- Dogs lick you for a number of reasons, including showing affection or showing empathy.
- If your dog licks you when you get home, this might be his or her way of welcoming you back.
- Your dog may also lick you to get your attention or to let you know that he is anxious.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more advice.
Have you ever wondered why your dog seems so eager to lick your hands and face? Your dog might just lick you to show his affection, but there are several other factors that can play a role.
Here are six reasons your dog might lick you.
1. Say hello when you get home
A simple explanation is that your dog is excited to see you come through the door.
“Essentially, it’s their way of greeting you … like they’re saying ‘Hello!’ say, ”says Lara Sypniewski, DVM, professor of small animal medicine at Oklahoma State University.
It can also be evolutionary behavior – researchers have observed that some wild dog species lick other members of the pack in greeting when they return home.
2. You show affection
Licking can be a way for dogs to bond with family members. For example, mother dogs often lick their puppies to look after them or to give them comfort.
Likewise, licking can be your dog’s way of grooming and showing closeness.
“Licking is normal adolescent behavior in puppies, and this behavior appears to be common in humans, especially when humans encourage interaction,” says Sypniewski.
3. You show empathy
Your dog is very sensitive to your emotional states. “Dogs evolved with humans and seem to have an incredible ability to interpret and respond to human emotions,” says Sypniewski.
If you appear upset, your dog can reflect that feeling and respond by licking you, says Melissa Bain, DVM, professor of clinical animal behavior at UC Davis.
Dogs can also feel the urge to comfort unhappy people. A small study from 2012 showed that dogs were more likely to offer calming behaviors such as approaching and cuddling to people who seemed sad than to people who were neutral.
4. Your dog wants your attention
Over time, your dog can learn that licking is an effective way to get your attention.
“When dogs lick, people usually respond with attention and love, which further exacerbates the dog’s licking behavior,” says Sypniewski.
Your dog may also seek your attention and lick you to signal that they want food.
This instinctive behavior mirrors that of wild dogs – puppies in the wild will lick their mother’s lips after a hunt to show they are hungry, and the mother will then vomit up food for them.
5. You taste good
Your dog may want to lick you if you’re sweaty after exercising – studies have shown that dog tongues can taste salt.
Your dog may also want to lick your face or hands after you’ve eaten a meal. Even if you don’t think you have food on your face, your dog’s incredibly sensitive nose can detect more subtle, enticing smells.
6. You feel anxious
According to Bain, there are several reasons your dog may feel anxious, including:
- Their Behavior – “This may be because the owner did something the dog finds aversive, such as yelling,” says Bain.
- Some dogs may be prone to general anxiety due to their disposition.
- Separation anxiety dogs can feel anxious when their owner comes home.
“If they’re scared, they may be looking for ways to calm themselves down,” says Sypniewski. The licking causes the dog’s brain to release dopamine and endorphins, hormones that can help him feel more relaxed.
“Dog owners can respond to fearful licking with petting, cuddling or encouraging noises or words,” says Sypniewski. This can encourage your dog to lick in the future for comfort.
There are many possible reasons your dog might lick you, to show love, or just to get a taste of your dinner.
Keep in mind, however, that excessive licking can also be a sign that your dog is not doing well. “Owners should also be aware that dogs can lick if they feel sick. If this is a behavior change in the dog or is accompanied by other symptoms, they should contact their veterinarian,” says Bain.