The Slobber Face: Why do Dogs Like to Lick?

dog licking woman's faceIf you’re a dog owner (or dog lover!), you’ve probably noticed that dogs seem to explore the world tongue-first. From licking their own paws to trying to give their owners a bath, it’s clear that dogs like to lick.

While we know canines enjoy this activity, there remains some mystery as to why they do it, especially when the object of their attention is, well, gross.

Reasonable Reasons Dogs Like to Lick

It’s not hard to figure out why your dog runs over to lick your fingers after you’ve eaten a delicious burger. However, dogs lick for a variety of reasons, some of which can point to more serious health issues. The following are common reasons your canine might be licking:

  1. To clean themselves – Although dogs are not as fastidious as cats, they do need to groom themselves. Self-grooming is also a simple way to transfer their scent onto the skin and fur, reminding other animals of their presence.
  2. To get our attention – When your pet approaches you and licks your hand, what’s your response? You likely return their affection by way of a good belly rub, treat, or other positive action. Dogs are astute when it comes to any behavior associated with a reward, so if we respond nicely, the licks are sure to continue.
    To show submission – When a dog licks another dog, it can sometimes be a sign of subordination. As a puppy, the benefits to this are twofold: 1) to encourage mama dog to regurgitate and share food; and 2) to demonstrate their place within the pack – namely, a lesser position in the company of an alpha.
  3. It feels good – Licking can also be a self-soothing mechanism when a dog feels nervous, lonely, or bored. When dogs groom themselves or lick another dog or human, endorphins are released, creating a sense of safety and calm.
  4. It’s tasty – Dogs simply like to taste (and eat) everything. They enjoy the flavor of salt on the skin, leftover food, the scent of other dogs, and practically anything that produces an odor or taste (compost, garbage, and other toxic items included). That’s why it’s so important to supervise your dog when outdoors.
  5. There’s a problem – Sometimes, dogs will lick when they’re in pain or are suffering from an itchy, uncomfortable dermatological problem (such as fleas or ringworm). It can also be a sign of fear or anxiety, which can result in hair loss and skin infections. If your dog is licking or chewing at a certain area with unusual persistence, please contact us so we can rule out any underlying health issues.

For a dog, the world is his or her food bowl. To keep your lick-happy pup from getting into something harmful, be aware of your pet’s habits and avoid anything potentially poisonous. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to consult the team at Rocklin Ranch Veterinary Hospital.