At some point or another our darling pet dogs have given us a lick, or ten. There are many reasons why your pup might want to lick you, other humans, fellow dogs, or themselves. When dogs lick their owners, it’s usually the ultimate sign of love and affection and this behaviour is linked to their connection to their mothers and biology. To your pup, you are the entire world and licking is often a sign of their absolute adoration. So let’s look at some of the reasons as to why your pup might lick you, or the fellow furry-friends. In most instances, it’s a perfectly normal part of the behaviour, however certain situations could signal cause for concern. Here we’ll explore all the reasons why your pup licks and what you can do about it when it gets a little too slobbery!
It’s Linked to Their Connection to Their Mother and Their Pack Instincts
When your dog was just a tiny little puppy, licking was its primary form of communication with its mother. As soon as a puppy is born, its mother will lick it clean. This is a form of bonding and can even encourage her pups to breath. It is thus deeply linked to feelings of affection, connection, survival, and love. Dogs in the wild will also lick their mothers and often subservient members of a pack will lick the more dominant members. Licking thus also seems to show their position in the pack and is essential to ensuring harmony prevails. Licking is thus a key part of their social lives and a behavioural trait that domestic dogs have taken from the wild.
They Think Their Humans are TASTY!
Now this one might sound a little odd, but it’s been suggested that doggies often enjoy the salty taste of their human’s skin. Since they are covered in fur, they can’t taste their own skin and our unique flavour might be a tasty novelty for them. If we’ve been cooking or eating delicious foods, they might also enjoy licking our hands. If you’ve been cooking meat or other flavorsome dishes they will probably really enjoy licking you (or the food bowl!) They will also probably linger around the kitchen in the hope that you drop some tasty morsel on the ground.
It’s a Sign of Love and Affection
Now this is the main reason why your best friend might lick you and their loved ones. Licking is a sign of love and affection. Notorious dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, notes that when dogs lick their owners affectionately they release a number of relaxing endorphins that make them feel happy and relaxed. Licking is a way for them to demonstrate how much they love you and makes them feel really good. Many dogs will also realise that they get even more attention when they decide to lick their owners and thus, this behavior also makes them feel loved and cared for. It’s therefore a win, win situation if you’re happy with this behaviour. However, some owners find constant linking an annoying behavior, and if you fall into this category, it’s important to put a stop to it before it becomes a habit.
It’s a Form of Communication
Licking also offers dogs a way to communicate with each other and even their humans . Licking can convey a number of feelings and messages. It could tell their friend that they are hungry, it could be done to acknowledge dominance, or it could be a sign of love and affection for their fellow canines. When it comes to them licking their owners, it could also be a means of communication. Perhaps they are telling you that they are hungry or thirsty (check those bowls!) or maybe they are saying “Hey, it’s time for my walk”, or “I want a cuddle.” Try to see what messages your dog might be communicating.
While dogs lick their humans or other pups for a number of reasons (affection, communicating a message, asserting their position in a pack), they also lick themselves. Licking themselves is usually one of their primary grooming behaviors and usually not any cause for alarm.
Possible Cause for Concern
While all dogs lick themselves at some point or another, there are some situations that might signal a problem. If your dog is incessantly licking themselves it might be cause for concern and highlight an underlying issue or medical problem. They might have a wound, or an infection and if this is the case you should certainly consult your vet.
If your dog is obsessively licking the same area in your home, or an object it could also highlight a compulsion and this could signal that they are feeling anxious or unsettled. There are many things that you can do to support an anxious pup, but again the best thing to do would be to consult your vet and get some professional advice and support.
Dogs might also obsessively lick themselves if they are bored. It’s essential that your pooch gets enough attention and stimulation throughout the day as too many hours alone can cause frustration, boredom, and destructive or harmful behaviours.
If your dog has to spend hours alone while you’re at work it might be worth considering a local dog walker who could break up your doggie’s day and give them some attention and exercise. This will curb obsessive licking due to boredom. Also ensure that your dog’s environment is stimulating and exciting. Invest in toys like the Kong that allow you to hide treats in them and offer them activities that will get their brain’s working and keep them busy and entertained while you’re away. You could also consider taking your fur-baby to doggy day-care as this will enable them to play with other dogs, help to socialize them, and offer them endless hours of fun. When they’re busy having fun, they won’t have time to obsessively lick themselves!
How to Stop Your Dog Licking You if it Becomes too Much
If you’ve ruled out anxiety, boredom, or a medical condition, it’s likely that your dog is perfectly healthy and is licking you out of pure and unconditional love. However, even the cutest and most loving behaviors can get a little bit much sometimes. While you might be happy for your pup to lick you when it’s just the two of you, you might not want constant licking when you’re entertaining friends, throwing a dinner party, or catching up on the latest episode of your favourite series. If their licking becomes a problem, you’ll need train them to stop licking you. Some methods include:
- Ignore them! While none of us want to ignore our pups (especially when they are showing us just how much they love us with slobbery licks) it’s unfortunately one of the most effective ways to get them to stop this behaviour. When they start licking you, turn your back to them and don’t engage. Do not make eye contact or talk to them as this is still a form of attention, even if you are telling them to stop. You might even want to walk out the room. Give them attention when they are not licking you, and stop giving them attention if they start again.
- Tell them ‘NO’ firmly, without shouting, and walk away if the licking continues.
- Distract them with a chew or a toy when they are snuggled next to you.
- Practice positive reinforcement. When they are relaxed and not licking you, rewards them with delicious treats and cuddles. Show them that this relaxed behaviour is good and reward them for it.
- If you’re really struggling to break their habit, consult an animal behaviour therapist. They will analyse your dogs behaviour and be able to offer the best solution for your unique needs. It’s important that everyone in the family is on board and consistently stick to the behaviour therapists action plan. Consistency is key when it comes to training your pooch.
Ultimately, licking is a sign of love. If it’s down every now and then it can be a cute moment between you and your pup and is just another way that they can show you how much you mean to them. You truly are their entire world and in most cases, it’s just about them showing you this love. Appreciate every moment with your furry best-friend. They are such loving creatures who adore their humans and want to shower them with all the love and companionship in the world.
- Why Dogs Lick, Dogs that Lick, Ask Victoria Stilwell – Animal Planet
- Why Does My Dog… Always Lick Me? – VetStreet