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Why Do Dogs Lick People? 6 Vet-Verified Reasons

Written by: Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Last Updated on June 20, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog licking the hand of its owner

Why Do Dogs Lick People? 6 Vet-Verified Reasons


Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo


Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs are amazing companions that provide us with love, loyalty, and the opportunity to learn about things like responsibility and compassion. They tend to enjoy doing many of the same things that we like to do, such as eating and snuggling. They also like doing things that we wouldn’t normally think of doing, like lick people. But why do dogs lick people? There happen to be a few common reasons for this behavior.

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The 6 Reasons Why Dogs Lick People

1. It’s About Communication

Dogs communicate in a variety of different ways. Most people know about barking and whimpering, but some don’t realize that licking can be a form of communication for dogs too. A dog might lick their companion to say hello or let them know how much they have been missed. Licking can also be their method of displaying loyalty or signaling that a potty break is needed. It can even serve as a way for them to claim “ownership” of us, like they would other dogs in their pack.

dog licking the forearm of its owner
Image Credit: Klymenok Olena, Shutterstock

2. Skin Can Be Tasty

Human skin can be salty, especially while sweating or after a workout. Dogs can taste that salt, so they might lick a human companion just for the saltiness. Just because a dog does this doesn’t mean that they are lacking in sodium; the salty taste is simply appealing to them, making them want to lap it up.

3. They’re Feeling Empathetic

Dogs tend to be good about knowing when their human companions are feeling down or ill. If your dog is the type to acknowledge empathy and offer comfort, they might lick your face, arm, or hand in an attempt to be there for you when you aren’t feeling your best. If this is the case, their licks are likely to be soft and slow and may be accompanied by snuggles too.

pomeranian dog licking the hand of owner on bed
Image Credit: Melianiaka Kanstantsin, Shutterstock

4. It’s a Sign of Approval

Some dogs like to show their approval for something that their human companion is doing by giving them a few “sweet” licks. You might get a lick or two when you feed them or when you’ve invited them to snuggle on your lap during movie time. It’s their way of saying, “Hey, what you’re doing is cool, and I’d love for you to keep doing it in the future!”

5. Attention Is Wanted

Most dogs that try it figure out that licking their companion is a great way of getting extra attention. If staring, whining, and other antics do not work, a slobbery lick is sure to get a reaction from their human, whether it’s good or bad. After all, getting licked is sure to catch someone off-guard!

chihuahua dog seeking attention from owner
Image Credit: Annette Shaff, Shutterstock

6. It’s an Instinct

Puppies learn how to lick through their mothers’ actions. At birth, a mother dog must stimulate their pups to pee and poo by licking their genital areas. This goes on for a few weeks, so puppies learn early that licking is a way to communicate and interact with others in the world. It’s also known that wolf, fox, and other types of wild puppies lick their mother’s muzzle after she eats to encourage her to regurgitate food for them to nibble on. So, it seems that licking others can be an instinctual behavior for canines.

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When Should Licking Be a Concern?

Most of the time, a dog occasionally licking themselves or someone else is harmless. However, a dog could be licking someone or themselves because they have a health or mental problem. Excessive licking is often a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. The problem could be boredom or anxiety, or it could be due to pain or allergies. Therefore, if you notice that your pup is frequently licking themselves or others, schedule a veterinary visit for a checkup.

How to Stop Unwanted Licking

You don’t have to allow your dog to lick you or others if you feel that the behavior is unacceptable. The best way to handle the situation is to redirect their attention anytime they begin licking someone. Give them a verbal cue to stop the behavior, and distract them with a toy or another activity to get involved in. The key is to be patient and consistent. Offering a treat or puzzle toy for your dog to play with when visitors are over should keep them busy, so they don’t bother people with licks.

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There are a few different reasons that a dog might lick people, and most are harmless. If the licking is annoying or becomes concerning, redirect the behavior until it’s corrected. If that doesn’t work, schedule an appointment with your vet.

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Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

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