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What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks You?

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 9/21/2019 Morgan Cutolo
a small brown animal in the grass © Natalia Fedosova/shutterstock

Dogs have a lot of strange habits, and if your pooch spends more time giving you kisses than playing with their toys or chasing squirrels, you’ve probably wondered to yourself, “What does it mean when a dog licks you?” Here are some other reasons behind your dog's weird behavior.

What does it mean when a dog licks you?

Well, the behavior isn’t that bizarre for dogs. Canines lick each other as a submissive sign or when mothers clean and bond with their newborn pups. “Now that people make up most of a dog’s pack, licking behavior has been transferred to us,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, serves on the advisory board for Pet Life Today. “Dogs often lick people to show affection, as a greeting, or to simply get our attention. Of course, if you happen to have a little food, lotion, or salty sweat on your skin, that may play a role as well.” Along with affection, these are some other things your dog actually wants from you.

What does it mean when a dog licks your face?

Dr. Coates says that if you watch dogs interact with each other, a lot of licking is focused on the face. This is related to the fact that when dogs are puppies, they lick their mom’s mouth to get them to regurgitate food for them to eat. So, dogs lick human faces to try to get food—and also probably some leftover flavor from the last meal you ate.

Is it harmful for dogs to lick humans?

“Dog licking doesn’t pose much of a danger to people as long as you don’t have any open wounds and your immune system is functioning well,” says Dr. Coates. “That said, bacteria can be transmitted through dog licks, so the behavior is not completely without risk.” Dog saliva does contain a bacteria called Capnocytophaga in their mouths that in very very rare cases can cause an infection in humans with weakened immune systems.

On the other side of things, make sure that if your dog is licking you, that you don’t have any chemicals or these foods that are toxic for dogs on your skin.

What does it mean when a dog licks themselves in a certain spot excessively?

Dogs will sometimes lick a certain part of their body or even a particular part of the couch or floor in your home over and over. “Itching or pain can cause dogs to lick themselves, while anxiety or a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder may lead to licking directed towards themselves or towards objects in their environment,” says Dr. Coates. “Excessive licking of surfaces has also been associated with medical, especially gastrointestinal, disorders."

They can also smell where food or a drink has been spilled on your couch or floor, even if it was a while ago. Cleaning up the area thoroughly should make them stop licking.

How do you teach your dog to stop licking you?

“If you want your dog to stop licking you, do your best to ignore the behavior; calmly get up and go into another room behind a closed door if you have to,” says Dr. Coates. If your dog stops licking you make sure to give them lots of praise and attention for listening so that they won’t repeat the behavior in the future.

“Over time, the licking should fade away as your dog realizes that it is not providing them with any sort of reward,” says Dr. Coates. “Talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s licking could be related to a medical problem or behavioral disorder.” Now that you can answer the question, "What does it mean when a dog licks you?" learn about the secrets your dog wishes you knew.

Related video: Getting a new puppy? Here are 4 ways to make it easy (Provided by People)

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