Why do dogs lick you?

March 4, 2024
Diana Bocco
Reviewed By: 
5 minute read

Have you ever found yourself giggling and squirming as your pup showers you with slobbery kisses? If you're nodding along, you're not alone. The question of "why do dogs lick" us is as common as it is intriguing – and we’re here to provide you with some answers. 

First things first – think of dog licking as a window into your dog's emotions and instincts. Understanding why your dog feels the urge to lick will give you an insight into some of the mysteries of canine behavior and deepen the bond you share with your four-legged friend. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look into the slobbery world of dog kisses.

Understanding Dog Licking  

Dogs have a language all their own, and licking is a key part of their vocabulary. This behavior, deeply ingrained in their DNA, is much more than a simple slobber fest—it's a window into their emotional and biological wiring. 

Understanding why dogs lick you takes us back to their days in the wild, where puppies licked their mothers' mouths to signal hunger or as a greeting after a hunt. In fact, studies show that, in the wild, young wolves still nip at, lick, and smell the mouth of the adult bringing food home. 1

As domestication bridged the gap between wild canines and couch companions, this behavior evolved. Licking became an expression of affection and even curiosity. Biologically, dogs have scent glands in their mouths, so when they lick you, they're also learning about your day—where you've been, what you've eaten, and who you've met. It's their version of catching up on the latest gossip. 2

This ritual isn't just beneficial for dogs – it also has its perks for humans. When a dog licks you, it releases endorphins in both the licker and the licked, promoting a sense of calm and bonding. 

Signs of Affection  

Your dog’s kisses are one of their most heartfelt expressions of love and affection. This canine kiss, passed down from their earliest days as puppies, is a behavior deeply rooted in their development and social structure. 3

From the moment they enter the world, puppies are introduced to the power of licking by their mothers. It begins with the mother's licks, which are crucial for stimulating her newborns' breathing and encouraging them to feed. 

As puppies grow, they mimic this nurturing gesture, using licking as a way to communicate their needs and establish their place within the family unit. It's their first lesson in affection, care, and the importance of close bonds. 4

When your dog licks you, they're saying, "You're important to me." This simple act serves to strengthen the emotional connection between you and your dog and helps bridge the species divide with a mutual understanding of care and companionship.

So, the next time your furry friend starts licking you, think of it as a way for them to say, "I love you," without words.

Seeking Attention  

Dogs are incredibly attuned to human reactions and quickly learn that licking is a surefire way to engage their owners. Whether it's a gentle nudge for playtime, a plea for those tasty crumbs on your plate, or simply a call for affection, each lick is meant to get  a reaction from you. 

This behavior is rooted in their early puppyhood, where licks served as a mechanism to prompt their mother for food and care. It's a survival tactic that has evolved into a very effective form of communication we reinforce when we respond in a positive way to the licking.

Tasting and Exploring  

Wondering why dogs lick your hands? Dogs, curious by nature, use their tongues much like we use our hands—to touch, feel, and, most importantly, taste everything around them. 

The canine tongue is a powerful tool, equipped with taste buds that can detect various flavors, including the salty taste of human skin. Sweat, lotions, and even the residual taste of what you've eaten can show through your skin. This sensory exploration is a critical part of how dogs process information about their guardians and their surroundings. 5

Licking also allows dogs to pick up on our scent, which is laced with pheromones that carry emotional and physiological information. This olfactory investigation helps them understand how we're feeling —stressed, happy, or anything in between— and strengthens our bond with them.

So, the next time your dog decides you're the most interesting lickable object in the room, remember it's part of their learning process. 

Indicators of Health or Stress  

In some cases, obsessive licking can also be a red flag signaling underlying health issues or stress. 

Excessive licking, particularly when it's directed at you, themselves, or the air, can be a dog's way of coping with discomfort, ranging from physical ailments like allergies to emotional turmoil like anxiety. 6

Understanding the context and frequency of your dog's licking is key to understanding the message it. For example, if your normally reserved dog suddenly becomes obsessive with licking anything (including you), it might be time to pay attention.

Are they trying to soothe an itchy skin caused by allergies? Or perhaps they're dealing with gastrointestinal discomfort that's too complex for them to understand or communicate. Dogs, much like humans, have their own set of worries and fears, and licking can be their go-to stress reliever. It's a self-soothing behavior that releases endorphins, helping them to calm down. 7

However, licking is only a temporary solution. Without addressing the root cause, your dog might resort to licking more frequently as their stress levels rise.

Monitoring your dog's habits will alert you of a sudden increase in licking, especially if it's accompanied by other signs of distress, such as whining, pacing, or hiding. If you notice changes, a visit to the vet is always a good idea to get to the bottom of what's causing this change in behavior, whether it’s a health issue that needs medical care or an emotional problem that requires behavioral therapy or environmental changes. 8

How to Respond to Your Dog's Licking  

Responding to your dog's licks requires a blend of affection, boundaries, and a plan. A lick or two can be a sign of love, and returning the gesture with a pat or a kind word can strengthen your bond. However, indulging excessive licking can sometimes encourage a behavior you might not always want. 9

So, how do you strike the right balance? It's all about context and moderation. Acknowledge their affection, but also teach them alternative ways to seek attention. Simple commands like "sit" or "stay" can redirect their enthusiasm and reinforce good behavior. Treats and toys can also provide a positive outlet for their affectionate energy.

Incorporating basic training techniques and teaching your dog commands like "leave it" or "no lick" can help set clear boundaries. Positive reinforcement, patience, and consistency are key in managing the behavior, ensuring your dog understands when it's okay to express their love in this way and when it's time to show affection differently. 10

Remember, every dog is unique, and finding the right approach might take some time, but it's all part of the journey you share with your furry friend.


So why do dogs lick? Whether it’s a sign of love or a way to explore the world, understanding why dogs lick you can deepen the bond between you and your furry friend. 

It's crucial to recognize when this behavior is just an expression of their natural instincts or a sign of underlying health issues. At Cola’s Kitchen, we believe that incorporating well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals is part of an overall health and well-being plan that can help keep your dog healthy and strong, including mitigating stress factors contributing to excessive licking.

Remember, the key to a happy, healthy relationship with your dog lies in understanding and appropriately responding to their behaviors. Always consult with a veterinarian if you're concerned about your dog's licking habits. 

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Cola's Kitchen precision diet is the first truly tailored diet for a unique approach to nutrition. Our diets are individually formulated and balanced to address the most precise nutritional requirements of your pup.

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