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Why does my dog lick me so much?- Reasons and how to manage.

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Why does my dog lick me so much? This question has crossed many dog owners’ minds as they’re showered with slobbery kisses. Licking is a natural and intuitive behaviour for dogs that they learn from birth. When your furry companion lavishes you with licks, it can signify affection or be a habit picked up from their mother’s gentle grooming and care. However, there’s more beneath the surface of this common canine habit.

Excessive licking might also be your dog’s way of communicating various needs or feelings—from anxiety and stress to health issues or just the sheer joy of your company. As we delve into the world of canine behaviour, it’s crucial to interpret these licking signals correctly, redirecting inappropriate licking while ensuring that we meet our dogs’ emotional and physical needs. Let’s explore why your dog may be licking you excessively and how to manage this behaviour lovingly and effectively.

Dogs have an instinct to lick.

Licking is essential to canine behaviour and serves multiple purposes for dogs. Here are a few reasons why licking is significant:

  1. Motherly Care: From birth, puppies are licked by their mother to clean them and stimulate their bodily functions. This early licking helps establish their bond and is crucial to their development.

  2. Communication: Dogs use licking to communicate with one another and humans. It can signify submission or respect when a dog licks another dog or a person. It’s also a way for dogs to express affection and seek attention.

  3. Taste and Exploration: Dogs experience the world mainly through their sense of smell and taste. Licking allows them to explore their environment and the taste of different objects, including their human companions.

  4. Self-Grooming: Dogs will lick themselves as part of their self-grooming process. It helps them keep clean and allows them to attend to any wounds, as saliva has enzymes that can help clean and potentially aid healing.

  5. Comfort and Pleasure: Licking releases endorphins in a dog’s brain, providing comfort and pleasure. It’s a self-soothing activity that can help a dog relax.

  6. Health and Healing: In addition to cleaning, licking can serve as a way for dogs to nurse their wounds. The act of licking can help keep wounds clean and free of debris.

Why does my dog lick me so much?

To answer the question “why does my dog lick me so much” we have to address the possible reasons for that.

They’re showing affection.


showing affection is one of the most common reasons dogs lick their humans. This licking behaviour can be considered the canine equivalent of giving someone a peck on the cheek.

Just as grooming helps social bonds among pack animals, licking can be a bonding behaviour for dogs with their owners. It’s one way a dog maintains a close, affectionate bond with its human family.

Physical gestures like licking are a dog’s way to communicate without words. They can’t verbally express affection, so they do so through actions.

You may experience your dog running at you once you get home and start licking you happily; that’s his way of greeting you when you come home.

dog licking his owner


They’re showing empathy.


Dogs who sense we are sad, upset, or unwell demonstrate care and empathy through licking. Dogs have evolved to understand the emotional states of humans, and licking is one comforting mechanism they use to make us feel better when we’re down.
They also learn from experience that licking often results in positive attention and affection from their human. They will likely repeat the behaviour if they lick you when you’re upset and receive a positive response.

Research has shown that dogs lick their owners more when crying instead of humming or talking. This suggests they lick precisely in response to human distress as an act of compassion. Some dogs are so intuitive to emotions that they will lick their owners in anticipation of an upcoming adverse emotional event.

So, dogs licking us not only feels good for them through the release of endorphins but also for us through the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone”.

To get attention.

Seeking attention is a prevalent reason why dogs lick their owners. When a dog licks you, it could be trying to get you to focus on them and provide them with affection, pets, playtime, treats – whatever the dog associates with receiving attention from you.

Dogs learn that licking may receive a faster response than other attention-seeking behaviours like barking or whining. They often target hands, feet, legs and other accessible body parts. The licking intensifies if ignored, As Dogs lacking stimulation or activity may excessively lick for attention out of boredom. It’s a way to engage their human.

Licks tend to increase when something arouses the dog’s interest or excites them about potential interaction with their owner.

Tasting you. (sensory tool)

One of the reasons your dog licks you is to get a better sense of how you taste.

As predators descended from wolves, dogs have a strong sense of taste and innate curiosity about the flavours of things around them. They must investigate their environment to learn what’s safe, dangerous, or worth eating.

Licking is a natural behaviour dogs use to sample scents and flavours in their environment. Their taste buds detect sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami tastes when lick people and objects.

Human skin has traces of salty sweat and oils that may trigger a dog’s interest. When dogs lick, it gives them sensory information about their human companion.

For rescued dogs or puppies, licking their owners helps familiarize them with this new person in their life that they are bonding with. The saltiness and skin chemicals offer dogs a signature scent for that person.

When dogs meet someone new, they often give a little lick as part of their greeting ritual and investigation of the person. It’s part of how dogs get acquainted.

For some dogs, the straightforward enjoyment of salty flavours or the chemicals and pheromones detected on human skin can motivate them to lick their owner frequently as a form of exploration and sensory play.

Licking allows dogs to taste us truly, adding to the wealth of scent and flavour information they gather about their human and environment through this natural, instinctive behaviour. It allows them to investigate and get familiar with us deeper.

How good is a dog’s sense of taste?

Dogs have a relatively good sense of taste, though not as discerning as humans in some respects.

A 2020 study published in PLoS One tested taste detection thresholds in family dogs. The researchers used strict protocols to measure dogs’ ability to detect sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes. They found dogs could detect sweet tastes at concentrations around 1% sucrose, salty tastes at 0.22% NaCl, sourness at 0.15% citric acid, and bitterness at 0.03% urea.

For perspective, an earlier 2006 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found human taste thresholds at concentrations of 1% sucrose for sweet, 0.2% NaCl for salty, 0.3% citric acid for sour, and 1-6 millimoles urea per litre for bitter.

So dogs are generally on par with humans when tasting saltiness and sweetness, and they exceeded our sensitivity for specifically detecting bitterness. Their taste buds likely adapted as opportunistic carnivores to help assess foods for toxicity or nutrients.

However, some researchers believe dogs have fewer overall taste buds than humans and cats, with around 1,700. They also lack receptors for certain flavours like chocolate, artificial sweeteners, and guanosine monophosphate (found in meat). So, their tasting abilities are more limited in scope compared to humans.

Dogs have functional taste detection suited to their evolutionary niche but lag behind humans in tasting nuance and sensitivity when scientifically tested. Their tongues can pick up basic tastes that are biologically useful, just in less intricate detail. The scent is their primary sense, but taste assists dogs in analyzing items of interest.

When is licking a problem?

Excessive licking can be a sign of anxiety or a compulsive disorder (sometimes likened to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans) in dogs. When dogs are stressed, anxious, or uneasy, they may exhibit repetitive behaviours which serve as coping mechanisms to help them deal with their emotions. Here are a few insights into this behaviour:

Anxiety-Related Licking: Dogs often use licking as a soothing behaviour, and when they feel anxious, they may lick their owners more frequently to seek comfort or reassurance.

Self-Soothing: Just like some repetitive behaviours in humans that are calming, dogs may lick because it releases endorphins, which can help to reduce stress and soothe themselves.

Attention-Seeking Behavior: If a dog learns that licking results in attention from their owner, even if it’s negative attention, they may lick excessively. This can be reinforced if the owner frequently responds to licking by petting or talking to the dog.

Compulsive Disorders: For some dogs, licking can become compulsive if done excessively and serves no apparent purpose. If a dog appears to lick either themselves, their owner, or objects around the house obsessively, and it is difficult to interrupt or stop this behaviour, it could be a sign of a compulsive disorder.

Health Issues: Medical problems can also lead to increased licking. For example, a dog with pain or discomfort might lick themselves or their owners more frequently than usual. Allergies, skin conditions, or hormonal imbalances can also be underlying causes for excessive licking.

Suppose you suspect your dog’s licking is linked to anxiety or compulsive behaviour rather than just a sign of affection or a casual habit. In that case, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist. Depending on the diagnosis, they can assess your dog’s health and behaviour and may recommend behavioural modification training, environmental changes, or sometimes medical intervention.

why does my dog lick me so much


What can I do about licking problem?


Redirect the behaviour.


Redirecting a dog’s behaviour involves offering them an alternative action to perform instead of the unwanted behaviour. When it comes to excessive licking, you’d want to divert your dog’s attention and energy into more desirable behaviours. Here’s how you can do that:

Identify Triggers: Keep track of when your dog tends to lick excessively. Is it during certain times of the day, when certain people are around, or when he is in a particular area of the house?

Distract and Redirect: As soon as your dog begins to lick, redirect his attention to a different, more desirable activity. This could be a toy he can chew on, a puzzle feeder, or you could engage him in a training session with basic commands.

Alternatives: Give your dog appropriate chew toys or bones to focus their licking on. Consider toys that can be filled with food, providing a licking outlet and mental stimulation.

Increase Physical Exercise: Ensuring your dog has enough physical activity during the day can help burn off excess energy that might be directed into licking. Tailor the activity level to your dog’s health and physical abilities.

Engage Their Mind: Mental exercise can be as tiring as physical exercise. Practice training exercises or tricks that require concentration. Positive training sessions can provide mental stimulation and help redirect your dog’s focus.

Consistent Response: Every time your dog starts licking, respond in the same way by redirecting him. Consistency is vital in teaching your dog that licking does not get your attention, but other behaviours do.

Positive Reinforcement: Use treats, praise, or toys to reward your dog when he stops licking and focuses his attention elsewhere. Positive reinforcement helps your dog learn which behaviours you prefer.

Set Up a Routine: Dogs benefit from having a consistent daily routine. Regularity in walks, playtime, and rest can provide stability and reduce anxiety.

Behaviour Modification Training: Teach commands like “leave it” or “let’s play” that instruct your dog to stop licking and switch their attention to something else.

Address Anxiety: If the licking is anxiety-induced, more specific counter-conditioning or desensitization techniques might be necessary. This could involve slowly exposing your dog to stressors in a controlled and gradual manner to lessen his anxiety response.

Seek Professional Help: If you cannot manage the behaviour on your own or if it seems rooted in severe anxiety or compulsion, consider consulting a professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviourist who can provide more tailored interventions.

Remember, do not punish your dog for licking, which could increase anxiety and worsen the problem. Always use positive, reward-based methods. If other signs of distress accompany your dog’s licking or don’t improve with redirection, seek advice from a vet to rule out any medical issues.

There are several other techniques you can try to manage and eventually alter your dog’s excessive licking behaviour:

Ignore the Behaviour.

  1. If your dog is licking you for attention, avoid reinforcing the behaviour by not reacting.
  2. When your pup starts licking, don’t give verbal or physical attention—instead, stand up and move away.
  3. Wait until your dog is calm and not licking, then offer attention to reward the calm behaviour.

Time-outs.

If redirection and ignoring don’t work, consider using brief time-outs. Calmly and without emotion, lead your dog to a safe and quiet area where they can be alone for a few minutes. This can help them settle down and understand licking leads to social isolation.

Teach ‘Kiss’ and ‘No Kiss’ Commands.

You can train your dog to lick on command by saying “kiss” when they lick you and giving them a treat. Conversely, you can teach a ‘No Kiss’ command when you want them to stop. This helps them understand when licking is appropriate.

Stress Reduction.

Identify any sources of stress in your dog’s environment and work to eliminate or reduce them. This could include providing a more structured environment, reducing loud noises, giving them their own quiet space, and ensuring they have plenty of toys.

Aromatherapy and Dog-Appeasing Pheromones.

Some owners have succeeded in using calming scents or dog-appealing pheromones (DAP) that plug into the wall like an air freshener. They can help reduce stress and, therefore, reduce compulsive behaviours, including licking.

Limitation of Space.

Some dogs feel more secure in a smaller, den-like space, such as a crate or a pet bed with raised edges. Having their zone may reduce anxiety and, thus, the urge to lick.

Hydration and Diet.

Ensure your dog is well-hydrated, as sometimes licking can be a sign of dehydration. Also, a well-balanced diet is essential for your dog’s overall well-being, which can affect their behaviour.

Provide Consistent Leadership.

Dogs feel more secure with clear, consistent rules and routines. Be sure you are consistently acting as the pack leader.

Conditioned Relaxation.

Train your dog to respond to a word or action with relaxation. You can use a calm voice and gentle petting to create a relaxed state, then pair it with a specific word or gesture. Over time, your dog will associate this cue with the feeling of calmness.

Remember that you should use these techniques consistently to be effective and always approach the issue patiently. Behavioural modification takes time, and dogs will respond at their own pace. If excessive licking continues or worsens, seek professional advice to ensure no underlying health issues or get targeted behavioural training support.

 

In conclusion, dogs lick for many reasons, from showing affection and seeking attention to more complex behaviours stemming from anxiety or compulsive disorders. As a dog owner, observing the context of your dog’s licking is essential to understand the root cause. Whether it’s a simple sign of love, a request for engagement, or a behaviour indicating underlying stress, each lick tells a story.

In this article we answered the question “why does my dog lick me so much” and through patience and careful observation, along with implementing strategies like redirection and positive reinforcement, you can manage excessive licking and strengthen your bond with your furry friend. If the behaviour persists or if you have concerns, never hesitate to consult a professional. By understanding your dog’s unique language and needs, you can ensure that you both enjoy a happy, healthy, and mutually respectful relationship.

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MiM

I decided to create this blog because I wanted to share the joys of being a dog owner with others, as well as provide valuable insights on how best to take care of our beloved four-legged friends.

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