Why Do Dogs Lick You, and How Can You Stop It?
Are dog licks really canine kisses? Here's what to know about why dogs lick and how you can stop the behavior if it becomes too much.
Dogs have a lot of strange habits, and if your pooch spends more time giving you kisses than playing with their toys or chasing squirrels, you’ve probably wondered to yourself “Why do dogs lick you?” Well, turns out, the behavior isn’t that bizarre for dogs. We asked the doggy pros why dogs like to lick you, and how you can stop it if it becomes too much. Read on to get the scoop!
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Why do dogs lick you?
Experts say there are several reasons why dogs lick us, which include:
They’re showing their submissive side
Canines lick each other as a submissive sign or when mothers clean and bond with their newborn pups. “Now that people make up most of a dog’s pack, licking behavior has been transferred to us,” says Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinarian and writer.
They’re giving affection
“Dogs often lick people to show affection, as a greeting or to simply get our attention,” Dr. Coates explains. “Of course, if you happen to have a little food, lotion or salty sweat on your skin, that may play a role as well.” Along with affection, these are some other things your dog actually wants from you.
They want your attention
Another reason a pup may lick you is that they want your attention, whether you welcome or reject their loving licks. Reinforcing the behavior lets your dog know they, in theory, will get what they want if they continue the behavior. So if they want your attention and get it through licking, the licking will likely continue.
Dog anxiety has several signs, and excessive licking is one of them. If your dog can’t seem to stop licking you, it could be because they’re anxious or stressed, and the act of licking calms them down.
What does it mean when a dog licks your face?
Dr. Coates says that if you watch dogs interact with each other, a lot of licking is focused on the face. This is related to the fact that when dogs are puppies, they lick their mom’s mouth to get them to regurgitate food for them to eat. So dogs lick human faces to try to get food—and also probably some leftover flavor from the last meal you ate.
Is it harmful for dogs to lick humans?
“Dog licking doesn’t pose much of a danger to people, as long as you don’t have any open wounds and your immune system is functioning well,” says Dr. Coates. “That said, bacteria can be transmitted through dog licks, so the behavior is not completely without risk.” Dog saliva does contain a bacteria called Capnocytophaga that in very, very rare cases can cause an infection in humans with weakened immune systems.
On the other side, make sure that if your dog is licking you, you don’t have any chemicals or these foods that are toxic for dogs on your skin.
What does it mean when a dog licks itself in a certain spot excessively?
Dogs will sometimes lick a certain part of their body or even a particular part of the couch or floor in your home over and over. “Itching or pain can cause dogs to lick themselves, while anxiety or a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder may lead to licking directed toward themselves or toward objects in their environment,” says Dr. Coates. “Excessive licking of surfaces has also been associated with medical, especially gastrointestinal, disorders.”
They can also smell where food or a drink has been spilled on your couch or floor, even if it was a while ago. Cleaning up the area thoroughly should make them stop licking.
How do you teach your dog to stop licking you?
Licking is a form of doggy communication, so it’s not always necessary to curb the behavior. But if it becomes excessive and disrupts your life, Dr. Coates and celebrity dog trainer Chrissy Joy provide the following tips and tricks for getting your dog to stop licking you:
1. Ignore the licking
“If you want your dog to stop licking you, do your best to ignore the behavior; calmly get up and go into another room behind a closed door if you have to,” says Dr. Coates. Eventually, they’ll realize that licking doesn’t get them what they want. If your dog stops licking you, make sure to give them lots of praise and attention for listening so that they won’t repeat the behavior in the future.
2. Set up a special place for your pup
Joy says teaching your dog that there’s a special “place” for them in the room where the licking happens can help curb the behavior. For instance, if you notice the licking happens in the living room during movie night, set up a comfy bed nearby for Fido to lie on and give him something he can lick, like a toy filled with frozen peanut butter and pumpkin. “This can show the dog a place to remain that brings them positive associations and reward,” she explains.
3. Redirect the behavior
Joy also recommends redirecting your dog’s licking behavior to a more mentally stimulating activity. “Offer a puzzle toy during the moments where your dog tends to show licking behavior,” she advises. “You can use their meals and place them inside a fun and interactive puzzle toy, which will help to redirect his or her energy into something productive and safe.”
4. Exercise your pup
If your dog is licking you excessively, it could be because they feel stressed from pent-up energy. Joy recommends providing your dog with plenty of daily exercise so they can rest at home. “This may help reduce unwanted behaviors or destructive behaviors seen from boredom or anxiety,” she explains.
Remember to talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s licking could be related to a medical problem or behavioral disorder. If you think a trainer is necessary, Joy says to work with a positive-based professional who will help teach your dog proper behavior around you instead of licking. “We must help show the new way for our dog to channel their energy during these times, and having clear communication and expectations can really help.”
About the experts
- Jennifer Coates, DVM, is a veterinarian, writer, editor and consultant based in Colorado. She has several years of experience in veterinary medicine and has provided insights to brands like PetMD and The Spruce Pets.
- Chrissy Joy is a celebrity dog trainer, live performer and International Trick Dog Champion who has been featured on PIX11 and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, as well as in USA Today. Her goal is to inspire others to develop their bond with their pup through activities like trick training.
- Fox News: “Death from a dog lick? Veterinarian explains rare infection triggered by pets’ saliva”