Dog Behaviour

Why do dogs lick you? What it means and what to do if it’s getting a bit much.

brown dog licking its nose

If you’ve got a dog, you’re more than likely to be on the receiving end of a considerable number of licks!

Here we take a look at the different reasons why our furry friends lick. We’ve also got advice on what to do if it becomes a problem.

Why do dogs lick you so much?

Dogs lick their humans for all kinds of reasons including as a sign of affection or as a way of saying ‘hello’ or getting your attention. Licking can also occasionally be a sign that something is wrong.

Is licking an instinctive behaviour for dogs?

The short answer to this question is yes. Licking is an important part of being a dog. If you’ve ever watched a litter of puppies, you’ll know that there’s a whole lot of licking! Mums will lick their puppies to keep them clean, give them comfort and encourage them to go to the toilet. The younger members of the family will return the favour and lick both their mum and their littermates. They also lick to taste and obtain food and water.

What does it really mean when a dog licks you?

So we’ve established that dogs lick a lot and for a lot of different reasons. Here are some of the most common:

It’s a sign of affection

Have you ever referred to your dog’s licks as kisses? Well, the good news is that’s not silly because dogs do often lick their owners (and other dogs) as a sign of affection. This is why dogs will sometimes lick you when you pet them.

They can smell or taste something

Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell which means if you’ve just eaten something, they may be able to detect a whiff of it. Dogs can also be attracted to the smell of sweat, which goes to explain why they are often so licky if you’ve just done vigorous exercise! You see, when we sweat, we release salt and other chemicals that dogs seem to find appetising.

It’s a way of saying ‘hello’

Do you often get slobbered on the moment you walk through the door and is this accompanied by a wagging tail and general excitement? This is your dogs way of greeting you.

It’s because your dog thinks you’re sad

Studies have shown dogs to be empathetic  and if your furry friend decides you seem a bit low, they may well offer up some licks to make you feel better. After all, that’s what their mum did when they were puppies.

Because they’re hungry

In the wild, puppies who are too young to hunt may lick their mother’s lips when they get back from hunting. This is their way of telling their mum they’d like something to eat. Similarly, you might find that your dog gets ‘licky’ when they’re peckish.

Pure instinct

Why do dogs lick? Because they’re dogs! That may seem flippant, but it’s always worth bearing in mind that, whatever other reasons there might be for your dog licking, it’s also just a behaviour that comes naturally to them. It can often occur as an appeasement gesture.

Is your dog licking you because something is wrong?

Although licking comes naturally to dogs, there are times when the answer to ‘why do dogs lick?’ is because there is some sort of a problem.

For attention

A dog might lick you to tell you they are feeling bored or lonely. If you think your furry friend is doing this on a regular basis, it’s worth having a think about whether they’re getting enough mental and physical stimulation. Our tips on games to play with your puppy might come in handy here. One thing you want to try to avoid is immediately rewarding those licks with attention. Remember that saying ‘no’ or pushing your dog away is still attention, albeit of a negative variety.

Anxiety, stress or some other problem

If your dog suddenly starts licking you or themself, much more than normal, it could be a sign they are stressed or anxious or they are struggling with something such as an injury or arthritis. If you’re at all concerned, it’s best to see your vet to rule these things out.

When dog licking is a sign of OCD

Occasionally, a dog licking obsessively, whether it’s themselves or you, can be a sign of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Again, the best advice here is to chat to your vet.

What does it mean if your dog licks your hand constantly?

If your dog is licking your hand constantly, it could be a sign of one of the issues listed above, and it’s best to have a chat with your vet. If the licking isn’t constant, it’s likely that your dog is showing affection, saying hello or that your smell or taste good.

What to do when your dog licking becomes a problem?

Most of the time, dog licks aren’t a problem. In fact, a lot of dog owners enjoy these doggy ‘kisses’.

However, it’s not so pleasant if your dog has, well, dog breath! If that’s the case, it’s important to realise that, contrary to popular belief, this is not normal. Check out Why does my dog have bad breath and Gum disease in dogs.

Even if your dog has perfectly pleasant-smelling breath, you might not be happy about them licking if you often find yourself wondering ‘why do dogs lick you so much’? In other words, if you feel as If your furry friend might be particularly ‘licky’! If that’s the case, here’s what to do:

Rule out any negative reasons for licking

If your dog is licking excessively, particularly if this is a new behaviour for them, it’s important to rule out that something is making them stressed or anxious or that it’s the sign of a health problem. A trip to the vet is what’s needed here.

Make sure your dog is getting lots of positive attention

If you’ve got a dog who licks more than you’d like, it’s important to ensure they’re getting lots of attention when they’re not licking. Positive attention can mean all sorts of different things from petting to praise to playing their favourite game. It’s also worth remembering that most dogs love treats. If you are giving your four-legged friend treats, the PEDIGREE™ Tasty Minis range is low in fat and contains Omega 3, Vitamin E and calcium. There are four great flavours: Beef & Cheese, Beef & Poultry, Chicken & Duck and Chicken.

And not attention for the wrong reasons

Sometimes dogs lick you to get attention and we inadvertently reward this behaviour by saying ‘no’ or telling them off. Much better to just move away if the licking is getting too much.

Make sure your dog is getting plenty of mental and physical stimulation

Are your dog’s licks their way of telling you they’re bored, or they could do with a walk? It’s time to look at that schedule!

Teach your dogs some tricks

When it comes to dealing with excessive licking, it’s worth having a few tricks up your sleeve, by which we mean dog tricks. You see, teaching your dog how to shake paws or roll over or whatever is a great way to provide mental stimulation. 

Be ready to distract

You know your dog best and if you observe them closely, you’ll soon get an idea of the times they’re most likely to get very ‘licky’. You can then be ready to distract them with their favourite toy or something like a puzzle feeder.

Keep clean!

If you tend to find yourself wondering ‘why do dogs lick you so much’ every time you get in from a run, it’s likely that your dog is licking so much because they find the sweat appetising. Yup, time to jump in the shower!

In conclusion, there’s a myriad of reasons why dogs lick you, and most of the time it’s nothing to worry about.

Why not check out our advice on How to brush your dog’s teeth.

NOTE: We wouldn’t advise you let your dog lick your face or your kids' faces. Dogs’ tongues carry lots of bacteria and parasites.