Dogs and human relationships date back thousands of years. Over the years, dogs have gone from human work animals or protectors to household companions. Having a dog in your home is suitable for your physical and emotional health. You love your dog, but sometimes you may wonder why they do some of the things they do, like licking. Have you ever wondered what makes dogs lick? Here are some of the things behavioral experts say about why dogs lick humans.

Why Do Dogs Lick Humans?

Here are seven reasons why dogs lick humans (these are fascinating!).

1 – Licking shows your dog’s submission

The number one reason behavioral experts say dogs lick their human’s face is to express submissiveness. It’s a dog’s way of showing positive social behavior towards humans. Dogs are pack animals. In a pack, dogs submit to their dominant counterpart by licking the sides of their mouth. Your pup, in turn, sees you as their superior in rank. After all, you’re the one who feeds and cares for them. So they see you as the one in charge. Your dog’s licks express submission to you.

dogs lick humans

2 – Licking could be affection

Dog owners typically feel that when their dogs lick to show affection. It makes sense since you are your dog pack leader. They’re only showing you submission but respect and greeting. Dogs lick to groom themselves. They learned to groom from their dog parent, usually their mother, early in life. Dog mothers cleaned their pups by licking them. So, it’s thought that dogs may lick their humans to comfort themselves and connect with their humans. It’s also a social gesture that puppies learn to strengthen their bond with their people.

3 – Licking may be to get attention

It’s hard not to enjoy a slobbery kiss from your canine. Your dog learns early on that you appreciate their kisses. They use licking to communicate with you, usually to get your attention. Young dogs lick more than older dogs. Puppies lick to get attention or care from you or their dog parents. So, it makes sense that another reason your puppy licks you is to get your attention when they want something like a treat or a good belly rub.

4 – Licking could show your dog is anxious

If your dog is nervous, they may lick your hand or arm to release some of their pent-up anxiety. You’ll know if your dog is fearful or upset because they’ll keep licking you until you give them attention. If your dog licks you all the time, speak with your vet or trainer about it. This canine behavior could show your dog has developed an anxiety disorder. These professionals will help you find strategies to relieve your dog’s anxiety and stop their compulsive licking.

5 – Licking is an instinctive behavior

Another reason why dogs lick their humans is probably rooted in instinctive behavior. Wolf pups licked their mother’s mouth to know they were hungry or thirsty. Modern dogs are no different. They use licking as a way to let you know they need something. Of course, it could be your dog is letting you know they feel loved and protected, similar to the way their mother dog cared for them. It may feel weird that in a dog’s eyes, you’re just like their mother dog, but it’s a compliment of your good care for them.

6 – Licking could mean you taste good

Some researchers suggest dogs lick humans because they’re craving salt. Their tongues lack the salt receptors that your tongue has. Human tongues have receptors around the edge of their tongue, including the tip. Dog tongues have just two small areas on their tongue that can detect salt. Since dogs are carnivores, they may crave salt. When your dog licks your skin, it’s like a salty snack to them. This idea does not provide irrefutable proof, but it could explain this canine behavior of licking.

7 – Licking may show that dog is seeking emotional support

Dogs are intuitive to human’s feelings. Service dogs of veterans nudge or lick their owners to help them stop having negative feelings or emotions. This is because dogs watch human faces. They notice a change in a human’s expression from positive to negative.

dogs lick humans

Is It Healthy When Dogs Lick Humans?

Probably not. Most people feel that their dog’s lick is safe, but studies show otherwise. Dogs and puppies’ licks can transmit infection and pathogens to humans. Pasteurella and Capmocytophaga have both been transmitted to humans by their pets. Pasteurella multocida meningitis has been reported in infants exposed to dogs’ or cats’ secretions from licking or sniffing. Certain bacteria found in a dog’s mouth can cause eye infections.

At one time, people thought that dog salvia was sterile, but this isn’t true. Dog saliva contains hundreds of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Immune comprised individuals are particularly at risk of infection, but even healthy people who a dog has licked can develop sepsis, this could become a bigger problem if dogs drink pool water.

It’s essential that you practice good hygiene when feeding and housing your dog to prevent the spread of bacteria. Be sure to wash your hands after handling your dog’s waste before you rub your eyes or eat food. Avoid allowing your dog to lick your mouth or eyes. Little licks once in a while are okay, but it’s best to help your dog learn not to lick you.

Can you teach your dog not to lick you?

Dogs are smart. You can train your dog to stop licking you and your kids. When your dog licks you, give a common, “No lick.” If you use a clicker, click it once as you give this command. Your dog will know that their licking isn’t positive behavior to you. They will eventually stop doing it when they hear the order. When your dog stops licking you when you give the command, be sure to provide them with praise, saying something like, “Good no lick! Good dog,” or give them a treat. Over time, your dog will know that you don’t like them to lick you. Because your dog may try to get your attention when they lick you, be sure you pay more attention to what they need, so they don’t resort to this behavior.

What if your dog doesn’t like to lick you?

Some dogs don’t like licking their humans. That’s okay. If your dog doesn’t lick you, it doesn’t mean they aren’t well adjusted or don’t like you. Dogs have many ways of showing their needs. Licking is just one of them. Your dog can learn to express affection and the need for attention in other ways. Of course, some dogs are naturally more reserved and tend not to lick much. Maybe they weren’t licked as puppies, so they don’t consider licking as a way of showing affection or getting attention.

Which dog breeds lick humans the most?

Labrador Retrievers lick a lot. This breed is naturally friendly and eager to please. They are typically relaxed and super loyal to their humans, so it makes sense they lick their humans a lot. Another breed that likes to give kisses is the Golden Retriever. They’re friendly to everyone, even strangers. This could be their way of showing submission to everyone they meet since they’re very docile dogs. Other dogs that tend to lick a lot include

  • Poodles
  • Chihuahua
  • Pugs
  • Bichon Frise
  • American Pitbull
  • Dachshund
  • Beagle
  • German shepherd
  • Rottweiler
  • French Bulldog
  • Yorkshire Terrier

dogs lick humans

Final Thoughts on Why Dogs Lick Humans

Most dog licks are harmless canine behavior. Your pup is trying to communicate their submission and loyalty to you. A few doggie licks are okay, but generally, it’s not healthy to let your dog lick your mouth, eyes, or nose area. Dog salvia is swarming with germs that can make you sick. Your dog may lick you instinctively or because they lick the saltiness of your skin. You can train your dog not to lick you. With patience and consistency, your dog will learn that you don’t like licks over time.

Remember, your dog relies on you for survival. So, be sure to pay attention to their needs, so they don’t need to lick you all the time to get a drink of water or fed. If your dog is licking themselves, you, or other things in the house all the time, it could mean your pooh has anxiety. Get help from a trainer or your vet to find strategies to help your dog relax.