Why do dogs lick?

by Josh Weiss-Roessler

See if this sounds familiar: After going for a long walk with your dog and feeding her, you sit down to relax. She comes over, so you start petting her, but as soon as you do, the licking begins. You’re not a fan, but it isn’t a big deal at first… and then it progresses until she’s slobbering all over your face.

This happens every single time you offer affection! Why?

Dogs lick their pack members and themselves for many reasons, and if you want to curb the behavior, it helps to understand its cause.

We taste good
If your dog is licking their bowl, the floor after a spill, or the counter after you’ve been cooking, you might pretty easily come to the conclusion that they simply like the taste. But did you know that the same thing can be true when they’re licking us? Sometimes we have tiny food particles that they can taste, and beyond that, dogs enjoy the salt on our skin.

Grooming
You might not think of your pup as particularly concerned with hygiene, but dogs often lick to clean themselves, just like cats. Pay close attention, though, because excessive anal cleaning can indicate that the glands need to be expressed.

Healing
Dog saliva has enzymes that kill off bacteria, and when a dog licks himself, it helps to get rid of dead tissue and clean dirt from wounds. Some dogs, however, just can’t stop themselves and may actually reopen wounds or cause other kinds of harm through excessive licking.

Compulsion
Speaking of excessive licking, if you notice that your dog is licking the same object or area over and over or that they seem to be doing so whenever they are scared or nervous, it might be time to seek medical help. While licking can be a healthy stress reliever, obsessive licking merely reinforces anxiety and makes the problem worse.

Communication
Dogs lick other dogs to tell them all sorts of things: everything from “I’m hungry” to “I submit to you” to “Let’s be friends.” They do this with people as well, but we’re typically not as good at interpreting the message. If your dog is licking you with intensity, take a look around and see if something is amiss. Maybe the water bowl is empty or the doggie door is closed. Chances are your dog needs something.

Affection
This is the most common reason that domestic dogs lick and tends to be the kind of licking most pet parents want to change. Licking for affection causes your dog to release pleasurable endorphins that calm and comfort them, but sometimes it can just get to be too much for people. If you want your dog to stop, ignore them and walk into another room whenever it begins. Eventually they will learn that licking causes you to leave, which isn’t what they want.

We all love dogs, but are there any dog behaviors that are annoying to you? Let it out in the comments.

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