Why Does My Dog Lick Me So Much?

Are they really kisses?

dog licking person's hand

One thing that dogs are known for is licking things, and their owners are no exception. But why do dogs like to lick people so much, anyway?

There are actually a bunch of reasons for why your pup won’t stop licking you.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian spokesperson for SpiritDog Training, and Dr. Sabrina Kong, a veterinarian at Lathrop Veterinary Center and veterinary writer, to find out why your dog licks you so much.

Why do dogs lick?


So why do dogs lick in the first place? Licking is an instinctive behavior that dogs learn from their mothers when they’re puppies.

“Licking is a form of communication in dogs that starts when they are first born,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo. “Mothers use licking to care for their pups, and pups learn to lick to investigate the world around them from a young age.”

Puppies continue to use licking to communicate and explore their surroundings as they get bigger.

“This behavior continues as puppies grow, and they use licking as a way to learn about what objects are and what they taste like,” Dr. Wigfall said. “You will see pups and dogs lick themselves, lick other dogs and lick people.”

Why do dogs lick people?


Plenty of dogs lick their owners, and it’s usually nothing to worry about. But if your dog’s licking you excessively, there might be an underlying issue to blame, and you should contact your vet.

Here are some common explanations for why your dog licks you or other people.

To explore


Dogs’ sense of smell is much stronger than humans’, and they use their enhanced sense of smell to understand the world. One way they do this is through their mouths — they lick things to see how they smell and taste.

“Licking helps bring smells closer to their vomeronasal organ (a scent gland), which is an organ that helps figure out what the item they are licking or smelling is,” Dr. Wigfall said.

So your dog might lick you to get to know you better.

“Dogs are licking you with a reason — to understand what’s around them, as licking things is the same thing as us touching objects,” Dr. Kong told The Dodo.

Instinct


Researchers have found that wild dogs, like wolves and coyotes, will lick the face of their mother when she comes back from hunting to get her to throw up food for them. Domestic dogs might have this same instinct to lick their owners’ faces, especially if it’s right after a meal.

To show affection and get your attention


Your dog may lick you to show that he loves you and because he wants you to give him affection in return.

Puppies lick their mothers and are licked by their mothers, which gives them a sense of comfort and affection, and they continue this when they’re adults. Some wild dogs will also lick pack members to welcome them home.

“They also lick you because they want your attention and affection but also as a way of showing you the affection they have for you,” Dr. Kong said.

When your dog licks you, you’ll probably react by praising and petting him, which makes him want to lick you more.

To show respect


Your dog might lick you to show respect. Dogs will lick more dominant members of their pack to show submission, so they may do the same to you.

“Licking might be a sign of submissive behavior, and a dog’s licking might mean they respect you,” Dr. Kong said.

He has anxiety or OCD


Dogs can lick compulsively if they have anxiety or an obsessive compulsive disorder. If your dog is licking for this reason, he won’t just be licking you — he’ll lick himself and other objects too, and the licking will be excessive.

He likes how you taste


You might just taste good to your dog. Human skin is somewhat salty (if you lick your own skin, you can probably taste it a little bit), and dogs might like the taste of it.

“Dogs might be licking you because you taste good,” Dr. Kong said. “This is most frequent after you go to the gym, when you’re salty from the sweat.”

Some lotions, perfumes or soaps can smell good to dogs too. So if you’ve ever noticed your pup licking you like crazy after you get out of the shower, he might just love the smell or taste of your body wash.

Why do dogs lick faces?


While your dog might lick your face sometimes because he smells the food you just ate, he’s probably doing it because he likes you.

“Licking of faces is often a sign of affection,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Your dog loves you and wants to tell you just how much!”

He may also be trying to bond with you as he would do with other members of his pack in the wild.

“In the wild, wolves will lick the pack leader's face, so some people wonder if the licking of a human's face is also an acknowledgement of the family bond,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Why do dogs lick your feet?


As you’re probably aware, dogs' faces are at eye level with people’s feet, so they kind of have easy access.

“People’s feet are easily accessible to a dog, whose life is often at floor level,” Dr. Wigfall said. “This is often the first reason they go for the feet.”

The grosser reason is that, similar to how dogs like the taste of your skin, dogs also like the taste of your feet.

“The other reason is that feet contain a lot of sweat glands and can carry a lot of interesting smells to a dog,” Dr. Wigfall said.

Can you get sick from a dog licking you?


The risk of getting sick from your dog licking you is very low, especially if you’re healthy.

“Generally speaking, there is no harm with the occasional lick,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Repeated licking or licking your face or near cuts or wounds is to be avoided.”

There are certain people who are at greater risk for getting sick from a dog licking them. These groups of people include:

  • People who take drugs that suppress their immune systems
  • People with AIDS
  • The elderly
  • People undergoing chemotherapy treatment
  • Pregnant women

Dogs can transmit bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, through their saliva if they lick your eyes, mouth or nose, so it’s best to avoid letting a dog lick those areas, Dr. Kong said.

How to get a dog to stop licking you


While it’s cute when your dog licks you every now and then, it can be kind of annoying if he licks you constantly (especially if your dog’s really slobbery). But you can teach your dog to lick you less if it gets to be too much.

One way to do this is to just ignore it when your dog licks you.

“Training your dog that you do not like this behavior will reduce the licking,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Dogs respond to positive reinforcement, so if, for example, your dog licks your hand and you reward with pats or praise, they will be more inclined to repeat the behavior. Ignore any licking behavior and see if this helps reduce the licking.”

You can also redirect your dog’s attention when he starts licking you by distracting him with a toy.

“You may also try and divert the licking onto another object, such as a toy or chew, as a distraction and reward them with praise when the attention is turned to the toy instead,” Dr. Wigfall said.

If your dog’s licking is caused by anxiety, which will look like excessive licking paired with other dog anxiety symptoms, your vet can help you determine the best way to treat him.

But one thing you should never do is punish your dog for licking, as it’s a natural behavior for dogs.

“Never hit or spray your dog with water as a method to attempt to stop licking,” Dr. Wigfall said. “This will result in fear that can turn to aggression.”

So dogs actually lick people for a bunch of reasons, but most of the time, it’s probably because he loves you!