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Why does your dog lick?

If your dog licks you a lot, you know what it's like to have saliva on his face, hands and around his mouth, whether you're petting, feeding or greeting him when you get home. Having your dog lick you could be a sign of affection, but it could also have a number of other reasons. So why do dogs lick us and what should we do about it? What's the right training for your dog in such a case?

Reasons why a dog licks its owner may be the following:

  • to tell him he loves you;
  • to get your attention;
  • to help calm himself down if he's stressed,
  • or because he likes you!

Licking is a natural and instinctive behaviour for dogs. It is a way for them to groom, make contact and express emotion. Mothers often lick their pups to keep them clean, soothe and encourage them to go to the loo. So licking plays an important role in their bonding with others, causing them to release dopamine and endorphin, which help them feel relaxed, calm and happy. Just as we enjoy petting a dog, dogs probably enjoy licking those they love.
Thanks to the release of hormones, licking can also be a calming behaviour for dogs, making them feel calm and peaceful. If they're anxious or stressed, especially if it's because they're separated from you, licking you or themselves can help them feel less anxious.
Licking is a great way to get your attention. If your dog is licking you, you're probably petting him, sweet-talking him, in short, paying attention. This, in turn, encourages him to lick you and makes him more likely to do it next time.
Why does your dog lick

Have you ever noticed that your dog licks you more after exercise? Especially on bare, heavily sweaty areas? When we sweat, we release salt and acidic chemicals that can be very tasty for our dogs. This is one of the common reasons why dogs lick their owners' feet. Also, the reason why your dog licks his hands, face and other body parts may be because he's experiencing minor residues from something you've eaten, or if you're smelling nice with moisturising creams or lotions. Some medications and lotions, such as psoriasis creams, can be very poisonous to dogs, so never let your dog lick you after using them.

Some dogs may lick a lot while others may do less, but if your dog suddenly starts licking you a lot it could be a sign that something bad is happening to him. Dogs may lick more often if they are anxious or have health problems. Although rare, some dogs may develop a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This can be associated with prolonged stress or anxiety, and may manifest itself in them constantly licking themselves, objects or other people, or may bite their hands and feet in some cases. This can lead to sores on the tongue or bald spots on the coat. If you're concerned about your dog or his behaviour, make sure you talk to your vet or behaviourist.

Remember that licking is a perfectly natural behaviour and a way for dogs to express themselves. Expecting your dog to stop licking you completely is the same as expecting you to never pet your dog again - this will never happen. However, not all dogs are the same, and some may not lick often or may not do so at all. If you have a licker it's important to try to understand why your dog is licking you, because by understanding the cause you may be able to help your dog if he really needs help, or find other ways for him to express his emotions if this is unacceptable or unpleasant for you.