Dogs can mean a lot of different things when they lick. Believe it or not, licking is a form of communication for dogs, as well as something dogs, use for grooming and eating. So it can serve multiple purposes. That makes it complicated and a little hard to figure out at times.
Why Dogs Lick Our Faces
Licking begins in the whelping box, along with most of the behaviors that your dog displays. A mother dog licks her pups to stimulate them when they’re firstborn. Licking encourages their circulation, it rouses them, removes the membrane covering them when they’re firstborn, and it stimulates them to nurse. Later on, the mother will lick them to encourage their bowel movements and to wash them. Of course, to someone observing a mother taking care of her pups, all of this probably looks like maternal love! And it may be, but it still serves many purposes.
As they get older, puppies will lick their mothers (and other adult dogs) around the lips to try to stimulate them to regurgitate partially digested food for them. This is quite normal for wolves and wild dogs, but our domesticated dogs can do it, too. This behavior — licking a mother figure around the face — may be retained later in life. Perhaps this is the reason why dogs try to lick people around the face? In some cases, this could be true.
As communication, puppies will lick around the faces of their elders to show their submission. A dog may also lick its owner’s face for this same purpose.
Dogs also engage in licking behavior out of nervousness or because of feelings of anxiety. Licking may help to relieve the nervousness. A dog may lick as a way to try to appease someone higher in the “pack” and the pack may include their owner. If your dog is nervous or anxious, or fears that he has made you angry, he may try to lick around your face as a way to make up with you.
Dogs can also lick people as a way of getting attention. Like other behaviors, licking can be learned and become a habit if you reinforce it. For instance, if your dog licks you and you think it’s cute, you may laugh or pet your dog. This will encourage your dog to lick you again in the future because he’s getting positive attention (or any attention) for performing this behavior. If your dog is very socially bold he may become very pushy about this behavior and try to lick your face whenever he feels like it. It can be difficult to break this habit once it gets started.
Some dogs can lick things compulsively. This licking is usually directed at their own grooming but it can also include things such as woodwork or furniture. In some cases, it may also include the owner. Dogs may lick toes, feet, hands, and faces in a compulsive way. You may need to talk to your veterinarian about medication to help with these compulsions and you will need to work on changing your dog’s behavior.
Dogs may lick someone’s face for a lot of different reasons depending on the individual dog. If you want the behavior to stop, try to figure out what’s motivating your dog. Is he nervous? Is licking a habit? Is he trying to get attention? Once you know why your dog is licking you, then you can work on what to do about the behavior.
What about your dogs…tell us why they lick your face.