While most animal lovers would probably welcome kisses from all sorts species (sloths, elephants, sea otters, etc.), we generally only get doggie slurps. Sure, cats may sample an extended finger or try to taste the tip of your nose, but they can’t really be described as “slobbery”.
Dogs, on the other hand, are known to use their tongues to express themselves, and some go overboard. Also, when your dog licks you (and other people, too) they may be experiencing distress.
Canine Body Language
Undoubtedly, your dog licks you when they are feeling happy, to make you feel good, or to eek out a smile, laugh, or a petting hand from you. Since puppies are routinely groomed by their mother with the tongue and teeth, dogs are conditioned to show they care the same way.
Dog packs have a very clear hierarchy, and licking is used between pack members to show submission toward dominant males and females. It could be that your dog licks you to demonstrate their understanding that you are their leader.
A Form of Dialogue
Your dog might also lick you to see how you taste, and to make sure you know that they are near. They pick up valuable information from their tongue.
For example, if you taste salty to them, they might understand that you’ve been working out. Alternatively, if they taste something else besides salt on your skin they’ll know implicitly where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and who else was in your company at the time.
Dogs Are… Dogs!
Dogs love to eat, and are also incredibly opportunistic. To that end, they’re always going to use their tongue to taste something, including you!
That being said, however, sometimes dogs can go overboard with this compulsive behavior, especially when self-grooming. If they go beyond moderate licking, they may be suffering from an underlying medical condition that should be checked out. Over-licking can cause wounds to open or exacerbate hot spots, leading to possible infection.
It’s important to take note of your dog’s mental state. If they are bored, antsy, stressed out or anxious, you might see more licking behavior. They might start licking in order to soothe themselves, but it can get out of hand if left alone or ignored. We recommend scheduling an exam to rule out allergies, pain, or infection.
When Your Dog Licks You
You might be perfectly accepting of this mostly normal canine behavior, but you don’t have to be. Some owners are fairly grossed out by their dog’s mouth (especially if they eat poop), and definitely don’t want them to lick guests, neighbors, or strangers at the park for that matter.
The best way to train your dog to stop licking people is through positive reinforcement. By rewarding the behavior you want to see more of, and ignoring the things you dislike, you provide your smart dog with an incentive to please you. Scolding or punishing them will serve only to reinforce the behavior.
If you need additional assistance with training, please let us know.The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital are always here for you.