All dogs lick. But if your dog starts licking you too much, or if they lick friends or visitors that don’t enjoy this behaviour, it can quickly start to make life more difficult and unpleasant. The first step in stopping your dog from licking is to understand why they are doing it in the first place.
Reasons why dogs lick their humans
There can be a variety of reasons why your canine companion licks you, and the type of licking can sometimes be indicative of why they are behaving this way.
Your dog is showing you affection
You are your dog’s favourite person and to it stands to reason that they will want to show you this by showering you with affection. For some dogs, this may include licking. Some people view licking as ‘dog kisses’, and they aren’t too far off the mark, particularly when your furbaby decides to lick your hands or face. This licking is usually accompanied by excited behaviours such as a wagging tail and nuzzling into you.
If you would prefer that your dog doesn’t lick you as a sign of affection, it’s important not to respond to them with affection or playing as this will only reinforce the idea that licking you will get them positive attention. Instead, stay totally still and respond with a command such as “no lick”. Over time, your doggo will start to understand that you don’t like to be licked.
Your dog is trying to understand your mood
Everyone always says that dogs are exceptionally good at picking up on their owner’s emotions and they aren’t wrong! For example, if you’ve had a bad day and are feeling down, your furbaby may seem to instinctively know that you need comfort and will come and quietly sit or lay by you to offer you their support. However, it’s not all instinct. We also emit pheromones in our sweat which our clever canines can decode to understand our mood. Licking our sweaty feet, hands or any other body part emitting these pheromones can be our dog’s way of figuring out how we are feeling at any given moment.
Your dog wants to taste what you’ve been eating
This reason is a little more straightforward. If you’ve been eating something interesting, their curiosity might drive your doggo to come over and lick your fingers so they too can grab a taste of what you’ve had!
Your dog is being submissive
Many doggy behaviours can be traced back centuries, including licking. Dogs have evolved from wolves, who used to live in packs. Studies have found that the pack leader would be licked by others within the group to signify their obedience and submission to the leader. Since you are the alpha in your home, your dog may lick you to show that they understand that you are in charge!
Your dog thinks you taste nice!
Finally, your darling doggy might simply be licking you because they think you taste nice! All humans have slightly salty skin, especially when we’ve been exercising. Many dogs love the taste of salt so they may come over to you and lick you just because you taste good to them!
Reasons why dogs lick themselves
It’s not just humans that are the target of dog’s licking behaviours though. Self-licking is also very common, and in some cases, licking objects. When a dog licks themselves, it is usually to soothe an irritation or pain. However, if your dog starts licking obsessively, it could be that there is an underlying health problem that needs attention. For example, there may be an infected area of skin hidden beneath your dog’s coat, or they may be suffering from an allergic reaction.
If your dog is showing obsessive licking behaviours, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian so that they can be checked over.
How to tackle problem licking in dogs
If your dog’s licking is proving irritating or problematic, there are some methods you can use to discourage this behaviour. One of the most effective is to redirect your dog to another activity, such as playing with them, giving them a treat or a puzzle-type activity to distract them. Using a command like “no lick” will help to reinforce that this isn’t something that you want them to do. Like other types of training, it will take time for your dog to fully understand which behaviour you would like them to stop, but with time, persistence and patience, you can soon make undesirable licking a thing of the past!