Why do dogs lick you?

You may have noticed many dogs love to give their human a good lick! Is this a cause for concern or normal behaviour?


You may have noticed many dogs love to give their human a good lick! It might be a gentle, ‘hello’ lick, or it could be a completely excitable, ‘I love you!’ face lick. So, why do dogs lick you? Is it to get attention or is it a form of affection? Some dogs lick people more than others. Is this a cause for concern or normal behaviour?

Experts feel there is not only one specific reason why your dog licks you. There are several possibilities, and sometimes it can be a combination.  

Smell and taste

Licking is a useful behaviour for your dog. It enhances their sense of smell and helps them explore new tastes. Dogs don’t have as many taste buds as we do. But, they can still tell if a flavour is salty, sweet, bitter, or sour. When deciding whether to lick an item (or human), dogs rely on their sense of smell. They will choose to lick the areas of human bodies that have the most inviting aroma — hands, feet, ears, and face. Human skin can smell very appealing with a delicious, salty flavour!

Dog instinct

When observing wolves and wild dogs, humans have noticed they feed their puppies after hunting by regurgitating the prey they ate. To encourage their mother to feed them, the puppies will lick the meat residue left around their mother’s mouth. Some behaviourists believe this instinct can be passed down to domesticated dogs via their DNA.

Showing affection 

Dog licks are also sometimes called ‘kisses’ by their owners. Dogs show affection by occasionally licking other dogs and people too. From birth, licking is part of a dog’s life. The mother dog will have licked her puppies to clean them after birth and show them affection. If your dog sees uncovered human skin, they may well take the chance to lick it to show you they love you.  

Seeking attention 

Your dog’s ‘kisses’ may begin because they are showing you affection. In response to licking, you will likely give them some attention, either negative or positive, so, they might start to associate licking with getting attention. However, always remember that licking does come naturally to dogs, so if you don't like it, try and distract them with something else - playing or doing a puzzle for a treat - but don't tell them off. 

Should I be worried about my dog’s licking? 

It’s entirely natural for dogs to lick humans. Whilst some people aren’t too pleased to be covered in dog saliva. Contrary to popular belief, dogs’ mouths contain bacteria which can cause a problem if it gets into an open wound.

If you are concerned your dog’s licking is a bit over-the-top and it’s starting to be a problem, speak to a canine behaviourist as it can be a sign of anxiety. If your dog is obsessively licking themselves, have your vet check them over to rule out any injury or condition, and then seek behavioural advice, as self-licking without an apparent cause can indicate boredom, loneliness or anxiety.

With a Kennel Club Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.