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Why Do Dogs Lick People?

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I used to joke that when my dogs licked me, they were simply cleansing their palates between meals. I mean, I love them with all my heart, but between doggy breath and having seen what they scoop when out in the leash-free park, the cleansing towelettes are always close at hand.

And, while you may be thinking that your dog licks you because he loves the salty taste of his favorite human, you’d be both right and wrong. Dogs lick people for a number of reasons and while it is often linked to affection, there are some reasons that should be explored.

We’ve all had the “stare down”, where our dogs patiently wait to see if we’ll notice them. Licking is the same thing, but a more pro-active way of getting our attention. If they want to go out, lead you to their treats or an empty dish, you’ll find the licking to be unrelenting. When this happens, allow him to lead you to the source of his obsession – it may be important.

Licking releases endorphins in your dog and these make him feel relaxed and trippy. Just like when he was a tiny pup and his mom licked him while he nestled in with his litter mates. It takes him back to a happy place and this helps relieve the stresses of his day.

Okay, here it is. He loves you. And he wants to show you this by licking your hands, face, arms… Just like he would do with another dog he feels close to. It’s a care-taking action that shows he wants to look after you. And if you take it from a more primal standpoint, it’s a ritualistic greeting that pack animals do to one another.

It could be all about him. Humans have naturally salty skin and particularly on a warm day or after exercise when you’ve worked up a nice salty sweat, it’s even more pronounced. His licking may be more in pursuit of that salty flavor rather than any sentiments of love.

If he’s feeling vulnerable or anxious, licking can be a sign that he’s trying to be friends. It harkens back to the theory that the less dominant members of a pack will often lick the alpha or lead dogs to show they are submissive.

But what do you do when the licking is compulsive? When this oral fixation isn’t restricted to just you, but to visitors, strangers, other animals and even inanimate objects?  It can be a sign that your dog is bored, high-strung or anxious about something. And it’s not a one-off instance (think fireworks), but an ongoing problem. In this instance, seek advice from your veterinarian. If it isn’t physical but behavioral, look for solutions that indulge his need to lick, but in a controlled manner. Rubber kongs with hidden treats, or even licking mats where his wet food is spread out and he laps it up. When he starts to lick compulsively, simply redirect him to these pacifiers.


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