Why Do Dogs Lick People?

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Licking is a natural behavior for dogs but not for humans so when your dog licks you, it requires a little interpretation on your part. Dogs are licking or being licked from the time they are born. Puppies are licked by their mothers right away to warm and dry them and help them start nursing. Dogs lick to taste things, to clean themselves, to tend to an injury, to communicate, and to show affection. They can lick us for all of these same reasons in various circumstances.

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Most often your dog probably licks you to show affection. Licking is calming to your dog and makes him feel good. He assumes that it makes you feel good, too, because other dogs like it. Some dogs like to lick more than others but if you have a dog that enjoys licking you, he’s just showing you that he loves you. Of course, some dogs go overboard with the licking. They can lick and slobber all over you! It can get to be a little too much, especially if your dog is licking your face. If you want your dog to go easy on the licking, just get up and leave when your dog’s licking is too intense. Your dog will get the message that you don’t like it.

Dogs also use licking to communicate with people. For example, some dogs will lick your hand to get your attention and let you know they need to go outside or that the water bowl is empty. This kind of licking is usually just a simple touch. “Hey, I know you’re busy, but I need you to do something for me.”

Have you ever had a cut or scratch that your dog wanted to lick? This is normal for a dog. A dog’s saliva contains enzymes that can kill some kinds of bacteria. In Celtic mythology and some other lore, there are tales of healing gods who had packs of dogs to help them. Your dog can lick a wound to kill bacteria, clean it, and remove dead tissue. This is probably not advised by the AMA, but your dog believes he is helping you.

People usually think of cats when they think of animals that groom themselves but dogs also groom themselves and keep themselves clean. Your dog may lick you to try to clean you. Some dogs will do this. Dogs often seem to be particularly concerned with people after they take a shower or bath – as though they think all that water might be harmful. Maybe the water removed your natural oils or scent and your dog is trying to help you restore them by licking you.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility that your dog just wants to lick you to see how you taste. If you spend time in the kitchen cooking, for example, maybe you have some bacon grease splattered on you and you taste good to your dog.

Your dog can lick you for all kinds of reasons. Some dogs are very persistent. Most of the time your dog is licking you to show affection. Again, if it bothers you, you can usually discourage your dog by getting up and leaving. Your dog will figure out that you don’t like the licking.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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