Dog licking smiling man

If you are a proud dog owner, you probably know that every time you greet your pup you can prepare yourself for a wet smooch. Or, when you start to get up in the morning and your dog is strategically standing near your head, you better cover your face! A dog’s natural reaction to being petted or interacted with from their humans is to lick. But have you ever wondered about why dogs lick people? 

The Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center are here to give you some insight into this messy phenomenon, so you can better understand why you get all the sloppy kisses. 

8 Reasons Why Dogs Lick People

For most dog behaviors, whether learned or instinctual, there is more than one explanation. This is equally true of why dogs are so enamored with “cleaning” us with their tongues. For the most part, this desire to lick isn’t something to worry about, unless it becomes habitual or is accompanied by other health concerns. 

Here are some more common reasons why dogs lick people.

  1. They want your attention. Licking is a way for them to communicate that they want something, whether it’s your attention, their breakfast, or a walk. They know that licking gets a response, and usually a reward.
  2. It’s a survival throwback. When your dog was a wee puppy, licking was a way to garner attention to be fed. Have you noticed your dog seems to lick you more when they want their meals or a tasty morsel? 
  3. You taste good to them. The skin contains a mix of whatever it is we have been exposed to, what we eat, sweat, and so on. This combination, why not appetizing to us, is delicious to four-legged friends.
  4. They’re showing affection. Licking is a mother dog’s way of grooming their young and showing their presence. It’s an age-old show of affection to say, “I am here.” Licking increases serotonin and oxytocin in the body, those feel good hormones. Your dog may consider themself to be a surrogate mama dog to you, too.
  5. They’re figuring you out. Dogs, like babies, explore the world with their mouth. You can see this exhibited in your dog’s need to chew anything and everything, even substances that can be poisonous to them. 
  6. They’re excited. When a dog gets overstimulated about something in the environment, their tendency is to lick. If this is followed by enthusiastic tail wags, jumps, and excited barks, they are probably excited to see you or whatever they want.
  7. They are playing with you. Puppies and dogs practice play nipping and licking as a way to initiate fun. If your dog starts to slobber all over you, or nip at your hand, they may just want to enjoy a game. Grab the toys!
  8. They are alleviating anxiety. If certain dogs are prone to fear or anxiety, they may start licking as a way to self-soothe. This behavior can alleviate stress in the same manner that it elevates serotonin and oxytocin during a moment of affectionate bonding.

Does your dog love to lick nonstop? Or, have you noticed they only do it in certain scenarios, such as being petted? We’d love to hear more about your doggo and their behaviors. Call us for more information or to schedule an appointment.