Why Do Dogs Lick People, Paws, And Household Objects?

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Why do dogs lick?

Is your dog licking excessively and constantly? Does he lick people and faces? Are you wondering: Why do dogs lick? Find out in this guide to dogs that lick.

Licking is in a dog’s nature. They do it instinctively for a number of reasons, but sometimes it’s also learned behaviour.

But why do dogs lick people? Almost all dogs will lick their owners – some more than others. And Labradors are often at the wetter end of the spectrum.

But not every dog licks as much as his friends. For example, our 4 year old chocolate girl Rachael rarely licks, whereas fox red Lab Tess will barely ever leave an encounter without having made her damp mark.

In this guide you’ll find out everything about dog licking. The answer the questions “Why do dogs lick?” and “Why do dogs lick people, themselves and other dogs”. Also why dogs lick excessively and what to do about a dog constantly licking.

Why dogs lick

A dog’s tongue is a very important organ. Unlike us, they don’t have hands and they can’t speak. They use their tongues for many reasons – to clean, communicate, show affection, explore their environment – and to deal with stress.

Why do dogs lick

When pups are born their mother licks them. Not only to clean them and help them go to the toilet, but also to comfort them.

Both licking and being licked releases endorphins – feel good hormones – that gives your dog pleasure and comfort. It’s natural treatment for anxiety.

So you’ll find highly strung dogs might resort to licking when something make them nervous. Or a dog might lick when he’s had a frightening experience with a person or another dog. Dogs can even start licking when they’re bored.

Instinctively, when dogs were in the wild, pups ready to be weaned would lick their mother’s mouth for regurgitated food. Dogs still have this instinct and so another reason why dogs lick could be that they’re hungry.

In doggy social encounters, licking another’s face is a way of acknowledging who’s the leader. The submissive dog licks to say: I come in peace and I don’t want to make any trouble.

Dog licking is also used to explore their environment. Not only to taste what’s around, but also to smell.

Dogs, and most other animals, have what is called the Jacobson’s organ at the back of their palate for analysing specific chemicals called pheromones. Dogs can use their tongues to flick scents up through their mouths to this organ.

So this brings us to explaining why do dogs lick people.

What does it mean when a dog licks you?

Do you leave cuddles with a damp face, or legs covered in drool? You’re not alone!

Many dogs like a good lick. With some, if you want a cuddle, they want to turn it into a kiss.
You might enjoy your dog’s kisses or find it irritating. The important thing to realise is that it’s part of your dog being a dog.

To your dog you’re part of his pack. So the answer to the question “Why do dogs dogs lick people” is mostly for all of the same instinctive reasons that dogs use their tongues.

They might like the taste, want to show submission or affection, or be trying to communicate something with you.

The motivation behind your dog’s lick can be guessed at by looking at where he’s licking, and what the situation is that prompted him to begin.

Some dogs will lick simply for affection, and in greeting in the morning or when you’ve been away. Or use their tongue to feel and catch the tastes of your clothes and skin – especially when you’ve been in contact with other dogs.

Some dogs will lick you for attention. Maybe they want to go outside, or you’re a bit late with their dinner. Your dog might be prompting you to pet them or asking for some comfort and reassurance when something is making them nervous.

So why do dogs lick people? It’s their way of making contact with their owner. Now you may be wondering whether licking different parts of you means anything.
Why do dogs lick you? Let's find out!

Why do dogs lick your face?

As we’ve discussed, when a puppy is young and with their mother, they’ll lick her mouth to encourage her to regurgitate food. So licking faces is instinctive behaviour which pays serious dividends.

You’ll know that puppies will lick your face every moment they get a chance. As dogs get older this behaviour usually lessens.

However, if you’re happy for your dog to lick your face, then you’ll continue to reward this behavior into adulthood. Even if you don’t mean to – by giving him physical attention or even more rewarding food treats.

Dogs licking faces then becomes a learned behavior, reinforced accidentally by the owner. If you want to reduce your dog’s face licking, then immediately removing your attention when he does so should over time help to reduce it.

Remember that if you like your Lab licking your face, you should be even more careful about making sure that he is up to date with his deworming.

Licking hands can mean different things with different dogs.

Why do dogs lick your hands

Dogs licking hands may be a way to get attention. To ask for a cuddle and a pet, to remind you that it’s time for food. They might even be telling you that their water bowl is empty or that they need to go outside.

Your dog could even be telling you that there’s a serious problem somewhere. So if your dog is licking your hands, or another part of your body more intently than usual it might be an idea to look around and see if something’s wrong.

Your dog could also be licking your hands simply because they taste or smell so good.

On a daily basis, how much yummy stuff do you pick up? Preparing your meals, snacks, the kids’ dinner. Unpacking the shopping, clearing up the kitchen counters. Or even the hand cream you just put on.

Every time you touch something that your dog might like the taste of, you leave tiny particles on your skin that his sensitive tongue can detect.

It’s also been hypothesised that dogs like the salty taste of our skin, especially if we have sweaty palms on a hot sunny day! This applies to feet as well.

Why does my dog lick my feet?

Dog licking feet is usually because our sweaty, sometimes stinky, feet have picked up lots of interesting tastes and smells. They like our socks and shoes for the same reason.

Your dog could also be licking your feet, and other parts of your body, for the salt in your sweat.

Possibly your dog even discovered at some point that he gets a huge reaction when he licks your feet and toes – and uses this as a game to get quick attention. A bit of training should be able to cure them if this has become an annoying habit.

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

Dogs, like most other animals, use their tongues to keep themselves clean.

When a dog is injured, they will instinctively lick the wounded area. The licking rids the wound of dirt and helps to remove dead skin particles. Their saliva is also mildly antiseptic and so the licking can prevent infection.

However, if your dog has a serious injury, or a wound is not healing as expected, you should take him to the vet to be checked over. Excessive licking can make a wound worse and prevent healing.

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Dogs will often lick themselves when they’re worried. As already mentioned, licking releases endorphins that make them feel happier, calmer and relieves stress. Unfortunately this can lead to compulsive licking behavior, which we will look at below.

You dog might also lick themselves, you or their toys simply because they find the act of doing so enjoyable. If they find licking fun, it’s self-rewarding, and they will do it more often. Licky dogs are often dogs who simply love licking!

Why do dogs lick their paws?

All dogs will lick their paws from time to time for cleaning purposes. They will lick between their toes or nibble gently at their pads to remove dirt particles and clean the fur.

However, when your dog is constantly licking one or more paws chances are that there’s something wrong.

Dogs’ paws are a common point for injuries and accidents – they could have a small puncture wound from standing on something, or their pads could be have been hurt while out running.

Your dog could also have something stuck between their toes. This is also an area where they can easily get fungal and parasitic infections. Another possibility is an allergy from a plant or chemical they encountered.

So if your pup is licking their paws all the time, examine them carefully – especially between the toes. If there is any redness, swelling, or anything else that’s worrying a trip to your vet is called for.

Why do dogs lick their lips?

Dog lip licking is a little different to the other examples of dog licking discussed above.

Dogs lick their lips when they’re worried about something. The act of licking their lips is both an appeasement gesture to other dogs, and a sensation that can release hormones which make the dog feel better.

So stress is a big cause of lip licking in dogs.

You will see that some very well behaved dogs, who have been trained with physical punishment, may carry out the required behavior – like sitting still in a field of rabbits – but will be constantly licking their lips throughout.

This is because they’re continuing to sit through fear of punishment, and the licking is a result of the stressful battle with their internal desires.

When a dog is trained with positive reinforcement they remain seated because they’ve learnt that the anticipated happy outcome of staying still is even more rewarding and fun to look forward to than the distractions.

Why dogs lick each other

Much of the licking between dogs is linked to natural and instinctive pack behaviour – starting with the licking that goes on between a mother and her pups.

When they meet up, a lower-ranking dog will show submission to the more dominant dog by licking their muzzle while lowering their head and averting their eyes.

Dogs often sniff and lick each other’s rear ends which we find quite disgusting. This is to pick up on pheromones – the hormones that play a role in mating.

When dogs are already friends, they often trade “kisses” in welcome and to show affection. They might also groom each other with licking.

When one of your dogs, however, licks his pal excessively it might be because his friend has a health problem in that area – a cut, infection or even a tumor.

Now we’ve had a look at why dogs lick people, themselves and other dogs. But your concern might be that your dog is licking the carpet, the floor, your bedding, the furniture or some other objects.

Why dogs lick household objects

When dogs lick household surfaces their action often leaves us wondering what they could possibly find so interesting there.

All dogs occasionally lick surfaces because, as mentioned before, they use their tongues to explore the environment. There might be small particles of food left behind or a really interesting new smell.

However, if your dog licks surfaces and objects almost all the time you shouldn’t simply write it off as annoying behaviour. Especially if it hasn’t happened before. This could be a sign of a health problem.

In fact, you need to consider looking deeper into the issue when any dog licking becomes excessive.

Why do dogs lick

Why is my dog licking so much?

Do you think that your dog licks more than most?

  

We first need to look at how much is ‘too much’, because it’s a very personal thing. One owner might find the occasional lick fine, but anything beyond hourly is too much. Another might only feel overwhelmed after a good twenty minutes of having their hand licked.

The amount that your dog licks will be dictated by their genetics, your response to their licking, how rewarding their licking is to them, and how they’re feeling.

Some dogs lick an awful lot. Our lovely Tess is one of these dogs. She’s always got her tongue out, approaching you with damp enthusiasm on a daily basis.

A dog constantly licking, but who’s done this since they were small, is probably just doing so because it brings them enjoyment.

But if the excessive licking is new behaviour, it can be a sign that there is something medical which needs to be looked at by your vet.

Dog constantly licking

Excessive licking can be a sign of either a physical or psychological health problem.

As we’ve discussed already, excessive focus on a particular area can be a sign of an injury. A toothache or a sore throat can also make dogs lick more than usual.

One study found that a common cause of constant licking was nausea and stomach discomfort. This can be from something simple like a change in diet or a new medication, to more serious conditions like liver disease or cancer.

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As discussed, dogs lick when they are stressed and anxious. This could occasionally turn into an obsessive-compulsive disorder which can be treated by an animal behavior therapist. Your vet might even prescribe medication that can help.

So if you dog starts licking much more than usual, you should definitely consider a visit to the vet. They’ll be able to determine whether your pet has a health problem and prescribe appropriate treatment.

Why do dogs lick – a summary

Dogs lick. They use their tongues for various reasons as part of their natural instinctive behaviour. So why do dogs lick people? Mostly for the same reasons.

You do, however, need to be careful not to accidentally promote licking behaviour – especially if you don’t like it.

Your pup might also lick you to get your attention for a particular reason. Consider this if your dog’s licking is not their normal display of affection.

Various health problems can cause increased and unusual licking. So if your dog starts licking constantly make an appointment with your vet.

Is you Lab a licker? Share your story with us in the comments section below.

This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.

References

  • AKC Staff. 2016. Why do dogs lick? American Kennel Club.
  • Bécuwe-Bonnet, V. et al. 2011. Gastrointestinal disorders in dogs with excessive licking of surfaces. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.
  • Bluecross. 2018. Pet advice – why do dogs lick? Bluecross for Pets.
  • Burke, A. 2018. Why does my dog lick my feet. American Kennel Club.
  • Moore, A. 2013. Why does my dog….. Lick other dogs’ muzzles. VetStreet.
  • Tynes, V.V. 2008. Help! My dog licks everything. DVM360.

22 COMMENTS

  1. My 7 year old Labrador licks so much that raw skin comes out I am using Mupirocin 5 Fluticasone Propinate0.05% ( Brand Name : INTERBAN F CREAM) to treat the wound. Can you suggest a better treatment. I am from India- New Delhi.

  2. My dog loves to lick my feet all the time, she can lick them forever if I don’t stop her. She also loves to lick my boyfriends arms and always wants to lick his lips and sniffs his beard. We don’t mind very much but with the whole trying to lick my boyfriends mouth/beard, it gets pretty annoying to him. I only ever stop my dog from licking my feet if she is licking too harshly and it doesn’t feel great, I actually enjoy it especially that I am 8 1/2 months pregnant and my feet hurt a lot. She pretty much gives me a foot massage everyday lol. My dog is not a lab, she is a Chesapeake bay retriever/ Chinese Shar Pei mix about 2 1/2 years old and 50 lbs.

  3. Well my dog is looks like a hot dog he licks his blanket he licks the floor and when he is sleeping lick and lick and lick its annoying everything it’s wet he lick the rug and I had to take him to the doctor because he got analogy from licking rugs so I do not know what to do I called him the licking but I love him a lot

  4. My Lab licks her lips after eating her poo (when she gets at it before I’ve picked it up). Does that mean she is stressed because she knows I’m going to tell her off???

  5. I have 2 Labs one you are very honoured if you get a lick the other just likes licking especially as a greeting or when he wants a fuss and also when he is praised for doing something good.
    I also have a Jack Russell and he and the Lab that likes licking greet each other by licking each others mouths the Lab even laying down so that the Jack Russell can reach.

  6. I can’t quite figure out why…but my 9 month old, Calypso, loves to lick my armpits! No-one else in the family but me. It is very strange, not to mention ticklish!

  7. Our black lab will jump on the bed in the morning and lick my face, neck and head. He will pick my hand up and turn it round so he can lick my palms

  8. My black lab licked her leg so much that she has lick granuloma. My vet calls it the bored disease. He told me keep plenty of toys around to keep her mind occupied.

  9. We have a rescue lab Alfie. Since day one he has licked metal objects. He hasa real obsession with the gas fire. We have a fire guard which he licks as well. He is also obsessed with licking bags. He loves my hand bag especially when I get home from work. What can we do to discourage him from this or is it stress?

  10. We have a lab X springer and he is a lick a holic! He will lick your bare legs, feet, your face when you are cuddling him and himself. He was rehomed to us when he was 6 so not sure how he was trained, but we just tell him to stop when he over does it and he usually does. I do worry sometimes when he is constantly licking himself, but other than that he is a lovely boy. Oh, and he is very much a ‘slur-per’ when he licks, the noise annoys me more than the licking lol.

  11. Our dog Chloe is a licker. She will “give kisses” on command or just to say “hello”. I do though have a question no relating to licking. Chloe has taken over a full body pillow of mine. She takes one of the corners everyday and sometimes more than once a day. She puts it in her mouth and her paws and the rest of the pillow and moves her paws like she is massaging it like she is nursing. Do you have any idea why she would be doing this? She is now a year and a half old. It doesn’t bother us we are just curious.

  12. My 3 year old chocolate Labrador hardly licks, but when his little doggy friend comes round, he lies down and they constantly lick each other’s mouths. The little dog even sticks hid head inside my dog’s mouth and just licks.This goes on for at tleast an hour ,Can anyone throw any light on the subject as to why this happens?

  13. This article gave me an aha! moment. In other words the light came on. Our golden retriever started to lick his lips almost compulsively several times a day especially if he was looking right at you. He was eight years old and had never done this before. We took him to the vet when he wasn’t much interested in his food. He was diagnosed with cancer and died a month later.
    We have two labs now and one will lick your hand as she approaches you (from behind) on a walk in the bush. She glances up as if to say…I’m here. The other will give your hand, leg, or arm a lick occasionally but I don’t encourage it so stops. Both will give you a nice kiss though if you get your face close enough!

  14. Our black Lab is a licker. As I type this she is apparently trying to clean my 8 yr old’s face. She’s very affectionate, but I sure wish I had seen this article when we first got her as a 7 week old pup. I’m sure we trained her unknowingly to lick all the things!

  15. Well” my dog Buster is a canny chap,,,,loves the opertunity to give an old lick in and out,,,,Buster had the odd couple of complications to start in his life,,,,,such as sensitivity of the pads on his feet labs tend to be sensitive from a young age and up and untill 2yrs,,, you see the pads have to develop and whilst doing so,,,there will be sensitivity untill all kind of hardens.
    Just imajine back in the stone age days we humans had to go bare foot untill we relised that Buffalo hides were a great addition to our foot wear.
    Unfortunately bar we rap our little freinds up in cotton wool,,,we would just have to await the hardening process.
    This also many the reasons why Labs tend to lick there pads more offten,,,well like i said Buster is a cany lad and gives me all the effection i need,,,,,,he is 13mnts old now and in full swing knowing all the comands accoiated with being an exellent dog,,,,,by the way if you notice your Lab sitting by your side and pushing in tite,,,,,even so much pressing in tite then he’s telling you there is something wrong not with him or her but with you the owner,,,,,Labs are most sensitive to picking up ailments snd will sit in tite a signle to you there isxsomething wrong so if your Lab does show you this concern how about a visit to your “GP” for a Blood test your effection radiates into the dogs sensitivity we’re the dog is able to pick up on thousands of diffrent senses that would not be known to you,,,,,owe by the way the Labrodore is the most sensitive of the dog breed,,,and could potentially save your life.
    if you got a licker Yahoo your in luck,,,,,,,labs can also detect illness from the lick its there genetic understanding of us humans.

  16. Riley is now 13 months old and still very fond of licking especially children she will follow our grandchildren about looking for a chance to lick them. My 6 year old granddaughter says Riley is not a dog she is just a tongue with a dog attached. Sounds about right to me.

  17. Our chocolate lab Fudge isn’t much of a licker generally, just the occasional companionable lick on the arm when we’re chilling out on the sofa. He does however seem to love to lick his best doggy friend’s ears, actually inside the ear. His buddy seems to like it so it’s not a problem and often licks his face in return. A true bromance!

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