Many of the people I go to strongly object to their dogs licking them. My response usually is, “well, you touch your dog with your hands whenever you feel like it. The dog doesn’t have hands. He can’t even talk to you. How else can he communicate and explore?”
But there is more to it really.
Dr. Patty Khuly on vetstreet.com refers to dogs’ licking us as, to humans, a culturally alien mode of communication which is a natural instinct to canids.
She lists some of the reasons they lick us:
Licking (and tasting) is like reaching out and touching something, a sort of slobbery exploration.
Licking can be canine attention-seeking behavior. Dogs often lick you to get your attention or as a simple greeting.
Licking may be a way of playing and part of bite-inhibition. The dog may be substituting their tongue for their teeth in the ‘reserved dog’s version of a raucous play-fight’.
Licking in many cases is a learned behavior. Dogs learn that when they lick their owners they get more attention of some sort.
Stressed dogs may turn to licking as a displacement behaviour.
Licking sometimes goes beyond the natural to the extreme, as when dogs who suffer obsessive-compulsive behaviours obsessively lick themselves or anything to hand whether it’s human flesh or the carpet. It can develop into self-harming.
Roger Abrantes of the Cambridge Ethology Institute say licking is a ‘demonstration of friendliness, an attempt at pacifying us and themselves, a hand (though not literally) reaching for peace. It’s a compliment a dog gives you, “I like you, you can be my friend.”’
As soon as he is born a puppy’s mother will lick him clean, stimulating the physiological processes of urinating, defecating and maybe even digestion. Puppies lick everything in order to gather information and that licking our faces gives dogs information about us and how we feel – more information than we can possibly imagine. Puppies’ mutual grooming is a bonding thing.
Licking is also pacifying behaviour which performs essential functions related to survival and well-being.
But most people dislike being licked by a dog. They dislike the dog licking their face most of all. What is friendly good manners to the dog can be unaceptable bad manners to a human. It’s also a matter of germs.
It’s sad that we need to turn down such a naturally sociable gesture from our dog.
I personally don’t mind an exploratory sniff of my face and maybe one gentle, small lick. It could depend upon what I know the dog might have been eating, though! I remember visiting the wolves at the Anglian Wolf Society a few years ago and one wolf licked my face. I felt blessed.
Here is the story of two little Westies that both compulsively licked the carpet.
For more stories of dogs I have been to and helped, go to my main website, www.dogidog.co.uk