Puppies are like giant balls of hair and fur wrapped around a tongue. Most of everything they do is centered around that particular organ. It’s so important to their understanding of the world, and they deploy it at every opportunity. But that does sometimes leave us as humans baffled and asking, “why does my puppy lick me so much?”
It turns out there are several reasons for dogs licking their humans. Most of them are positive reasons, though one or two might require your attention and sometimes some action.
- 1 Why does my puppy lick me so much? 7 Potential Reasons
- 2 When Does Licking Become a Problem?
- 3 Some Basic Action to Take To Curb Excessive Licking
- 4 The Dog Lick: Some Frequently Asked Questions
- 5 Final Thoughts
Why does my puppy lick me so much? 7 Potential Reasons
First things first: licking, like whining, is completely natural, instinctive, and normal. In fact, if you’ve never seen your puppy lick anything, you should probably take a closer look at why that is. Licking, for a dog, is about bonding, understanding its environment, showing affection, and just liking the taste of things.
That said, unnaturally excessive licking should be noted, as that could mean that there’s something wrong. As much as the reasons above justify licking, excessive licking could mean that one or more of these factors are out of balance
1. Greetings, Human!
The first and most obvious situation in which your puppy would lick you is when they see you after a while apart. Maybe you’ve walked into a room where they have been playing, and they see you. Hello! They run to you and show lots of happiness, and part of that is licking you.
Licking is a manner of greeting for dogs. You’ll notice tail wagging, excitement accompanying it, and sometimes lots of jumping around. In the wild, this would also be a greeting for a known member of a pack who returns.
2. Love and Affection
In this greeting action, the associated emotion is love and affection. A biological reaction to this feeling is the release of dopamine and various endorphins that just feel good. In a sense, the licking triggers these feel-good chemicals and brain states.
They may seem excited at the time, but it’s also a means to feeling happy, calm, and relaxed overall. When you’re “family,” they love to be around you — and what better way to show that than licking you to near-death?
3. Are You OK With the Feelings?
Some dogs have been shown to exhibit extraordinary levels of empathy with their humans. A 2012 study showed that when some people are feeling low and depressed, their dogs have displayed concern by cuddling up and licking their humans.
Puppies might instinctively pick up on emotional aspects of your behavior. Similarly, they might do the same when they themselves are feeling sad or lowly.
4. May I Have Your Attention, Please?
Puppies learn at an early age that they love attention. And one sure-fire way of getting it is by becoming hard to ignore. Humans cannot ignore being licked, so it’s a convenient coincidence that something pups love doing rewards them with something else they love — attention!
The caveat for humans is that the more you respond to those adorable pups in that moment, the more they learn that it is a behavior that pays off. Stroking and talking to them is wonderful for us, too, but you may want to temper that with some social training if it feels excessive.
5. All in Good Taste
Here’s something you may feel awkward about. Humans generally taste good to dogs. Of course, some taste better than others, especially after they’ve been working out or eating. Aside from your very unique scent and taste, puppies learn to understand their family members and environment this way, too.
This does come with some responsibility on your part. If you’re partial to skin lotions and creams, be aware they might be toxic to dogs. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently poison your pup.
6. Taste Isn’t Just In the Tongue
It may surprise you that dogs may have fewer taste buds than humans. Logically, that would mean that they cannot taste certain things (umami is often cited as being out of range for dogs). But taste has a lot to do with what you smell, too, and dogs beat us in that category.
Smell or odor can account for up to 80% of what something tastes like to us. When you consider that dogs can smell 100s of times better than humans, it’s mindboggling to imagine what they can taste. For example, while water is tasteless to humans, dogs can actually discern various flavors in water as we can in wine.
7. Hungry Like the Dog
Another behavior related to licking that dogs carry over from the wild is the indication of hunger. When pups are hungry, they will approach a mother returning from a hunt and lick the adult’s lips. They can still taste whatever the mother has been eating.
While your pup may not lick you on the lips (unless you let them), they may still lick you anyway to let you know they’re hungry. Remember that most human food isn’t good for dogs. No matter how much they beg, don’t feed them your cooked meal. Remember to create a proper feeding regimen with good, balanced dog food for puppies.
When Does Licking Become a Problem?
Has the doggy suddenly started licking a lot? If it wasn’t necessarily that prevalent before but suddenly seems to be non-stop, try to determine why that is. Any sudden change in behavior could signify that something has changed in the environment or that the dog is experiencing some difficulty.
That could be either emotional, like anxiety about something, or physical, like an injury or a medical condition. Just to be sure, you may want to consult with an expert to confirm or dispel any suspicions.
Believe it or not, dogs can suffer from OCD too, and acting it out sometimes results in licking things non-stop. That might include you, but also other objects in your home.
This is a rare condition. However, if it does manifest, it could lead to additional medical problems. OCD affects anxiety levels and mental states too. If a dog seems obsessive about its licking, consult a vet about possible causes.
Most importantly, if the cause is indeed an OCD-type condition, their treatment regime would have to be tailored accordingly.
As previously mentioned, licking is one way with which a dog can self-soothe. It presents feelings of comfort, and it puts them at ease. Remember that even a common state like separation anxiety might trigger excessive licking.
Some Basic Action to Take To Curb Excessive Licking
It is often possible to curb licking, especially with puppies. If the problem isn’t too serious or medical, these are the ways you can help train your dog to hold its tongue, so to speak.
1. Basic Training
Formal training is good for dogs in general. A positive reinforcement technique will teach your dog to heel, sit, or behave on command. That includes stopping things like licking and jumping. Most importantly, the doggy will learn that some behaviors are rewarded, and others are not.
If you can provide a distraction from licking you in some way, it may provide you with some relief. Usually, a doggy puzzle or an interesting puppy toy will do the trick. This won’t necessarily curb the behavior in the future, but it gets the pup’s mind off the licking.
3. Moving Away
Dogs and cats understand when their attention isn’t wanted. Move away from unwanted behavior, and the lack of attention will signal to your pup that they are doing something you don’t want to participate in. Hopefully, over time, this will lessen that specific type of behavior.
On a general health front, lots of proper exercise is key in maintaining a healthy dog, both physically and mentally. It will help in relieving stress and using up excess energy, too.
In all of the above, it’s important to be consistent. Make sure other members of your family also understand the program. Barring any other issues, the puppy should be curbed from its excessive licking soon enough.
The Dog Lick: Some Frequently Asked Questions
With a basic rundown on why your puppy licks you out of the way, it may be useful to address some FAQs about dogs and licking.
1. Is it OK If My Dog Licks My Face?
Some people have no problem letting their dogs lick their faces. Some go so far as to say that dogs have cleaner mouths than humans. That may or may not be accurate. Other people find the idea nauseating. The idea that a dog can get its tongue all over your own face feels icky. So, what is acceptable?
Well, it may be true that many people don’t get ill from dog licks on their faces. But, scientifically speaking, this isn’t particularly hygienic behavior. The truth is that dogs, as a different species, may be carriers of parasites that we don’t naturally have immunity to as humans.
Dogs tend to lick and eat many things around their environment. We don’t see everything and can’t watch them all the time. The chances of them licking something harmful to us increase exponentially when they are out and about in the garden or on walks. This, in turn, makes the idea of exchanging bodily fluids with them problematic.
So, in addition to being potentially hazardous for your dog (if you use face cream or lotions), you may also be at risk of catching any number of infections. Since we’re on the topic, remember to wash your hands after they have been licked, too.
2. Why Does My Dog Love to Lick When We Wake Up?
After a night’s sleep, your dog is likely quite happy you’re awake because, by its perception, you’ve been away, and now you’re back! Much like it would when you get home from work or being out, it wants to welcome you to a new day!
Perhaps you taste really good in the morning, as your skin produces oils and sweat during sleep. It may also want to go outside or be hungry.
3. My Dog Licks Me and No One Else in the Family — Why?
Good news! You are the favorite, probably the alpha, and the absolute best thing ever — at least according to your dog. A few things might factor into this. If you are the one that fills the food bowl or takes them on walks and runs, you’ve played your cards right and have a best friend for life.
Understanding common dog behaviors is an important aspect of a healthy relationship with your pet. Hopefully, this article has alleviated some of your concerns about licking and reassured you that it’s perfectly natural and usually nothing to worry about.