Why Do Dogs Lick You?

Coming home to the warm, slobbery welcome of our furry companions is truly a heartwarming experience. But have you ever wondered why dogs lick their owners? While many interpret this behavior as a sign of affection, there may be more to it than meets the eye. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of dog licking to uncover its true meaning and explore how to address excessive licking behavior.

Is Licking a Dog’s Way of Kissing?

Research suggests that dog licking has different motivations. While it may be easy to assume that licking is akin to a dog’s version of kissing, the truth is more nuanced. Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, head of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University, explains that puppies in the wild canid family lick their mother’s face and muzzle to encourage her to regurgitate food for them. This instinctive behavior may still be present in domesticated dogs.

On the other hand, your dog may simply find your taste appealing. Humans have slightly salty skin, especially after physical activity. Therefore, a dog’s licks might be more about seeking salt than expressing affection. Dr. Mary Burch, a certified applied animal behaviorist, suggests that if your dog likes to lick your face, it may often occur after you’ve finished a delicious meal. So, it’s possible that their licking is a mix of seeking food remnants and showing some form of affection.

When Does a Dog’s Licking Become a Problem?

In most cases, licking is harmless and serves as a way for dogs to express themselves. It’s important to note that licking is not a form of dominance but rather a submissive behavior. However, there are instances where excessive licking can become an issue. For example, if your dog excessively licks themselves, you, or objects to the point of it becoming a self-stimulatory behavior, it might be a sign of anxiety, boredom, pain, allergies, or other underlying health problems.

Furthermore, some people may not enjoy being licked by dogs. If you have friends or family members who dislike dog licking, redirecting the behavior is a considerate action for both parties involved.

What Can Dog Owners Do About Problem Licking?

If your dog exhibits excessive self-licking, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues. Once medical causes have been addressed, behavioral solutions can be implemented.

One strategy is to redirect your dog’s behavior. When your dog starts licking, switch their focus to a different activity. For example, you can use interactive puzzles or engage in ball play or trick training. By consistently redirecting their behavior, you can reinforce the notion that excessive licking is not desired without resorting to negative reinforcement.

To provide a positive outlet for your dog’s licking instinct, consider using specialized lick mats. These mats, when coated with dog-safe peanut butter or plain yogurt, can satisfy their urge to lick in a non-destructive and enjoyable way.

Trick training is another effective method for turning undesirable behavior into an opportunity for positive reinforcement. Start with simple commands like sitting and reward their compliance with treats. As you progress, you can teach your dog more complex tricks, such as giving you a hug or speaking on cue. Trick training can not only redirect their licking behavior but also strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend.

Remember, it’s crucial to ensure that your dog receives ample attention and exercise to prevent boredom and excessive energy, which can lead to over-licking or other destructive behaviors.


Q: Can excessive licking be a sign of a health problem?
A: Yes, excessive licking can indicate underlying health issues such as anxiety, allergies, pain, or boredom. If you notice persistent and obsessive licking, it is advised to consult with a veterinarian.

Q: How can I redirect my dog’s licking behavior?
A: To redirect your dog’s licking, offer alternative activities that are incompatible with licking, such as interactive puzzles, ball play, or trick training. By consistently reinforcing these behaviors, you can gradually discourage excessive licking.

Q: Are lick mats beneficial for dogs?
A: Yes, lick mats are designed to provide a positive outlet for dogs’ licking behavior. Coating a lick mat with dog-safe peanut butter or plain yogurt can satisfy their urge to lick in a non-destructive and enjoyable way.


While dog licking is often interpreted as a gesture of affection, it can have various motivations. Understanding the reasons behind your dog’s licking behavior is essential for addressing excessive licking and ensuring their well-being. By redirecting their focus, providing appropriate outlets for licking, and engaging in positive reinforcement, you can maintain a healthy and harmonious relationship with your beloved canine companion.

For more expert advice and answers to your burning questions, visit Top Q&A, your go-to platform for all things knowledge.

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