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Pet Lovers

09/23/2019

Licking in Dogs: What It Means and When to Be Concerned

Does your dog lick you? Is it something you have encouraged or taught him to do, or did he just…

Dog kissing its owner

Does your dog lick you? Is it something you have encouraged or taught him to do, or did he just kind-of insist on doing it, uninvited?

Many experts have many different opinions and often contradict one another on the subject of licking. Why do dogs lick you? Is licking a sign of dominance or affection? Is licking a dog’s way of kissing? When is a dog’s licking a problem? For answers to these questions, we turned to Holiday Barn Pet Resort’s Professional Dog Trainer, Dickie Martinson. He teaches us the reasons behind aggressive dog licking and when to be concerned.

Why Does My Dog Lick Me So Much?

“In my professional experience, I have seen dogs lick for many different reasons,” says Dickie. “I think to understand why they’re licking, you have to look at the situation and the body language of the dog.”

Dickie explains that there are several reasons for why a dog may lick:

• Dominance
• Soothing/Comforting
• Cleaning/Grooming
• Frustration/Stress
OCD
• Affection

Let’s take a look at the different reasons and examine the possible motives behind each.

Yes, Licking Is A Sign Of Dominance

Dogs can attempt to show dominance towards a dog or human by aggressively licking them. This is a determined, deliberate act, and is uninvited or inappropriate for the situation. This type of dog licking indicate an assertion of dominance and control. For example, a dog may lick the ears of another dog to show its dominance.

What does it mean when a dog aggressively licks their owners face? This is also an attempt at dominance. Dogs who make eye contact with their owners and aggressively lick their owner’s face are, simply put, being disrespectful.

Comfort Licking In Dogs

Closeup of a Chocolate Lab licking its lips

Comfort licking or soothing is seen most often between litter mates or between mother dogs and their puppies. Notice how a mother dog licks the puppy and the puppy licks back in the mouth area. This is a way mothers let their puppies know they are safe and secure. Puppies need assurance and approval from their mom, their “pack leader.” And the puppies are showing submission and respect to their mothers.

If your dog is constantly jumping on you and attempting to aggressively lick your face, it could be because they want your acceptance and approval. Some pups just need to be comforted like after you’ve left them alone for a period of time. But, however sweet that sounds, it’s not proper behavior. Instead, Dickie recommends petting under the chin and on the lips as this will help to raise the dog’s head and build its confidence.

Cleaning and Grooming

Dogs also lick to groom themselves. If a dog’s skin is dirty or irritated, a dog will lick it to keep themselves clean. If two dogs are friends, they may groom each other, licking each other’s faces in a pure showing of trust towards one another. Just a dog, being a dog!

Dog Licking As A Sign of Frustration or Stress

Aggressive licking can also be a coping mechanism to handle the stress or frustration a dog is feeling. Dickie uses the example of someone who bites their nails; if you try to correct the behavior, you will just make it worse. Instead, the expert suggests to keep your dog properly exercised and mentally stimulated. This helps to keep the dog’s mind too busy for licking.

OCD Licking In Dogs

Some dogs may excessively lick everything due to OCD. With continual OCD licking, there is a health risk to the dog’s coat, skin, and paws. If you suspect your dog is compulsively licking, it’s important to speak with your vet or a dog trainer to address the underlying issue.

Licking As A Sign Of Affection

 Dog owner hugging her chocolate lab who is panting with its tongue out

When dogs lick, they are trying to communicate, and, yes, it can be communicating affection. As gross as it can seem to us, dogs like the way our shedding skin cells smell! They love the odor of their pack leader and try to capture that scent by licking us. It can give them a secure feeling.

The next time you wonder, “why is my dog licking me so much,” consider your dogs other body language. If your dog happily welcomes you home each evening with a quick lick, they’re simply greeting you. If your dog gently – and wiggly – approaches you during a relaxing evening and offers a soft lick, it is most certainly affection. 

Dickie allows his dogs to lick him on his terms. If it’s cuddle time or they’re just relaxing with each other, an occasional lick is sweet and well received. “Teach them to communicate in a respectful manner,” the dog behavior expert says.

When A Dog’s Licking Is A Problem

Dogs have a natural inclination to lick themselves and their owners. However, excessive licking can become a serious problem. For example, excessive licking can be indicative of an underlying health issue or emotional problem as we discussed with OCD licking. Dogs that lick their owners more than normal may also be exhibiting separation anxiety, boredom, or seeking attention.

Excessive licking can also be a sign of pain. As licking is a dog’s way of cleaning itself, they may also lick an area that is causing discomfort, such as a wound or sore. Wounds that are licked excessively will not heal properly, so it’s essential to check your dog’s body for signs of injury or discomfort.

What Can Dog Owners Do About Problem Licking?

It’s important to identify the underlying cause of your dog’s licking. If your dog is excessively licking its paws or a specific area of the body, consult a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues. Once you’ve ruled out medical issues, you can start trying behavioral modification techniques, like redirecting your dog’s attention away from its paws with toys or puzzle feeders.

By providing your dog with proper medical care and training, you can help reduce the problem licking and improve your dog’s quality of life.

What Can I Do When My Dog Licks My Face Aggressively?

As mentioned earlier, a dog is most likely trying to assert dominance if it is aggressively licking its owners face, especially while making eye contact. If your dog is excessively licking you, it’s time to set some boundaries. Giving attention to the behavior through laughing or even yelling may actually reinforce the behavior instead of stopping it. Again, continually train your pup by redirecting its attention to a toy or puzzle to reduce the behavior.

Being consistent in your training and giving firm but fair commands will allow your dog’s respect for you to grow. If your dog respects you, he will avoid licking your face.
Do you need help correcting unwelcomed dog licking, or perhaps even just tone it back a little? Our Professional Dog Trainers can help you with that. Please contact Dickie or Melaina at our Southside location: 794-5400; or Schylar or Mckenzie at our Glen Allen location: 672-2200.

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