Why Do Dogs Lick? (The Ultimate Communication Tool) | Herepup
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Why Do Dogs Lick? (The Ultimate Communication Tool)

If you own a dog, you’ve been zapped by his tongue. While you may find a dog’s lick an endearing symbol of affection or a gross habit, there are several reasons why your pooch unleashes his unwieldy tongue apart from showing adoration.

The Ultimate Communication Tool

While we like to assume that a dog’s lick means “I love you,” it’s not always the case. Because a dog can’t speak, he uses his tongue to communicate with people and animals in different ways. When a dog licks his owner, there are several messages that he may be communicating, from acceptance and protection to concern, affection, and the fact that your skin may be tasty.

Licking Isn’t a Learned Behavior - It’s an Instinct

It's not unusual to complain about a dog's lick, or to wonder why he picked up such a habit. The truth is that licking is not a habit that he developed along the way. Rather, it is hardwired into his DNA.

This instinctual behavior can take on different manifestations. For instance, a mother dog will lick her pups as a means of grooming, while a pup will lick the mom to indicate he is ready to feed. In pack situations, a dog on the lower end of the command chain may lick a superior pooch in hopes of receiving an invite to dine on food.

When a dog licks your face, he is using the same kind of communication that he would deploy in a wild environment. He may be delighted to see you, especially after you've been away at work for a few hours. However, he may also be resorting to a low end of the pack status and letting you know that he's hungry and he’s looking for some grub.

Am I Receiving a Bunch of Germs if a Dog Licks My Face?

Why Do Dogs Lick 2

Some people may be weary that a lick of their dog’s tongue may end up with their face slathered in dog germs. This is one of the reasons why dog licks may be considered to be quite unsanitary. This may especially seem like the case if you close your eyes and picture what kind of unpleasant stuff your dog may wrap his mouth around.

You really don’t have a lot to worry about. The bacteria that is carried from a dog’s tongue to your cheek is not all that worse compared to the bacteria we pass each other when we kiss. Until we begin to think that smooching our significant other is gross, we really shouldn’t make a huge hullaballoo if your four-legged friend manages to sneak a couple of tongue plants on your cheek.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t have the power to quell the licking. Something as simple as closing your eyes, yawning, and turning your head away can convey the message that you appreciate his friendliness, and that he doesn’t have to lick your face off. It not only helps to stave off licking, but it does so in a way that still manages to honor his instinct.

Is there Such a Thing as Too Much Licking?

While licking is instinctual, it can also become excessive. A dog licking the same spot repeatedly on his body, or constantly licking the same object, could indicate that your pooch has a medical condition. Some of these conditions could be tied to the dog's mentality while other conditions do have a physical connotation.

For instance, a dog that licks its feet constantly could be trying to knock out a persistent itch brought upon by allergies, while a dog that constantly licks its backside could be in need of having his anal glands expressed. A dog that obsessively licks a particular object could be suffering from anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you suspect your dog’s licking could be tied to either element, take them to see a vet or a behavioral specialist.

Of Course They Like You!

If you read this and assume that all that you thought about licking was wrong, don’t. One of the key components behind a dog licking your face is to show you that he likes you, he trusts your leadership as the “alpha dog,” and you make him comfortable. Definitions of love really don’t get much purer than that.


Laura Harris

Dr. Laura Harris is our resident dog health expert. She started to fact-check dog health-related information for HerePup during her internship and contributes since then. Her expertise is in dog nutrition, senior dog care, especially critical care medicine and internal medicine.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments
Margaret Simmons - July 11, 2019

My son’s dog licks all the time. It is a little bit annoying. I know that the dog likes me a lot so I just put up with it but I would like it to be a little bit less.
Any ideas?


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