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Why do dogs lick you?

Brown and white dog licking a hand advice

What does it mean when a dog licks you?

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A dog licking you can mean different things. They might be happy to see you. They might like your taste! Or they might want to know how you’re feeling!

By Ashley Murphy

Why do dogs lick?

Instinctive behaviour

Licking is part of "doggy" culture. It keeps them clean and healthy - dogs’ saliva contains agents that can kill germs and heal wounds. Mothers will lick their puppies’ genitals to stimulate urination and defecation. They will also lick their puppies simply to clean them, thus eliminating any lingering scent that could attract predators.

Communication

Licking is also a way of saying “I'm hungry”. Older puppies lick their mothers’ lips in the hope that they'll get some food. Indeed, this behaviour induces canids to regurgitate food for their puppies. Licking also has important social functions, especially in wild dog packs. Originating from puppyhood behaviour, licking is a form of respect. It's a way for a lower status pack member to acknowledge a higher status pack member’s position. Dogs also use licking to say ‘sorry’. If a dog has upset the pack leader, they will often start licking the dominant dog's nose or lips

What does it mean when a dog licks you?

To express his love and connect with you

For a dog, licking their human can often be a way of showing affection. It also cements the bond between you and your dog. When a dog licks someone they like, their brain releases feel-good chemicals. That person then becomes associated with a positive emotion, and vice versa.

Alternatively, your dog may be licking you to find out more about how you're feeling. Human sweat contains certain hormones that can reveal our emotional state. If we're scared or nervous, our sweat will contain pheromones that are not present when we are calm. A dog can’t quite taste them, but they can sense them with something called the vomeronasal organ.

To say hello

Licking can also be a form of greeting for dogs. It's their way of saying: "Hello, welcome back, I've missed you!" It's the doggy equivalent of a handshake, or even a hug!

...you just taste good!

Sometimes they just like the way we taste! If we have just handled food, we may still have the smell of it on our skin. If you're sweaty after a workout, your dog will love your salty flavour!

Why does my dog keep licking me? And is it unhygienic?

You should always wash your hands after a dog has licked them, and many experts recommend against letting a dog lick your face.

Firstly, you don't know where their mouth has been. Dogs have a very "unique" way of cleaning their delicate parts. Do you really want that tongue on your face? Or even on your lips?

Most of the bacteria in your dog's mouth is pretty harmless. In fact, when dog saliva comes into contact with intact human skin, especially that of a healthy person, it's unlikely to cause any health issues.

However, dogs can pick up nasty strains from sniffing animal waste or drinking contaminated water. They could catch salmonella, pasteurella, and leptospira. Additionally, your dog's stomach contains various kinds of bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. These can all be passed onto humans, and all of them can be very unpleasant.

Parasites are another risk. If your dog licks your face, they could transmit things like ringworm. Zoonotic diseases are usually treatable, but it's best to avoid them completely.

How do I get my dog to stop licking me?

You can modify your dog's behaviour with some reward based training. The next time your dog tries to lick you, move away from them. In fact, ignore them completely. Give it 10-15 seconds, then reward them with a treat or some affection. If the dog persists in licking you, don't be afraid of taking a firmer approach. You should never be aggressive or domineering, but a firm “no” command can be very effective.

Excessive licking

If your dog is licking everything in sight, including you, then there might be a problem. The first thing you should do is take them to a vet, as obsessive licking can be a sign of gastrointestinal issues, such as gastritis.

They may also be suffering from stress or anxiety. If that's the case, you'll notice other symptoms, including pacing, shedding, and disruptive behaviour. Speak to a vet for more advice, and be aware you may need to consult a professional animal behaviourist to help you with this problem.

In the majority of cases, licking is completely harmless. In fact, it's normally a good sign! It means that your dog likes you, and it's a really effective way of building up the natural bond between humans and their canine friends. However, as much as we love them, our dogs can still be a bit gross sometimes. So always wash your hands, and remember, its best to avoid any doggy kisses on the lips!

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