Those of us who have dogs know well how much they like to lick, it is one of the ways they show affection and communicate with us. Licking is a common behavior in dogs, and it can have several meanings and reasons behind it. In this article, we will explore why a dog licks its owner a lot, what messages it may be conveying, and address types of solutions to your dog’s compulsive licking.
WHY DO DOGS LICK? The origin
The origin of the licking habit in dogs can be traced back to their wild ancestors, the wolves. In the pack, wolves lick each other to strengthen social bonds and demonstrate submission. This licking behavior is a form of communication and demonstration of affection within the pack. Throughout evolution and domestication, dogs have retained this practice as a way of expressing love, acknowledging their pack leader (the owner), and maintaining social cohesion in the family group. Licking can also have a practical function, such as assisting in cleaning and caring for pups. Thus, dog licking has deep roots in their social and evolutionary history.
WHY DOGS LICK THEIR OWNERS
Now you know that licking is a deep-rooted and long-standing behavior. But what happens when your dog licks you compulsively? He licks your hands non-stop, you have found that your dog licks your feet, your face, your mouth, there are even dogs that lick their owners’ ears non-stop. When this behavior becomes excessive, it can raise concerns. Why does your dog lick you excessively? Let’s examine some reasons and how to address this behavior.
- Licking as a sign of affection and bonding: One of the most common reasons a dog licks its owner is to express love and affection. When a dog licks its owner, it does so as a sign of affection and connection. Dogs have sweat glands in their paws and tongue, and licking their human can be a way of showing closeness and affection. They also do it out of attachment, and if they feel they have not had enough attention or interaction, they may lick excessively to seek closeness.
- Communication and socialization: Dogs are social animals, and licking is an important part of their communication. They may lick their owners to indicate that they want interaction, attention or just to keep in physical contact. It is their way of saying, “I’m here, I love you, and I want to be close to you.”
- Licking as a sign of submission: In the canine hierarchy, licking another dog’s mouth or face is a sign of submission. When a dog licks its owner, it is often acknowledging that its owner is in a leadership role in the pack. This behavior can be a way of reaffirming that hierarchy and demonstrating respect.
- Comforting sensation: The act of licking can be comforting to dogs. Just as humans bite their nails or pet each other when they feel anxious or nervous, dogs can lick themselves or their owners to relieve stress or anxiety. Licking can release endorphins and reduce emotional distress.
- Exploration and recognition: Dogs have a very acute sense of smell, and licking their owner is a way to explore and recognize their scent. They can detect subtle changes in their owner’s scent, which can be an interesting source of information for them.
- Anxiety or Stress: Anxiety or stress can trigger compulsive licking. Dogs may lick themselves as a form of self-soothing in stressful situations.
- Boredom: Lack of mental and physical stimulation can lead a dog to indulge in excessive licking as a form of entertainment.
- Medical Problems: In some cases, medical problems, such as allergies, skin irritations, flea bites, infections or pain, may lead to excessive licking as an attempt to relieve discomfort.
- Learned behavior: Dogs may also learn to lick their owners as a way to get rewards or attention. If the owner reacts positively when the dog licks, such as by petting the dog or talking to it affectionately, the dog may repeat the behavior in search of positive reinforcement.
While licking is a form of communication and affection in dogs, it is important to note that in some cases, excessive or compulsive licking can be a sign of anxiety, pain or medical problems. If you notice a sudden change in your dog’s licking behavior or if it becomes excessive, it is advisable to consult a veterinarian to rule out any underlying problems.
How to stop your dog from licking you so much
- Attention and socialization: Spending quality time with your dog, taking walks, and providing interactive toys can reduce the need to lick out of boredom.
- Training: Teaching commands such as “stop” or “stay” can help control excessive licking and redirect her attention. But we advise to be clear about the reason for the licking in order to focus on it. For example, if your dog licks you a lot to demand your attention, the solution is to spend more time with him.
- Stress management: identify your dog’s sources of stress and anxiety and address them with relaxation techniques or with the help of a canine professional. Your dog may be licking a lot due to stress or anxiety. What can cause anxiety and stress in your dog? Life situations such as a move, a change in schedules, changes in people in the household, visitors, travel, loss. The same situations that affect us also generate an emotional response in our dogs.
- Medical care: If you suspect that excessive licking is related to medical problems, consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Ignore licking: If your dog associates licking you nonstop with getting your attention, he may repeat it constantly. Try ignoring him when he licks you and paying more attention when he stops licking. If it works, you know your dog needs to spend more time with you.
- Change one stimulus for another: When your dog licks your hands, arms, face, or any other part, give him a bone or a canine treat to divert his attention to something else. This is a trick for punctual moments, we should not overdo it in the supply of bones and treats. You have to tackle your dog’s excessive licking at the root of the problem. This trick is only a patch that works and can be the beginning of a behavioral change.
- If your puppy licks you a lot, start teaching him at an early age that you don’t like excessive licking. Play with him, take care of him, give him daily attention and activity, keep his health up to date with your veterinarian, and reward desirable behaviors, making clear to him the ones you don’t like, through education with positive reinforcement.
CAN LICKING MY DOG TRANSMIT ANY DISEASE?
While it is possible for dogs to carry microorganisms in their saliva, such as bacteria and microbes, the risk of disease transmission to humans through licking is generally low. Most of the microorganisms that dogs carry are species-specific and are not usually dangerous to humans.
Does my dog lick me a lot, do I let him? is a typical question that many owners ask themselves. In the middle ground is the virtue, that is, if your dog licks you from time to time, when you get home and is happy to see you, it is different from constantly licking your face. Appropriate precautions must be taken, especially in very young children, elderly or immunocompromised people. Maintaining good personal hygiene and taking care of your pet’s oral health or washing after your pet has licked you are effective ways to minimize any potential risk.
If your dog licks excessively, it is important to understand the underlying causes and address them appropriately. With patience, attention and, in some cases, the help of a professional, you can help your dog overcome this behavior and keep him happy and healthy.
To provide you with more help, we leave at your disposal an article on stress and anxiety in dogs where we address this topic more extensively.
If, on the other hand, your dog does not lick you but licks himself, scratches, and/or bites his paws compulsively, then you are interested in our article: my dog licks and bites his paws.
We hope we have been of help in your query, to know the answer to more interesting questions about our beloved dogs visit our FAQ section.