Dogs lick themselves and others for a variety of reasons, most of them positive. However, there are some occasions when dogs licking you excessively can signal something problematic. Let’s take a closer look at what dog licking means, and why your dog licks you specifically (and why do dogs lick your feet!).
What Does Dog Licking Mean?
A dog licking you can mean several different things, depending on the context. Dogs will often lick their owners or other people as a sign of affection, as a greeting, or to get attention. Dogs may even lick you out of habit, instinct, or simple boredom.
With that in mind, here are five of the most common reasons why your dog may be licking you…
5 Reasons Dogs Lick You
It will come as no surprise that one reason your dog licks you is to express affection. Licking is a primary way for dogs to offer comfort, show closeness, and bond with family members. Mother dogs will often lick their puppies, so dogs instinctively learn early on that licking is a sign of affection.
Your dog’s licks may also be trying to tell you something: just as mothers lick their puppies, puppies will sometimes lick their mothers. But in this case, it’s to communicate that they’re hungry. So your dog may be licking you to tell you that he wants to eat.
That’s why if your dog is licking you intensely, it may be a good idea to take a look around and make sure he has everything he needs. He may want to go out, eat, or he may be out of water. Licks are one way he can communicate this to you without whining or barking.
Ever notice your dog licking your cuts or grazes, and wonder “why do dogs lick wounds?” The answer, again, goes back to instinct. When dogs get a cut or wound, they lick it to try and soothe themselves, similar to how humans would rub or massage a wound. If you have a wound, your dog may lick it because he’s trying to heal and relieve his owner and companion.
Dogs licking their own wounds can be beneficial, as dog saliva has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and it can help remove dead tissue and clean dirt from wounds. But too much of it can reopen wounds and worsen the problem.
As for dogs licking your wounds, the risks tend to outweigh the benefits. Even if your dog is clean and healthy, his mouth contains bacteria and excessive licking could infect your wound. So while your dog probably means well licking your wounds, it’s not necessarily a behavior you want to encourage.
Some dogs also feel compelled to lick. This is similar to what we might call a “nervous habit” in humans. Your dog may be licking you because he is anxious, bored, or trying to calm himself down.
Most of the time, this is a perfectly healthy stress reliever. But as we’ll see below, there are cases where dogs licking you excessively can reinforce their anxiety, or even be a sign of another underlying issue.
Finally, your dog could simply be licking you because you taste good! Just as he licks his food bowl or floor, licking you could just be a sign that he likes what he tastes.
As humans, we have salt and tiny food particles on our skin that dogs can taste. That’s why it’s especially common for dogs to lick you after you eat something.
Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face?
For dogs, licking another dog’s face is a normal social behavior and a way to communicate. When your dog licks your face, he’s doing so based on this same instinct. The vast majority of the time, your dog licking your face is a healthy signal of grooming, affection, trust, and endearment.
Do Dogs Feel Happy When They Lick You?
Beyond communication, licking also plays an important role in how dogs bond with others around them. When dogs lick, their brain releases dopamine and endorphins which help make them feel relaxed, calm, and happy. Unfortunately, as we’ll see later, some dogs can become dependent on licking for this endorphin rush.
Can Dog Licks Be Dangerous?
As mentioned earlier, your dog’s mouth has bacteria, so it’s best not to encourage him to lick open wounds. It’s possible that dog licks could lead to infection in that case.
For the most part though, dog licks are not damaging to healthy or normal skin, as long as you’re not allergic to dog saliva or dandruff. Obviously, if your dog is exposed to dirt or germs the risk of him licking you increases. If he is bathed and groomed regularly, the risk of your dog licking you is pretty minimal.
Do Dogs Lick Because of Anxiety?
Finally, a word of caution… even though your dog will usually lick you to communicate or show affection, there are cases where dogs lick because of an underlying problem. Since dogs licking can release endorphins and stimulate the brain, some dogs become dependent on it to try and soothe themselves when anxious or hurt.
RELATED: How To Calm Dog Anxiety Naturally
So if it seems like your dog is licking compulsively or excessively, it could be a sign that he is anxious, bored, or in pain. It could also be a sign of allergies or other health problems.
If you think this may be the case, you can have your veterinarian check your dog out to address any medical problems or discomfort. Natural products like colostrum can also help relieve excessive itching and licking.