Why Do Dogs Lick?

This morning, before the alarm went off, I was awakened by Mister Moose licking my feet. He’s big on foot licking. Actually, he’s just big on licking in general.

So why do dogs like to lick? It’s a behavior they pick up from birth! The mother dog will lick the puppies clean (partly to get nutrients from the placenta), and the puppies will lick each other. Part of this is grooming, and part of this is bonding. As the puppies are weaned, they may start licking at their mother’s mouth to request food. In the wild, puppies eat regurgitated food as their first semi-solid meals after weaning.

For adult dogs, licking can mean different things.

  1. It may be a demonstration of submissiveness, for a dog to lick another dog’s face.
  2. It may be a demonstration of submissiveness, for a dog to lick their humans.
  3. It may be a sign of affection between pack mates. (Keep in mind, to your dog, you are part of the pack! Hopefully, you’re at the top of the pecking order, too.)
  4. It may be grooming… is that a little leftover dinner on your cheek?

Your dog may also be licking because he is encouraged to! If he gives you kisses and you respond with affection, he’s going to learn pretty quickly that kisses equal more attention.

Of course, your dog may also just like the taste of the salt on your skin or the lotion on your hands! Moose is definitely a lotion-lover… I figure a large factor in my morning foot washing was the fact that I’d slathered on honey-scented lotion the night before.

If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like sloppy puppy kisses, you can teach your dog to kiss on command, or encourage them to show affection in other ways. When your dog is doing something you like, be sure to praise him loudly and give him affection. If your dog is doing something you don’t like (like face licking), a firm NO may be all he needs to get the hint.