Having a strong bond with your dog usually means your communication is pretty on point. You know when they are feeling playful, snoozy or cranky. You might even know when they are barking for food, a walk or just some affection. However, other times our pooches really do baffle us. Case in point? Licking.
Whether it’s your face, hands, legs (or behind your ears!) you might wonder what all this extra attention to your skin means. While it could just be snuggly kisses, excessive licking can be an indicator of something deeper going on.
So let's look at the top reasons why your dog might be trying to share with you,beyond just their saliva.
Licking has often been associated with affection in our dogs. Maybe it’s because we kiss them as our way of showing love, we see that big slobbery tongue as a kiss back. But it’s also the first thing a mother dog does to their newborn puppies.
Licking puppies clears their airways, stimulates blood flow and keeps them clean. But it’s primarily a way for the bond between new family members to begin. As they grow, licking is a natural way for young and adult dogs to show affection to us too.
If you watch dogs interacting, licking is actually a huge part of their behavior. For our pooches, it’s a really powerful way to communicate – whether it’s to say hello, start a playful game or show submission to a more dominant playmate.
Over thousands of years, as dogs have adapted to living alongside us, they have extended these methods to us. So they may simply be trying to get our attention, show us they respect us as a leader or ask for some more food!
Have you ever licked your own arm to get that dribble of ice cream, or that extra bit of hot sauce? Our skin is pretty salty when you actually try it! Many owners are convinced it’s this saltiness that dogs enjoy,especially if they are licking your legs with what seems like no interest in communicating with you.
But what’s probably more true is that our pups interact with the world using their mouths and nose. That tongue of theirs is packed with sensors, so a licking spree is a way to gather information and understand the world.This means they may simply be gathering some information on you!
As licking is a pleasurable activity, releasing endorphins in a similar way to thumb sucking in children, our pooches may simply be using us as a comforter. They may also have begun to associate licking with attention,especially if they get a reaction from you every time they do it, so for many dogs it's a way to feel calm, cozy and connected to us.
For the same reason, some dogs who suffer from separation anxiety may lick obsessively to cope with their feelings of stress and overwhelm. If you notice this in your dog, especially if they are losing fur, be sure to make your vet aware.
Should I let my dog lick me?
This one’s entirely up to you!Some owners love nothing more than kisses from their fur-friend while others aren’t so sure. It’s simply recommended that letting your dog lick any open wounds, even if they seem to be trying to help, isn’t a good idea.
On the other hand, be sure to know that your skin products, sun creamor anything else your lick-happy pup might be coming into regular contact with isn’t going to be harmful to them either.
It’s also worth noting that dog saliva does contain bacteria, but only in very rare cases has this been known to cause harm to humans. So if you like your dog’s affectionate licks, then by all means keep letting them!
What if I want my dog to stop licking me?
If you’d prefer your dog to communicate with you in other ways, that’s absolutely fine too. Not all of us are into slobbery kisses, especially if we happen to be wearing our best clothes!
Your best bet is to start off by ignoring the behavior, or redirecting your dog to an alternative and more preferred behavior - such as a sit or other command.
If your dog stops licking, give them praise and attention, or if they persist then you can try leaving the room for a few moments. Over time, they should get the message that licking isn’t what you want from them, and that the fun stops when they start it. This should help the behavior fade out.
Be sure to talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s licking could be related to a medical problem or behavioral disorder.If, for example, their licking seems obsessive and compulsive, or if they are giving themselves sores from excessive grooming. They can help you find any possible behavioral or medical causes, and work towards helping your dog feel calmer and less prone to seeking comfort.
Otherwise, enjoy your pooch’s affectionate, inquisitive and bonding behavior. And know that they are often simply showing you how much they care!
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