You don’t have to be a dog owner to know that dogs pretty much lick everything, whether it’s themselves, people’s faces and hands, random objects, or even their own poop! As a society we have just accepted this as fact, and it would actually be a little strange if a dog DIDN’T lick everything in sight. While it can be a concern sometimes if your pup seems to be doing TOO much licking, most of the time I think it’s safe to say that we dog owners wonder to ourselves: WHY are you LICKING THAT? Well, let’s debunk this mystery once and for all, shall we? First, let’s begin with why they lick people:
Dogs Lick People…usually because they are showing affection to the person being licked! If a dog licks you, or gives you “kisses”, that’s a good sign that it is feeling comfortable around you. The same can be said for most pets, actually – so if you encounter any animal that licks you, it’s a good sign! But why is this how a dog expresses its love for you? Well, as puppies, they are licked by their mother in the first few weeks of their infancy for a variety of reasons – cleaning, stimulating bodily functions (urinating and defecating), and comfort. Because of this, puppies have the instinctual understanding that licking equates to showing affection and love, so they carry this into adulthood. Although don’t get too excited, you might just have something delicious or smelly on your hands that the dog is licking for the taste!
Dogs Lick Each Other…for a number of reasons, which could appear to be confusing. If a dog is licking another dog, it could be that it is trying to clean it or show affection. Especially if the dog in question seems to be assuming the “motherly” role (or is actually the mother), they will lick other dogs in order to provide comfort (for reasons just explained in the paragraph above). Some dog training experts say that sometimes a dog will lick another dog in order to assert dominance, and to be especially cautious if they are licking another dog’s mouth. Every so often a dog licking another dog’s mouth – which can appear to be “French kissing” – leads to an aggressive encounter. Perhaps because the dog on the receiving end doesn’t want to be kissed, and the kisser doesn’t take a hint? Either way, just be aware and make sure your dog kisses others safely!
Dogs Lick Themselves…to bathe themselves, but it can also turn into a type of a nervous habit that they resort to in stressful situations. Especially when dogs are in shelters and also adopted to new homes, experiencing stress, fear, or depression can lead to licking themselves obsessively in order to cope with their emotional issues. If it’s really bad, it can progress into biting themselves – so steps should be taken to stop excessive licking altogether. Usually they lick the same spot(s) over and over, causing a skin irritation or “hot spot” that needs to be treated as well, although another reason that a “hot spot” can show up is because of allergies. If your dog is licking itself a lot (especially its paws or belly), it could either have walked on something that caused an allergic reaction, or they could have an actual skin issue that needs to be treated with medication. Until the allergen is pinpointed, your dog will keep licking (and perhaps biting) itself to relieve the itching.
Dogs Lick Faces…because we have a mouth, nose, and other features (facial hair, makeup, etc.) on our faces that all have curious smells. Especially if we eat something particularly pungent, we could have very “interesting” smelling breath that is intriguing to a dog to try and taste with its tongue. If we have food around our mouths, or in our beard that we didn’t know was there, a dog will surely find it immediately. If a certain type of skin foundation or lip gloss has a sweet smell, a dog will definitely try and taste it. Without being too gross, if you have a runny nose or eyes, a dog will probably want to investigate that with its tongue as well. The face has so many interesting things for a dog to explore, it’s almost like a built-in toy for them!
Dogs Lick the Ground, Carpet, Couch, Bed, Rocks, etc…to somehow satisfy a craving that it has for a certain mineral, residue, or other such material (if there isn’t food left on the ground, that is). If your dog is constantly licking your driveway, it may be that there is some dirt particles that contain traces of iron, magnesium, or carbon that are missing from its diet. If your dog is licking on rocks, boulders, or other stones, it could be trying to get some sodium, and if it is licking tile, bathtubs, or other surfaces, it could be looking for calcium, potassium, or some other mineral. If it is a surface that seemingly doesn’t have any kind of mineral deposit on it, your dog could just enjoy the rough texture against its tongue. If it becomes a problem, it could be a sign of your dog being bored, stressed, and/or anxious, especially if it’s after an event such as you leaving, a telephone ringing, a door slamming, etc. Sometimes, obsessive licking can actually point to a medical issue, such as a gastrointestinal or digestive problem.
Just think for a minute what you would do if you were as limited as dogs are in experiencing the world – if you weren’t able to grab things, hold things, talk about things – wouldn’t you probably lick everything around you? Consider this the next time you’re grossed out by your dog licking something random, and don’t judge them too harshly for it. But, keep an eye on them and make sure that the licking isn’t excessive, unhealthy, or otherwise indicative of a behavioral/health problem. As long as they are practicing safe-licking, then there probably is nothing to worry about.