Why do dogs lick?

why do dogs lick
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    Our Cavapoo Rosie loves giving out slobbery kisses regardless of whether you are happy to receive them or not. And although we, like most owners, know that this is just part and parcel when you own a four legged friend, it did make me start to wonder, just why do dogs lick?

    So, why do dogs lick? Licking is instinctive, natural behavior for dogs, and although they use their tongues as a form of sense in order to taste, dogs also lick for the purpose of grooming, healing, soothing and as a way of communicating with us.

    Here we discover more.

    Why does my dog lick so much?

    From the moment that your dog is born, they are welcomed into the world by the mother’s mouth with a mammoth lick. It is their way of soothing and grooming their puppies, and as your dog progresses through to puppy-hood, they too will start to understand and learn the art of licking themselves.

    After all, there are many reasons dogs lick, and often the type of licking that they display will indicate an emotional or physical desire.

    If you watch your dog closely, you will soon start to understand what each lick may mean. Licking often occurs when they are physically hurt or unwell, when the environment around them changes or when they want to show affection.

    Dogs lick in order to groom

    I am constantly licking a tissue and then wiping my kids faces free of dirt. It is pretty disgusting if I am honest, but it is something I remember my mum doing to me.

    Likewise, your dog will lick themselves as a form of cleaning themselves. It’s in a dog’s nature to groom their bodies by licking their skin, fur and paws just like the mother did to them.

    You should always watch your dog when they start to lick themselves. Moderate licking is normal behavior, and is often an attempt to rid themselves of any excess dirt, especially if they have just been outside. Excessively licking, however, may indicate an injury or underlying medical condition.

    If you notice your Cavapoo persistently licking a particular area, then please consult your veterinarian for advice.

    Dogs lick in order to sooth

    Not many people know this, but a dogs saliva has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that assist the healing process and fight against certain bacterias.

    The constant, steady licking that a dog does, helps to remove dead tissue and clean and cleanse open wounds and sores. This not only soothes the injury but speeds up the healing process too.

    As per the saying ‘like a dog with a bone’, some dogs may over stimulate a wound through licking, reopening cuts, creating sore spots and even causing infections.

    Fleas, ticks and allergies can also irritate your dogs skin and you may notice your dog licking and sometimes chewing areas where parasites may be.

    Dogs lick when they are feeling emotional

    When I get nervous, I subconsciously lick my lips. Some dogs may also use licking as a form of stress relief or as a way of showing signs of boredom or being anxious.

    Whilst the odd lick won’t do your dog any harm, compulsively licking of the lips could indicate a more serious problem such as severe anxiety, allergies or even acute pain.

    If you suspect that your dog is masking some kind of emotional or physical issue by licking their lips, then please seek assistance from your vet or even dog behavioralists, who can help identify why your dog may be anxious, nervous or scared.

    Dogs lick when they are hungry

    We all lick our licks in desire when something tempting is placed in eyes view.

    The same happens for our dogs who may start smacking their lips together in anticipation when you eat in front of them, or if you are a fraction too slow with their food. Likewise a dog may lick their bowl clean as a sign of appreciation of a good meal.

    Your dog, however, may lick their lips when they are thirsty or dehydrated in order to combat a dry tongue, mouth, or throat. When your dog begins licking, it can help to stimulate the saliva glands, and signal to you that they need a drink!

    Dogs lick when they are feeling unwell

    Our Cavapoo Rosie had a tummy upset just before she was meant to be spay, and what I did notice about this particular bout of sickness was that every time she was about to vomit, she would continually lick her lips.

    This is because an upset tummy can often make your dog’s mouth water, and in order to suck up the excess fluid and get rid of the unpleasant taste, they lick their mouth.

    Watch out for this as it can often save you precious time in getting them from the sofa to somewhere safer in order to be sick.

    Dog lick in order to explore the world around them

    Similar to sniffing, dogs use licking as a way of checking out their surroundings.

    This is especially true for a young puppy who will use their mouths to explore the world just like human babies do. So if you see your dog liking the mat, walls or door, don’t worry it is completely normal doggy behavior.

    Why do dogs lick people?

    Most dogs like to lick people for communication – after all, we can’t understand their woof like language.

    Some dogs will lick you as a way of alerting you to their presence (just in case you forget they are there!), whilst others may lap at you in order to make friends or simply to show that they care.

    Why does my dog lick me in the face?

    After my kids have eaten something particularly scrummy, our dog will linger a little while longer until the coast is clear and she can lick up the leftover crumbs. But, if there aren’t any scraps left to savour, then it is not unusual for her to start licking the kids faces!

    This is because dogs can taste food on our skin (even if we can’t see it). Add to that, the tantalizing taste of sweaty salt and your dog has got themselves a feast on your face. Hmm…you taste good!

    Are dogs licks like kisses?

    But there may be another reason why your dog is licking your face! Does your pooch like to smooch? Our Cavapoo certainly does. But does this actually mean that they love you?

    Well yes, actually it does, as doggie licks are also kisses and a way for your four legged friend to show their dog owners some affection.

    Just as puppies are loving licked by their mothers, your dog is licking you for affection, causing them to release endorphins that subsequently calms and comforts them, making them feel safe and secure.

    So why not sit back and lap it up as you let your dog smother you with kisses. After all there are a number of significant health benefits for both you and your dog.

    Benefits of dog licks for humans

    It is widely believed that owning a dog is good for your health as simply by stroking them you help to lower your blood pressure, whilst regular dog walks can prevent obesity.

    But did you know that the ancient Egyptians also believed that a dogs lick could heal human wounds? This theory was also adapted by the ancient Greeks, who trained dogs to lick wounds in many temples dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing.

    Even today, research is ongoing into the healing properties for humans from dog saliva. Researchers at the University of Florida discovered a protein called Nerve Growth Factor in saliva, which meant that wounds treated with NGF actually healed twice as fast. 

    In addition, Dr. Nigel Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, conducted research indicating that when saliva comes into contact with skin, a natural chemical compound called nitric oxide could protect cuts and scratches from bacterial infections.

    Can you get worms from your dog licking you?

    This does not mean that we should go around letting our dog lick us at will though.

    Although it’s usually relatively harmless to let your dog lick you, their mouth, teeth and tongue do still contain a lot of natural bacteria.

    Add to this the fact that dogs like to put their faces in some particularly yucky places, such as garbage bin or in our Cavapoo’s case – horse poo! – then that lick has the potential to make you sick.

    (Rosie loves to lick horse poo when out walking in the forest)

    What your dogs lick can’t do is to give you worms, as these are not spreadable by saliva although many other parasites, such as roundworm, tapeworm and hookworm, can be spread through such direct contact with your dog.

    Therefore it is important that you take some precautions to reduce the risk of infection being passed on from your pets. This includes:

    • Regular dog deworming tablets
    • Appropriate anti-parasite treatment
    • Treatment to control fleas and ticks
    • Daily disposal of your dogs faeces in the correct and appropriate manner
    • Covering children’s sandboxes when not in use
    • Feeding cooked, wet, or dry dog food
    • Proper sanitizing of your hands after handling faeces, food or stroking your dog

    How to stop your dog licking you

    Whilst the odd lick can be loving, you don’t want to be smothered. Therefore you need to find a way to stop your dog from constantly licking you.

    The best thing to do is to deny your dog getting so close that their tongue can lick you. Instead use positive distraction techniques such as a game, toy or treat as an alternative way to interact.

    If you want to encourage the odd kiss then try to train them so that you are the instigator. Words such as ‘kisssy’ work well as they can not be confused with other training words.

    If you are unable to control your dogs licking then you may need to seek assistance from a pet behavioral therapist.


    We all crave attention every now and again, and licking is another sign of affection for your dog. Whilst it is great to lap up the licks it is important to understand other reasons why your dog may be licking. You should never dismiss your dog’s licking as simply attention seeking but instead look at the signs behind the communication.

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