Have you ever wondered if dog kisses are really kisses? Or, maybe, we just taste good? Well, I did some research and here is everything I could find about dogs licking us.
Why do they do it? What does it mean? Should we let them?What can happen when they lick us? Here is the scoop.
So, why do they lick and what does it mean when a dog licks you? Is it love? Well, the short answer is probably yes. Dogs do appear to lick people and sometimes other dogs (and even cats) that they like or love. It is a sign of affection and is common. So calling the licks kisses is appropriate.
They can learn this when they are puppies and their moms are grooming them by licking them. As puppies, they lick their moms to get attention or to be fed. Some dogs lick more than others. A dog that doesn’t lick as much may have not learned it as a puppy or they may not like it as much.
Licking is also reinforced by our reaction to it. When a dog licks us, they get attention. Whether we like it or not, they are still getting attention by licking. So, a bored dog that wants your attention will also lick you. If they can get to your face that is often the preferred spot -but they will lick hands, legs, or feet if they can’t get to your face. Our faces often taste the best because of food that we eat. Also, wolves in the wild will come back to their pups after hunting and regurgitate food for their pups and the pups will lick mom’s fact for bits of meat. So, it is thought to be instinctual to lick faces.
Sometimes we smell especially good - like when we have eaten something that smells good, or put on lotion, or a personal favorite of most dogs: fresh out of the shower with wet bodies. These are times that we become irresistible to our dogs.
Dogs may lick some people more than others too. This can be caused by a variety of reasons. The dog may have a particular fondness for this person or they may just smell terrific. Or, the person has reinforced the licking behavior with a positive reaction in the past. Some people have great energy too. Dogs are very sensitive to a person’s energy. They can tell who is going to be a friend and who isn’t by our body language, our tone, and our approach to them. Energy is really important to dogs. Plus, dogs can smell our hormones so if we are stressed out, they can smell it. We actually smell better when relaxed and happy. So, to a dog, stress actually stinks.
There is also a status involved when a dog kisses. The dog offering the lick is showing respect and deference to the person or other dog receiving the lick.
Some dogs will lick obsessively due to anxiety. This is much less common but it does happen. Animals cannot learn while in a high state of anxiety so the anxiety must be treated before you can train them out of the obsessive licking habit. Consult your veterinarian for help with anxiety.
The top reason that dogs lick themselves is allergies. If your dog is licking their paws or creating a hot spot by licking, have them checked for allergies. I can’t tell you how many client dogs I have had that didn’t believe their dog had allergies until they went to their vet to have a hot spot checked out or sore feet tended and the veterinarian told them it was allergies. Dogs often have allergies and it is usually very easy to treat. That is the first thing I would check out if my dogs were excessively licking their paws especially. They are itchy so they lick.
If you dog is licking their lips a lot and/or has foul breath, have their teeth checked. Bad teeth makes their mouths hurt and they will lick a lot from the discomfort. They may have cavities, gum disease, or an abscessed tooth which can lead to a variety of other health issues.
Should we let them lick our faces? That depends on you and your pet. Doctors often recommend that people with compromised immune systems should avoid being licked. This is why therapy dogs are not allowed to lick people. The membranes in our mouth and nose are also more permeable so any germs present are transmitted more easily throughout the nose and mouth so if you have health concerns, avoid being licked on the face. For healthy individuals, it is usually considered safe to allow the licking. The one caveat that I have is that any dog can pick up worms. All it takes is being around fleas or other dogs with fleas. This is pretty much every dog! So, after seeing so many of my customers get worms, I don’t let any dog lick my mouth or face. I just don’t want even the possibility of getting worms from a dog. Plus, most dogs lick butts too so I just say no to face licking.
It is a myth that dogs’ mouths are incredibly clean. They are not. They are full of bacteria as are human mouths. That is why dog bites can become so infected. Giardia and staph infections can be transmitted from dogs to humans. If you know your dog has a taste for garbage, road kill, or poo, just say no. It’s gross.
What can you do if your dog licks too much or you just don’t like it? Ignoring them is considered the best way to train them to stop licking. For example, your dog comes to you and licks you. You would then turn away from your dog and not give them any attention whatsoever. Basically turn your back and look away. If you say “no” or push them away, they are still getting attention. If your dog is licking because they are seeking attention, they got what they wanted. You will need to get everybody on the same page for this to work. This can often be the hardest part of training. If some of your friends or family encourage the licking and you are ignoring them, the dog will quickly learn to not lick you but they will try to lick everybody else that allows it. People are much harder to train than dogs! I have had this problem with jumping. My dog never jumps on me. But everybody else that pets her when she jumps up is fair game. I haven’t given up on her but my friends are stubborn! So keep in mind that your pet will only stop if you get EVERYBODY to agree to ignore them when the licking starts.
Some breeds or particular dogs lick more or less than others. Just like some people want to kiss more than others, not all dogs are kissing bandits. It doesn’t meant they don’t love you. It can just be a difference in personality. My border collie is a licker. She is also an attention junkie when it suits her. She wants all the attention when guests visit. My chihuahua never licks me or anyone else. I know they both love me. The chihuahua is always near me. He snuggles me on the couch and in bed at night. He sleeps at my feet when I am working in my office. He loves to chill out on my lap. The border collie will give me kisses and paw at me when she wants attention and then she will disappear for hours at a time enjoying her space elsewhere. They just have very different personalities and show their love differently . That is perfectly fine with me.