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Why do dogs lick your face?

Jack Russell dog licking girl face advice
© Shutterstock

What does it mean when a dog licks your face? What does it mean when a dog licks your feet? Are they just a bit weird? Or is it perfectly normal? Let’s find out!

By Ashley Murphy

Why does my dog lick my face?

Reason #1:Habit

Licking is an instinctual behaviour. A new mother will often lick her litter of puppies. It keeps them clean, shows affection, and it also encourages urination and defecation. Dogs associate licking with affection,  so take it as a compliment. It means they love you! Puppies use licking to ask for food. Young pups will jump up and lick their mother's lips. It's a way of saying "I want some food.

Reason #2:Communication

In packs of wild dogs and wolves, licking is a submissive gesture. It's a sign of deference and respect to more dominant members of the group. The submissive dog will assume a passive posture, while the dominant dog remains upright. The lower status dog then licks the dominant dog. The dominant dog doesn't return the favour. Licking helps sort out and sustain the pack's hierarchy, reducing the need for violent conflict. Domesticated dogs still carry the same instinct as their wild cousins. Licking your face is a sign that they respect your position as pack leader.

Reason #3: Taste

It sounds disgusting to us, but dogs love the taste of salty sweat. They can also taste the remnants of what you've eaten that day, and dogs are not ashamed to lick the flavours right off your face.

Reason #4: Greeting

Dogs use licking as a form of greeting. 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!

Why does my dog lick my feet?

Again, as strange as it sounds, they might just like the taste. Feet can get especially sweaty and salty - to a dog, this means “tasty and yummy!” Licking your feet could be also a submissive gesture, or a greeting. Dogs associate licking with their mothers and with other members of their family. Licking feels good. It releases endorphins, which are basically happy chemicals! Endorphins kill off stress producing hormones. Licking your feet offers a dog some stress relief!

Should I let my dog lick my face?

Not really, or at least not very much. A dog licking your face is relatively harmless, but it can also transmit bacteria and parasites. Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter are just some of the bacteria present in your dog's stomach. Their robust digestive systems can cope with this bacteria, ours can't. In fact, it can make us very, very sick.

But don't worry about a few occasional licks. Dr Leni K. Kaplan is a practising veterinarian who says: “When dog saliva touches intact human skin, especially in a healthy person, it is extremely unlikely to cause any problems, as there will be very little absorption through the skin.” Still, it's a good idea to give your face a quick wash!

How do I stop my dog licking my face or feet?

You might not like it when a dog licks you. If not, you can modify their 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.

My dog won't stop licking me!

Excessive licking can be a problem. It's uncomfortable, annoying, and even embarrassing. Dogs have very different “manners."  These guys will lick anyone, or anything! Excessive licking can also be a sign of an underlying mental health issue. Your dog could be stressed, anxious, or even a bit lonely. Make sure they’re getting enough exercise, as well as the right amount of attention. If that doesn't solve it, take them to a vet.

Our pets can’t speak, but they still need to “talk” to us.  Licking is just a natural part of doggy communication, and it's fairly harmless. Just don't let a dog lick your face too much! And if the licking ever become excessive, seek some professional help.

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