Why Dogs Lick You


Understand why your dog licks you and what you can do about it

Many people no longer observe their pets as animals only, but more as companions and loyal friends. While such friendship is valuable, it has one danger: we, as pet owners often grant our furry friends humane emotions and traits. The same applies to dogs licking. Many dog owners often interpret licking as an expression of affection and attachment. However, while sometimes it is the case, more often it has something do to with nature’s instincts.   

One of those explanations, according to the American Kennel Club, “Believe it or not, what you interpret as affection might, in fact, be your dog encouraging you to throw up your lunch for them. Researchers of wild canids — wolves, coyotes, foxes, and other wild dogs — report that puppies lick the face and muzzle of their mother when she returns from a hunt to her den — in order to get her to regurgitate for them.”  

Of course, that is not the only reason. More often than not, your dog might think you taste good. Humans’ skin has a slightly salty taste, especially after an excessive session at a gym, hence by licking your skin dogs show their affection for salt rather than their owner.   

Finally, a sign of affection from your dog is not a fable. As it is the way for dogs to express themselves, bond and groom, licking also means love, search for attention and even showing empathy. Let us look closely at every reason why your dog licks you, as well as signs when it might become a problem and a solution to it.   


Starting with the most common interpretation of dog licking, a sign of affection, we are not going to disregard it, because often it is the case. However, as humans use certain ways to express love (for instance, kissing, or stroking your dog to show them your love), dogs’ licking means bonding. This act is connected to mother dogs licking her puppies. Licking each other, dogs release dopamine and endorphins, which makes them feel calm and more relaxed. Back to humans, as much as you love stroking your dog because it feels nice, your dog is happier when he licks the one he loves.  

Speaking of special bonds, your dog probably does not lick your guests or other family members as much as he does your hands and face. Yet, it proves once again that this pooch is capable of feeling attachment and affection to one certain human being. The connection comes from a balance of time spent together, physical expressions such as stroke, and perhaps even the way you smell, especially after you ate or worked out.  

(Speaking of face licking keep in mind that dogs’ mouths are not as clean as one might mistakenly think. Their tongue and saliva are full of bacteria and may contain parasites. Often dogs pick up or lick something on a street, something you would not want in your own body   

Hence, although the chances of you getting sick from a dog licking your face are slim, make to wash it with soap if their the way your furry companion wakes you up in the morning.) 


Besides affection, dogs are capable of expressing empathy. Surely, it can be that your pet likes the taste of salty tears if you are crying. However, empathy as much connects to the natural instincts of a mother dog comforting her puppies, as affection. Hence, being intelligible animals, dogs can read the room and attempt to take care of a melancholy owner.    


Attention is another reason why your dog licks you. If you talk to your pets, stroke them and start playing with them, they are more likely to repeat licking over and over again just to get the same kind of care.   


Licking as a way of self-expression is a part of dogs’ nature. They groom each other and themselves with a tongue, mothers clean their puppies and bond by licking. While humans express their love to pets by touching their fur, (as a form of grooming) dogs return with licking just as they do that in nature. Overall, dogs explore the environment by tasting it, they carry objects in their mouths, pick up balls and bonding with an owner by licking his face and hands.    

But there is more to it. From wild animals such as wolfs to home pets, puppies lick their mothers’ lips to express their hunger. Thu, next time your dog comes to ‘kiss’ your lips maybe go check his feeding station. It also could be the smell of food you just ate or cosmetics and lotion you used. In case of the latter beware that some components in creams can be poisonous to dogs (for instance, psoriasis creams). 

Anxiety and other issues  

There are many reasons for a dog to feel stressed, especially if they feel you are leaving them. In that case, licking you (or themselves) helps them to calm down, and become more relaxed.   

Unfortunately, anxiety leads to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Although it does not happen too often with dogs, watch for signs of constant licking of objects, people and themselves in your dog. If your dog is experiencing long-term stress, and you notice constant licking (which can lead to bald patches and soreness), contact your veterinarian. You can also try to redirect the pet’s attention to something else like walking, playing, or training. And of course, remember to treat an anxious dog with kindness and patience.   

Besides attempts to release stress by licking, dogs are noticed to lick more if they have health issues such as arthritis, injury or allergy. The best advice? Follow your intuition. If there is even an insignificant complication, contact your vet and schedule a checkup. After all, it is much easier to prevent a health issue before it escalates.   


Licking is a natural behaviour for a dog. Understanding that you cannot expect your dog to stop licking you completely, can help to control that act, especially if you are not a fan of wet expressions of affection, or if it at some point it became too excessive.   

As we do not recommend approaching licking with aggressive or oppressive disciplining, you can always try to remain neutral, leave the room and not make any contact with your dog. The other way is to distract your dog with a toy, a new training trick, or exercise.   

Indeed, positive attention goes a long way whether it comes to humans or dogs. Licking might be one of the ways your dog begs for your company after a day of not seeing you.  

Updated date

December 13th, 2022

About the author

Maria Kossman

Maria Kossman is an essayist, and content specialist at Rant-it.ca. Her writing appeared in a variety of fashion magazines. When she is not focused on reviewing and writing, she spends time exploring coffee shops, English literature and antique malls.
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