When you adopt a puppy, you can expect to have your hands and face licked a lot. It’s just what they do, and it’s usually accompanied by lots of tail wagging, excitable yelping, and even playful nipping. But why does my dog lick my hands?
First, the good news is that if a dog is licking your hand, it’s almost always a positive sign. But the exact reasons can be varied. It could be affection, submission, or even just tasting (you taste good).
So let’s take a look at some of the reasons and when you might want to take a closer look at their behavior.
- 1 Is Licking a Dog’s Way of Kissing?
- 2 Why Does my Dog Lick My Hands? 5 Reasons
- 3 When to Take Note More Intently
- 4 Decoding the Dog Lick Language
- 5 When Licking is a Problem (and What to Do About it)
- 6 To a Licky Future with Your Pup
Is Licking a Dog’s Way of Kissing?
Let’s get a common perception out of the way first: Now, some owners who ascribe lots of human traits to their dog feel that when their dog licks them, it’s a form of kissing. In reality, we’re just not sure about this.
The research jury is out on whether or not this can be compared to human kissing, but sometimes, there’s an element of affection involved.
When you consider that a dog might just be conditioning you to give them some doggy treats, the doubt comes in. If they exhibit a particular behavior, they may get a reward. So until a double agent canine spills the beans, we may not ever know for sure.
Why Does my Dog Lick My Hands? 5 Reasons
You can tell a lot by the details of a dog’s lick, even if it’s their nose they’re licking. The accompanying body language, the intensity of the licking, and even the look in their eyes should tell you why it’s happening at that moment.
1. Puppy Behavior
When they are young, dogs (and species of the dog family – wolves, foxes, etc.) constantly lick their mothers’ faces. It is believed that they do this to see whether she has food for them, presumably from a hunt. They can sometimes tell by the remnants of prey around her muzzle.
In the same way, it is instinctual for puppies to lick anyone they perceive as senior in a pack situation. If you encounter puppies, chances are they will seek to lick you to death.
So it’s an instinctual action that translates to humans as they take over from a dog mom.
2. Humans Taste Salty
The rather unromantic part of why dogs lick you is that you taste good. Humans are naturally salty to the tastebuds (yes, you are not sweet), and dogs’ heightened sense of taste seems to enjoy this.
Some people with dogs seem to like letting their dogs lick their faces, too. Researchers find that this behavior may have something to do with what a dog can taste from your last meal.
Again, when they are puppies, dogs lick their mothers’ faces for similar reasons. “Gimme some of that!” is what they’re saying.
3. Dogs Say Hello This Way
The animal senses in dogs are well-honed. Aside from seeing you, they feel more comfortable the more senses they can engage. So smelling you and tasting you are all part of a greeting ritual that sets them at ease.
Licking your hand has to do with that, but it is also partly learned from a young age. When you think about it, most people meet dogs by reaching out with their hands.
Over time, this is usually the first part of a person the dog will touch and smell and taste.
4. Dogs are Offering You a Refresher Lick
An additional theory states that dogs would lick and clean their pack when members returned to a group. In part, this may have been to show respect and obedience to pack leaders. In that way, it is showing you that you are the alpha.
But it could also have been a gentle cleaning action. Your dog may, in effect, be offering its intuitive form of a refresher towel when you get home. Also, to find out what you were eating.
Speaking of which, good dog food is always crucial in maintaining a happy puppy.
5. What Dogs Find Out By Licking
Take note next time you see dogs who are taught to shake hands and paws. They often look a bit confused and embarrassed. This is no greeting for a dog.
When a dog licks your hand and smells it, he can run a background check on you, so to speak. What were you last touching and eating? When did you last travel to Europe? Ok, not that last one, but it can tell a lot nonetheless.
When to Take Note More Intently
If a dog’s licking seems especially urgent and anxious, you may need to take a closer look at whether the licking is perhaps too frantic. Some dogs suffer from separation anxiety, and when you reunite, the welcome may be an indicator of hyper anxiety.
This is borne from relief after an extended mental state of fear and isn’t a positive experience for your puppy.
Get a sense of whether your dog’s licking is happy or anxious, and consult a vet accordingly. In some cases, mild anxiety can be treated with a calming CBD oil for pets. Dedicated playtime may also be helpful – try some dog toys for effect.
Note: take a look at this list of best CBD oils for dogs.
Decoding the Dog Lick Language
Let’s take a quick dive into some of the details around what you can tell from a dog licking your hand.
1. Is it OK to Let a Dog Lick You?
Yes, it is. Provided you have no specific allergies and don’t mind a little bit of doggy tongue all over your hands, this is a perfectly natural way to bond. It has been for many centuries.
You need to think of a dog licking you like another person or child trying to hug or kiss you. Punishing the dog for doing this will lead to undesirable results, notably a breakdown in communication between the dog and people.
Consider that a happy puppy will lick to tell you they are pleased to see you. They will be excited, and their tail will wag almost uncontrollably. They’ll bounce about excitedly and try to grab you with their paws.
All of this causes a hormonal and emotional high in your pooch. They just seem to keep going until you move along or distract them with something else.
Contrast this with a lick that seems scared and reluctant. The tail is down between their legs; the pup is moving slowly and uncertainly. This feels more like a submission. Or it could be telling you that it’s not feeling well.
Communication is essential, and licking – how it occurs – plays a part in this.
3. Affection And Submission
So we’ve established that licking often signifies affection. But it also indicates submission. Licking a hand enthusiastically shows that a dog is comfortable with your presence and is happy to let you dictate proceedings.
When Licking is a Problem (and What to Do About it)
With all that said, your dog needs to understand the limits of its lickathon. Some people are just not comfortable with dogs and licking. If your dog is prone to run up to people and lick them randomly, it’s a problem. Or, it could be. (If it’s a problem, use a safe harness when outdoors).
There are some methods for training a dog with distraction, instead of simply denying them the pleasure of licking those who do enjoy it. Take a look at some redirection techniques (training from an early age helps) to combat this.
Excessive licking could also be a sign of anxiety or other health issues. If you feel your dog may be of a nervous disposition, leading to excessive licking to the point of your or its discomfort, consult a vet for possible remedies.
What Can Dog Owners Do About Problem Licking?
Assuming you have a vet check out your pet and eliminate any specific health problems related to the licking, you may want to try a redirection technique to change the behavior.
Experts recommend immediately creating an activity that makes it impossible for the dog to lick simultaneously. Perhaps a game or puzzle that engages the dog in a way that completely changes the action. Some dogs take well to trick training.
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Over time, doggo will learn that when its instinct is to lick, it will naturally go toward doing something that doesn’t involve licking. Think of it as positive habit building to combat a negative impulse.
To a Licky Future with Your Pup
The lick is an excellent reward for dog owners and an excellent indicator that all is well with the pooch. It’s a great idea to enjoy the bonding and let those tongues go to town whenever you arrive home. At the very least, your dog will appreciate finding out where you’ve been, what you’ve eaten, and the very taste of your skin.
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