You may appreciate the slobbery greeting your dog gives you upon your return from work each day, but do you ever wonder the reason behind it? Dogs lick their owners, other dogs, and themselves for a variety of reasons ranging from love and submission to a possible medical condition. Following are common reasons your dog might be offering up canine kisses.
YOU TASTE GOOD
It seems gross to us, but our sweaty, salty skin can be intriguing to dogs, who tend to explore the world with their mouths and are comforted by the scent of their caring owners. It’s the same reason they often steal our socks and underwear. This, combined with the resulting attention and endorphins described below, makes smooches both tasty and rewarding for our pets.
THEY’RE “REWARDED” FOR IT
Think back to the last time your dog licked you and how you responded? Did you reach down and give him a scratch? Offer him food? Say something to him (even if it’s something like, “Stop licking me,would you?!”)? All of these actions are forms of positive reinforcement—showing your dog that licking you will get some form of attention, thereby encouraging him to continue the behavior in the future. Also, when a dog licks, it releases endorphins (the “feel good” hormone), which adds to the reward.
TO SHOW SUBMISSION
Your dog might be licking to show submission, especially if he’s licking another dog’s muzzle. According to former AKC Family Dog columnist and veterinarian Nicholas Dodman, wild puppies lick their mother’s mouth as a signal for her to regurgitate the meat she’s hunted and as a way of demonstrating subornation. It makes sense, then, that domesticated dogs use this instinctual behavior when interacting with other dogs (or humans) they consider superior to them.
FROM A POSSIBLE MEDICAL (OR BEHAVIOR) ISSUE
Dogs that repeatedly lick a certain spot might be suffering from an issue that needs a specialist’s intervention, including anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also, dogs who frequently lick their feet may be trying to resolve a persistent itch caused by allergies. Dogs who lick their anal area frequently could be suffering from allergies or may need their anal glands expressed. If you notice your dog obsessively licking themselves, a person, or an object (bed sheets, for example), speak with a veterinarian, who may recommend medical treatment or a consultation with a behavior specialist.
In most cases, just be appreciative that your dog seems to enjoy your company and expresses his affection in this species-typical way. He obviously both respects you and loves you. Enjoy the moments!
Liz Donovan, AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB