Why Does Your Dog Lick You?
Dog: I lick you too.
Welcome to Cool Dog Science. We’re digging up our favorite funky dog facts and fascinating pup studies, marking them with our signature weirdness, and dropping them at your doorstep. This week's topic: Why does your dog lick you?
We all know that delightful, slobbery sensation of a smooch from dog. Do you ever wonder, as you’re wiping that sticky slobber off your face (or leg, or arm…), just why your dog is such an amorous kisser? Well, your pup’s tongue is just one of the many ways they have of communicating with us, picking up sensory info, and getting something they want. Let’s take a look at what they’re thinking!
Why does your dog lick you?
They learned it from Mom!
A mother licks her newborn puppies for grooming and cleaning. This nurturing use of licking makes it one of the earliest behaviors introduced to your dog… and one with a very positive association. “My mommy licked me, so I lick you! It’s the ciiiiircle of liiiiiiife!”
They learned it from their other Mom!
If you’re like me, you kinda love it when your dog licks you. It’s a kiss from your fave! It’s totally understandable if you’ve rewarded your dog for licking you– with happy pets, and gleeful, sing-song words of encouragement. And so it makes sense that your dog has learned that licking you means that they get rewarded: more love, more attention. The power of positive reinforcement, folks!
It’s their way of bowing to you!
Your pup’s lick might be a gesture of submission. Lower-ranking pack pups lick higher-ranking pups, and you’re the top dog! It might even be a way of your dog asking for food. In the wild, puppies lick their mother’s mouths as a way of asking them for food and showing submission. Somewhere in your dog’s genes, they’ve kept the same instinct.
It’s all about that brain chemistry
When a dog licks, it releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormone. Which means your dog gets a feeling of comfort and pleasure just from licking on you. Licking becomes a pleasant, soothing, stress-relieving experience for the pup. And who better to lick on than their favorite person?
They want to play
Licking can be one of the ways a dog gets your attention. And if they’re playing or play-fighting with you, they may have learned– with good reason!– that it’s better to lick than to use their teeth.
They like your taste
Honestly, your sweaty, salty skin tastes pretty good to dogs! Maybe that sounds gross, but hey, salt is awesome. Anybody who enjoys a bag of potato chips can kinda see where a dog is coming from, right?
Also, let’s be clear: you taste like their favorite person on earth. This zest for the comforting taste and smell of their personal M.V.P. is behind your dog’s notorious sock & underwear theft, too.
They just plum love you!
Dogs lick you just ‘cuz they like you! A pup doesn’t have as many ways to communicate as we do; they gotta use the tools available to them. And a wagging tail, a big smile, and a gentle tongue lappin’ are some of the ways they say, “you know what, Dad? You’re pretty cool.”
Those are just some of the reasons your dog might be licking you. If you suspect that your dog might be giving you *too* much attention, in a way that seems repetitive or weirdly automatic, you can ask your vet for guidance on if there’s something deeper going on. But keep in mind that licking is simply in your dog’s nature, and in most cases, it’s probably fine.
So, that’s what’s going on in your pup’s head when they’re giving you those kisses. Food for thought the next time you see ‘em puckering up!
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