Whether you are a dog lover who can’t get enough licking from your precious pooch or you are run and hide when your friend comes over, drooling dog in tow, you have probably wondered why dogs lick.
If so, you are not alone. This topic continues to fascinate dog owners and experts alike. Why do dogs lick anything? Why do they lick you? Is there such a thing as too little or too much licking?
Find out all of these answers and more in this article.
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These 10 reasons will answer the most commonly asked questions people have about why dogs lick.
Reason 1: They are grooming themselves.
When you think of pet animals that groom themselves, your mind likely turns to thoughts of cats. But even if your seems happiest when he is covered in dirt and pond water, the truth is, that coat needs to be groomed and maintained.
However, I Heart Dogs states that if there seems to be an overabundance of cleaning going on in your dog’s anal region, this might mean he needs his anal glands expressed or there is another issue that needs attention in that area.
Reason 2: They like the taste of your sweaty, salty skin.
To a dog, your skin tastes like you, their pack leader and owner and parent and whole world. According to the American Kennel Association (AKC), that sweat, salt and the unique taste of “you” is best coming right from the source, of course!
However, in a pinch your dog will make off with one of your worn socks or any other item she can scrounge from the dirty clothes hamper that smells and tastes like you.
Reason 3: They feel anxious.
If you’ve ever found yourself absentmindedly biting your nails, twirling your hair or picking at scabs, you already know how these nervous habits can help you focus and calm down when anxiety strikes.
It is the same for your dog, who can be just as prone to anxiety (especially in certain breeds) and even a canine version of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In these cases, according to Pet WebMD, licking is the dog equivalent of nail biting.
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Reason 4: They have allergies.
When you get allergies, you probably sneeze, blow your nose and take allergy medicine to feel better. But when your dog gets allergies, you may not even know except by the continuous licking.
If an area feels sensitive or itchy, a dog’s first response is often to lick it to try to soothe the discomfort. When the licking starts to cause irritation to the spot, however, it is time to seek medical help, according to DVM360.
Reason 5: They have a medical issue that needs attention.
In the same way that your dog may lick and lick an area that is affected by allergies, licking can also be a sign of other evolving medical issues.
PetsBest states that along with allergies, infections (fungal, parasitic, viral), pain (such as from arthritis) and even gastrointestinal issues can cause repetitive licking behaviors in dogs.
Reason 6: They are showing submission (to a member of their pack).
Animal Planet says that licking is the first real tangible form of communication between a mother dog and her puppies. She licks them to keep them warm and clean and to remind them to do their business after eating.
Later on in life, dogs will lick one another (especially near the face) to indicate who is dominant and who is submissive. They will also lick you – which is a sign of your dominance in the “pack.”
Reason 7: They are sanitizing an area that needs healing.
Assisi Animal Health points out that when your dog gets sick or injured, he doesn’t have much in the way of a first aid kit to aid in the healing process. What he does have, however, is his tongue.
The licking here serves the purpose of keeping the wound clean and free from debris and also of stimulating new blood to flow to the area to speed up healing. As well, there are certain enzymes in a dog’s saliva that can neutralize bacteria cells.
NOTE: This does not mean you should let a dog lick your face or an area on your body that is healing! To find out why, watch this YouTube Video called “Should You Let A Dog Lick Your Face?”
Reason 8: They are exploring their world.
When your dog was a puppy, she was blind and fairly deaf in her first couple weeks of life. But her mouth was fully functional and it was the first sense she used to find nourishment from her mother’s milk.
So it just makes sense, according to Pet Problems Solved, that your dog will continue to rely heavily on licking, mouthing and tasting to explore the world around her and those she shares it with.
Related Article: 17 Expert Dog Training Tips For New Dog Owners
Reason 9: They are expressing affection.
While some dog owners may not enjoy being licked, dogs in general greatly enjoy licking. Why Does My Dog shares that this is because it releases endorphins, those wonderful feel-good hormones, when a dog licks (which also explains how obsessive licking can potentially calm an anxious pooch down).
So when your pet pup licks your face, feet, hands, knees or anything he can reach, he feels happier pretty much instantly.
Reason 10: You encourage them to keep doing it.
In many cases, the bottom-line reason why a pet dog keeps licking her owner is because they get positive reinforcement each time they do it.
If you have ever come back home to your dog’s wildly abundant, tail-wagging, body shaking, frenzied licking celebration and instantly dropped whatever you were doing to snuggle, cuddle and love on her, well, you know why she keeps licking you!
Now You Know Why Dogs Just Love to Lick
However, if you aren’t keen on getting licked for whatever reason (and many dog owners actually aren’t, regardless of how much they love their furry family members), then you will need to change your behavior to get your dog to change hers.
The best approach is to walk away when the licking starts. Think “zero positive reinforcement” and just walk away. When your dog starts to realize that her licking and your leaving are connected, she will stop licking to get you to stay.
If you are struggling with a dog that simply can’t seem to stop licking you, himself, other dogs or anything, educating yourself about canine licking behavior will help you figure out what is going on.
Also remember, you don’t have to tackle everything on this list right away. In fact, just start casually noticing what is going on when your dog starts licking. Keep this list handy so you can refer to it when the licking starts.
This will give you plenty of insight so you can tell if your dog just licks because it is fun or because he needs veterinary attention for allergies, an injury, anal glands or something else.