My Border Collie, Brody, is something of a licking machine. If I look at him, he starts licking the air. If he’s fortunate enough to catch me at a vulnerable moment, he’ll pin me to the couch and lick me until I beg for mercy. Strangers have been tricked into thinking he is aggressive because he happily pins them to the ground. When he begins to lick them instead of eat them, they realize he’s not aggressive; he’s just crazy. While not all dogs are such avid, dedicated lickers, most dogs lick their owners from time to time.There’s no simple one to one explanation for why dogs lick and the licking has to be taken in context to be understood, but here are the most common reasons dogs lick people:
Why Dogs Lick People: Taste and Smell
Dogs are highly driven by their noses, and sometimes they just like the way a person’s face smells. Moreover, dogs aren’t taught the same etiquette norms people are, so if something tastes good (and a mouth that’s just had a bite of a cookie may taste wonderful to a dog!), they’re going to lick it. Your dog may just like the way you taste and smell.
Why Dogs Lick People: Immaturity
Licking is a big part of a puppy’s life. Their mothers lick them to stimulate them to pee and poop, and they lick their mothers to get food. Licking can also be a comforting behavior between mother and puppy. Many scientists have speculated that dogs are just neotenized wolves, which basically means dogs are wolves who still act like babies. Your dog may be licking you because it’s what she learned to do as a puppy and, as a neotenized wolf, she’s a bit immature!
Why Dogs Lick People: Grooming
For many mammals, grooming another is a sign of affection, and dogs are no different. They groom both themselves and others, often well into adulthood. Your dog is grooming you just like he might groom another dog, and this can be a sign of affection, concern, or desire to make you feel better if you’re upset.
Why Dogs Lick People: We Teach Them To
Dogs are masters at training themselves to do things we reward them for, and licking can be one of these things. Many people see dog licks as kisses and thus encourage their dogs to do it. The dog, in turn, learns that this is a good behavior that earns them rewards and continues to do it. Put simply, your dog is sucking up by licking you!
Why Dogs Lick People: Displacement and Anxiety
Dogs engage in a number of strange behaviors when they’re anxious or fearful: compulsive grooming, destroying the couch, and obsessive licking. Your dog may lick you if she is anxious or fearful that you are going to be angry with her. This is what some people might call a submissive gesture, but the so-called submission is brought on by anxiety, not some form of high level canine respect.
Your dog may lick you at different times for different reasons, but one thing is clear when dogs lick: they are telling us something! Learn to listen and you may learn more about the mind of your dog.
Patricia McConnell-The Other End of the Leash
Inside of a Dog-Alexandra Horowitz