Whether you’re a new puppy owner or a life long dog owner, you’ll be aware that dogs like to lick. And it may be that they like to lick you or other dogs. In turns out that licking is a natural instinct in canines and can be explained for different scenarios. Continue reading to find out the answer to “Why does my dog lick me?”

Licking as a sign of affection

When a pup is born the first thing a mother dog does is lick her pups. This is to clean them, to bond with them and to show them affection. Pups within a litter will lick each other. If you’ve just arrived home, and your dog is excited to see you, he may well lick you because he is pleased to see you. 

Licking to communicate

Pups will lick their mothers face to say they are hungry. Licking is an instinctive behaviour for dogs. When their mother groomed them it provided comfort. The act of licking releases endorphins in your dog so it may be a sign of happiness or that they are trying to calm themselves down.

Something tastes good!

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell but not such a great sense of taste. Humans have about 9,000 taste buds, dogs have about 1,900. (A dog’s sense of smell can be 1,000 – 10,000 times better than a humans!) You might find your dog is very keen to lick you after you’ve exercised if you’re sweaty. They will like the salty acidic taste of your sweat. 

Investigation

Dogs use their mouths and noses to find out about the world. We use our hands for touch, whereas a dog will use his tongue as an instrument of touch. A dog’s most effective sense is his smell but using his mouth and licking something will tell him about texture, firmness, movability. So his licking a person or object is almost like us using our hands.

Licking for attention or reward

Some dogs will lick their owner’s hands or face to get attention because they want something. It maybe they purely want attention – affection, or something else like to be fed, or to go outside. Some owners are happy for their dogs to lick them. The behaviour is reinforced by an owner responding positively through petting or playing. Other owners may dislike licking. It is therefore important to break this habit. Be aware, that when a dog looks for attention through licking, he may be happy with negative or positive attention. If you tell him off for licking, in his world he is getting your attention. Ideally, if you want your dog to stop licking, the best thing to do is give no attention. Simply get up and move away or move your body part away without any other engagement. 

If your dog is licking themself....?

It is totally normal for a dog to lick himself for grooming. His mother would have done this for him when he was a pup. This licking is instinctive. If you think your dog is licking himself too much, check the specific area he is licking. He may have a sore or an injury sight. If he is repeatedly licking an area he may be in pain there. Occasionally dogs can develop compulsive licking, a type of OCD in dogs. This tends to stem from extreme anxiety and stress and you should see your vet if you are worried about this.

Ultimately, dogs will lick. It is an inherent behaviour but usually not something to worry about. Dogs gain a lot from licking – finding out about their environment – but not all forms of licking need to be encouraged. But if he is lucky enough to be treated to some doggie ice cream such as Billy & Margot, then he’ll be licking to his heart's content!

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