dog licking man's head

Sloppy doggie kisses usually come with the territory of dog ownership, but this behavior doesn’t have to over shadow their other positive canine traits. In fact, just like “sit”, “stay”, or “down”, pups can be trained not to lick. After all, it’s not always welcome and it can be kind of…gross. But a slobbery, affectionate dog can also be hard to resist! That brings us to a common question among dog owners and canine appreciators: Is it okay when a dog licks you?

What Makes Sense

Dogs lick for many reasons. They are taught from an early age that licking themselves is nurturing action, but they also regularly tend to their paws, abdomen and genitalia in order to clean the body. 

If they lick aggressively or repetitively in the same spot, they could be suffering from a wound or other injury, or enduring the harmful effects of fleas or other parasites.

Stress can also cause a dog to lick their lips excessively or yawn, and repetitive licking at their body can suggest boredom or tension. Licking can release endorphins and bring a sense of security to a lonely dog

Dog Meet Dog

When they lick other dogs it may convey submission or respect. They may use this behavior as a means to figure out the intentions of the other.

How About You?

Of course, dogs also use their tongues to show affection to the people they love most, an instinct they were born with. One of their first experiences after birth is a bath provided by their mother. Licking is a shared, or communal, behavior that reinforces the bond within a dog’s pack, and eventually within the human-canine relationship.

Since dogs use their nose and mouth to decode their surroundings, licking helps them pick up clues about what’s going on. Additionally, sweat on human skin can provide interesting salty notes for dogs.

Fulfilling Sequence

Additionally, your dog licks you to communicate, investigate, show enjoyment, get rewards or attention, and demonstrate understanding of their place on the “pecking order”. Chances are, after your dog licks you, they are bestowed with your affection and attention (even in an effort to “stop” them from continually licking you). Again, the action is paired with the release of endorphins so dogs know to seek out the behavior again and again.

What About Stinky Breath?

Without a doubt, a dog with undiagnosed or untreated periodontal disease will likely have foul-smelling breath. If or when they attempt to lick you, they may not get the affection or praise they’re looking for. 

When your dog licks you they may pass dangerous bacteria from their mouth onto your skin. This can be especially risky if you have an open wound, or if they manage to lick your teeth or lips. Simply redirect the behavior and try not to reward licking if you want it to stop.
Above all, it’s important to remember that your dog licks you because they love you. If you have any questions about canine behavior and the benefits of training, please let us know.