Licking is one of the most typical ways that dogs have to relate to the world, to each other and to us. Discover all the meanings behind this curious behavior.
We tell you why dogs lick and what meaning licking has in each situation
Why do dogs lick? It is something that people who live with a dog often wonder. We usually interpret licking as a sign of affection but, although this is usually true, dogs lick for other reasons as well.
Licking is, as we will see shortly, an instinctive and basic behavior for dogs, one of their main ways of communicating. In general, dogs explore the world and communicate using their mouths and that includes, of course, the tongue.
Thus, dogs express their affection through licking, yes, but they can also communicate other emotions. It is possible, in fact, for a dog to lick a lot for negative reasons, such as fear or anxiety. It may even be the case that licking becomes an obsessive disorder.
In this article we are going to talk about why dogs lick so that you know all the details and nuances of this curious habit. If you want to know more about those lovely “kisses” your dog gives you every day, read on.
Licking is an instinctive behavior of dogs
We say that licking is an instinctive behavior for dogs because it is one of the first they learn when they come into the world.
Practically from birth, dogs are licked by their mother to wash, stimulate, calm them, etc. And puppies learn to return licking to their mother to ask for her attention or even to entice her to regurgitate food when they can’t yet chew.
In general, all dogs share the fondness for licking, since, as we say, they all learn them as children. However, every animal is different and there are dogs that are clearly more “licking”, so to speak, than others.
Normally this is not a problem and that your dog licks more or less frequently than others should not be a cause for concern. Only if the licking becomes compulsive (we will talk about this later) or if you notice a sudden change in your dog’s habits should you ask yourself if something happens to him.
Is it wrong to let my dog lick me?
Parallel to the question of why dogs lick, there is also the debate about whether or not it is good to let them do it.
Beyond individual preferences, there are people who defend that the saliva of dogs has beneficial properties, while others believe that it can cause health problems.
The truth is somewhere in between: there’s no problem in letting your dog lick you, but you should prevent him from doing so particularly on open wounds.
Dogs’ mouths contain abundant bacterial flora that may be harmless or beneficial to them (dogs lick wounds themselves and other dogs), but it is not for us.
If certain bacteria that are present in canine saliva — particularly capnocytophaga canimorsus — enter through an opening in our skin, we can get an infection.
So, you can let your dog lick you as much as he wants, as long as it does not bother you, but when his demonstrations of affection arrive, it is advisable that you be careful with the open wounds you may have on your hands, arms, legs and face. Better prevent!
Why does your dog lick you?
These are the 5 reasons why dogs usually lick us:
To show affection
When we ask ourselves why dogs lick, the first reason that usually comes to mind is, as we said at the beginning, affection: your dog licks you because he loves you.
For a dog, licking is closely associated with the pleasure, comfort and security he felt when he was a puppy and his mother did it. It is something that is engraved in the depths of his mind, as we have already seen.
Thus, licking plays a very important role in creating and maintaining social bonds between dogs and, of course, between dogs and humans. If you find it satisfying to have your dog lick you, you should know that it probably is too, and a lot. for him.
On the other hand, licking can also be interpreted as an act of submission, especially when your dog licks your legs or feet and lies in front of you.
To ask for attention
Dogs know well that when they approach and lick us, we listen to them. If whenever your dog licks you look at him, pet him even briefly and maybe even drop a trinket, you will not be doing anything but reinforcing that behavior.
In other words: the more you pay attention to your dog thanks to his licks, the more he will tend to lick you to claim your attention.
To clean yourself
Dogs are clean animals and regularly groom themselves and the other members of what they see as their pack. It is, again, a behavior they learn during their puppy stage: mothers spend a lot of time grooming their young with tongues.
That is to say: as your dog cares about you and considers you part of his pack, of his family, he licks you to clean you as he does with himself. It’s yet another way of telling you that he loves you.
Because he likes how you know
Have you noticed that many dogs lick their owners more right after exercising, and specifically in those areas where sweat has accumulated the most? It’s because many dogs love salt and the biochemical compounds we release along with sweat.
It can also happen that your dog licks you after giving you cream or cologne because the product in question smells good. However, in that case you should be careful, as some of the components of these products could be toxic to them.
Because of anxiety or fear
As licking is for dogs linked to calm and safety, it can happen that your dog licks you because he feels anxious.
So if you’re feeling stressed, afraid, or suffering from separation anxiety, licking can be a way to try to reassure yourself.
Should you worry if your dog licks you excessively?
When a dog suffers from anxiety or stress on a prolonged basis, he can develop a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that will lead him to constantly lick not only his owners, but also all objects around him, surfaces in the house, etc.
This disorder is rare, but it can become a serious problem, since obsessive licking can cause the appearance of serious wounds on the tongue and hairless areas on the body.
It is not easy to correct this problem and it is best to put yourself in the hands of an ethologist or consult with your veterinarian.
It is very important that you keep in mind that if your dog licks obsessively it is not because he wants to, but because he can not avoid it; Therefore, getting angry with him or punishing him will only serve to increase his stress level and make the situation worse.
How to get your dog to stop licking you?
If you’re uncomfortable with your dog licking you, these tips can help you gradually modify that behavior:
- Step aside when licking you. If your dog licks your leg, for example, remove it without paying attention. Do not get angry or, at the opposite extreme, give him any kind of positive reinforcement.
- Distract him when he starts licking. Every time he tries to lick you, offer him a toy, the kong or some other item that keeps his mind occupied for a few minutes.
- Burn your dog’s energy. Keep your dog physically and mentally stimulated to reduce his level of anxiety, which could be leading him to lick you more than necessary.
- Train him to perform other tasks. Teach him different commands to redirect his mind towards tasks in which he also gets your attention and rewards without licking.
- Be consistent. If you let your dog lick you on certain occasions but reject him on others, he won’t understand. Be clear about what the dog can or cannot do and will eventually learn it.