Ever wonder why your dog licks you? Everyone knows that dogs lick to show love and affection to their owners, but what else can it mean?
In this article, we are going to go over the general concept of licking, some reasons why dogs lick, what constitutes as excessive licking, what you can do to prevent excessive licking, and more. So lick the tips of your fingers, because this article is a real page turner!
Why Do Dogs Lick?
Puppies pick up licking as a natural instinct from their mother. When a mother licks her pups, the pups will lick back as a sign of love and affection towards her. It's also known that mother dogs will lick their pups to clean them, sooth them when they're anxious, and encourge them to perform actions that they may otherwise not know to do.
Puppies will also lick their littermates for grooming, social interactions, and to express themselves, which translates to why they might lick us.
Dogs and puppies alike also use their tongues to explore the world around them. Since we generally pet dogs with our hands, they will use their tongues to greet us back.
Reasons Why Dogs Lick
Similar to barking, dogs licking is a way to communicate with you. As they can't tell us what they want, they have to use other forms of communication to tell us how they’re feeling. Dogs also lick when they want to express affection towards a loved one, like their mother had done to them.
Dogs also lick because they like the taste of your skin, or at least what's on your skin. This may be for several reasons including leftover traces of food, different scents,lotions you may use, or from salt that your skin secretes. Dogs that smell new scents will sniff you but also lick you because this gives them a lot of information about where you've been.
Here is a short list of reasons why your dog keeps licking you:
- Dogs tend to lick to get your attention, whether they want your attention for food, if they have to go potty, or if they just want to get petted.
- As we mentioned before, because we might taste good! Dogs won't miss the opportunity to lap up something delicious, even if it's own our skin!
- Licking may also be a way of the dog trying to play. This may be that the dog is substituting the use of their tongue rather than their teeth to play with you, which is much appreciated.
- Just like cats, dogs lick themselves to maintain their hygiene. Dogs will often groom themselves and their loved ones to stay clean.
- While we all may have suspected this, according to a study in highlighted in the journal Animal Cognition, dogs will lick and nuzzle to show empathy to a human who's distressed.
- If they your dog has a wound, they will tend to lick it to aid in recovery. There are enzymes in a dog's saliva that help gets rid of bacteria. Licking too much on a wound, however, can result in the wound re-opening, so this is something you'll have to keep an eye on.
When Licking Becomes A Problem
Licking humans is typically only defined as a problem when the owner decides it is. Some owners, even just a couple of small licks, can be considered extreme licking. It is in a dog's nature that they lick, however, dogs can be trained to stop. You can try too redirect the behavior yourself or get help from a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog trainer who can help you in this process.
Excessive licking can be a symptom from a number of issues. These can be because:
- They have increased anxiety.
- Something in their life changed which they aren't comfortable with.
- They might have an allergy.
- It could be that they have an ingury or that they're joints are feeling arthritic.
- They're not getting the attention or exercise they need causing them to be bored.
If the stressor has been bothering the dog long enough, they may develop an obsessive compulsive disorder. This could cause extreme amounts of licking and has even lead to cases where the dog's tongue has developed sores or bald patches on their fur.
What Can You Do About Excessive Licking?
There are a number of things that you can do to reduce the amount of licking a dog does. Thise includes:
- Negatively reinforce the behavior by removing yourself from the situation. The dog usually will want your attention, and if they learn that excessive licking reduces attention, they'll eventually make the connection and reduce how much licking they do.
- You could divert their attention to something else. Try playing fetch outside, going for a walk, or giving them a food puzzle to keep their minds occupied.
- It could be an irrisistable flavor on your skin, which may indicate that it's a good time for you to take more frequent showers or reduce/change the types of lotion you use.
- In conjunction with the negative reinforcement from above, give your dog lots of praise and affection when they exhibit the behavior you desire from them.
- Be proactive and consistant.
However, if your dog is exercising excessive licking, then you need to monitor the behavior closely, especially if they lick themselves in one area a lot, this could be pointing to a health problem that otherwise wouldn't be recognized. Our dog health services can help your dog with extreme licking, which in the end will make not only you happy but your dog as well.
As a reminder, not all licking is bad! It's very natural for your dog to give you licks! It's in their instinct
Keep in mind that they're your friend, and if you ever feel that their licking is becoming excessive, you may want to try some of the diversion ideas we talked about earlier. Just don't be shy about bringing it up to your veterinarian, they'll be able to help you and your pup out!