It doesn’t take a behavioral analyst to observe that dogs lick humans to show affection and appreciation. However dogs also lick to signify loyalty and submission to someone, or to “read” something on another dog, to taste something unfamiliar, or clean a wound or groom their coat. Whatever the case might be, it certainly seems as if dogs are kissing and licking constantly.
Why dogs lick dogs
There are a number of reasons why dogs lick each other. Mothers do so to clean their puppies’ fur and keep them warm when they are newborns. Licking them also stimulates urinating and defecation in puppies, which helps their digestion. Adult dogs lick other dogs to help groom them and communicate that they trust and are friendly with that companion. In the instance of unfamiliarity, dogs will sometimes lick another dog to get a feel for who he is, and where he is coming from. If there are any cuts or scrapes that need attending, dogs also lick to help heal the wound. Certain enzymes found in dog saliva can kill bacteria, and if licked in moderation, help to clean the affected area.
Why dogs lick our faces
Dogs lick humans in general to show affection, to show submission, or to give a gentle reminder. Dogs like licking because it makes them feels great! When a dog licks someone, it releases endorphins that positively associate the practice. They are literally happier when they are licking us. Canines also lick for the basic reason that we just taste good! Our skin can be salty, and our hands are particularly yummy if we have been recently handling food.
If your pup regularly licks your face, she is showing you that she acknowledges your supremacy as the “alpha dog.” In the wild, wolves typically lick the face of the pack leader as a sign of submission and respect. When your dog leaps up and puts a smacking smooch across your cheek, take it as a compliment!
This face-lick is two sides however; it also means your pup looks to you for provision just as a wolf pack looks to the leader. Puppies instinctively and notoriously love to lick the face of their masters, playfully reminding them of their helpless state and gratitude for protection and food. Some scholars have speculated that in earlier chapters of wild dog domestication, the humans would regurgitate partially digested food for their dogs to eat when they were resting from a hunt. Whether or not this is true, most humans do seem to have a naturally gag reflex whenever their faces are licked by a dog; perhaps this instinct was passed down.
Teenage or adult dogs mostly lick faces out of excitement or anxiety. Pups that have been affection-starved or abandoned might be pleading for your attention and sympathy by licking your face repeatedly. This kind of behavior ought to be discouraged without punishment, but merely redirected. Distract your dog with something else whenever he is on a licking rampage, by helping him calm down or expel the nervous energy elsewhere. Get a ball and play fetch, take him for a walk, or practice that new trick you have been working on. If a dog is licking you out of excitement, a good playtime in the park and walk wouldn’t hurt him either!
So though it may not always be pleasant to have a pooch dousing our hands and faces with sloppy wet kisses, remember that he is just trying to communicate with his favorite person in the world.