Their eyes are normally shut for the first week, so the mother will lick carefully around the eyes to help them to open.
She will continue to lick them clean, grooming them despite their feeble protests until she is satisfied by their progress.
As they grow and start to eat solid food, she will sometimes regurgitate food for them if they lick her around her mouth.
The mother dog also schools the puppies, nipping them when they forget their manners, and licking them when they are good. They associate the licking from mum as reassuring and part of family life.
So from birth until they are weaned, licking is a large part of their life.
It can be a confusing time for a little puppy when they come to your home.
They lick a lot, as it is a way of comforting themselves that everything is ok. Licking you makes them aware of your scent and presence, they are getting to know you.
So licking forms a special part of their early life, and carries on into their adult life as well.
Special Times Your Dog Wants to Lick You
Do you step out of your shower and then get inspected and vigorously licked by your dog? What is that all about?
Well from your dog’s point of view, you don’t smell like you anymore. All that shower gel and perfumed soap make you smell strange, so they are helping you to get your normal scent back.
A dog relies on scent and taste to keep them informed about their world, and when you shower, you take away that familiar scent.
What about when you come home from a long run or after a hot day, they love to lick you then. It is all that sweaty, salty perspiration that makes you particularly tasty to your dog and they will happily clean you up.
If you have just eaten something really tasty, your dog will be intrigued by that smell.
Best you wash your hands and mouth before you get licked clean like a good puppy.
Dogs Lick You Because It’s Part of Their Nature.
Dog licks or kisses, if that is the term you prefer, are instinctual and start at birth. It is part of your dog’s way of communication.
Your dog licks you to show affection, they like the way you taste, and it’s a way to reduce their stress or excitement. Or they could be asking you for food, to go for a walk, or they want to cuddle up with you.
Does it matter why they are licking you because it is a dog thing to do? If you get a dog, you should expect to be hit with their tongue at every opportunity they get to lick you.
It is just part of the doggy package that comes with owning a dog. And their welcome home performance after a hard day at work is priceless.
The excitement, the licking, zoomies, wiggling, and yawning make it sheer fun when your dog greets you like you are the most awesome human on this planet.
I’m sure you will agree that for the total dog buddy/friend/pal package, it’s worth a wet sloppy lick in the face … now and then.
Writer: Jean Brewer