So, why do dogs lick you? Is it a form of affection, or is it to get attention? Some dogs lick more than others - is that a cause for concern?
Experts feel there is not one specific reason why your dog licks you. There are several potential reasons, and sometimes it can be a combination.
Taste and smell
Licking also enhances your dog’s sense of smell. It may sound a bit gross, but dogs love to explore new tastes. They don’t have as many taste buds as we do, but they can still tell if something is salty, sweet, bitter, or sour. When deciding whether to lick something or not, dogs rely on their sense of smell. They will favour licking the areas of human bodies that have the most pungent smell. Your hands, feet, ears and face. Human skin can smell very inviting and often has a salty flavour!
If we look at wolves and wild dogs, they feed their puppies after hunting by regurgitating the prey they ate. To encourage the mother to feed them, the puppies will lick the meat left around their mother’s mouth. Some behaviourists believe this instinct has passed down to domesticated dogs through their DNA.
Many people call dog licks ‘kisses.’ Dogs show affection by licking people and sometimes other dogs. From the day a dog is born, licking is part of their life, starting with their mother licking them to clean them and show them affection. If your dog gets the chance to access some human skin, they may well take the chance to lick it, to show you that they love you.
Your dog’s ‘kisses’ may start off because they are showing you affection. But if they get a response to the licking, they might begin to associate it with getting attention. If your dog is feeling lonely or bored, they will try to get your attention, even if it is from negative behaviour, such as excessive licking. Never tell your dog off for licking. If you don't like it, simply try and distract them and praise them for doing something else, instead. If you think your dog's licking is due to them feeling bored, lonely, or anxious, see what changes you can make to help your dog feel happier, or consult a qualified behaviourist.
Should I be worried about my dog’s licking?
It’s entirely normal for dogs to lick humans. Whilst some people aren’t too keen on getting covered in dog saliva, it’s not going to cause a problem unless they are licking an open wound.
If you are concerned that your dog’s licking is a bit too much and it’s starting to become a problem, speak to your vet or a canine behaviourist. They will help you figure out why your dog is licking so much and how to calm it down.
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