DOGS are great pets to have due to their unconditional love, but this love comes served with a side of slobbery licks.
While dog licks can be gross, it can be a sign they are trying to communicate something with you – here's what we know.
Why do dogs lick you?
Carolyn Menteith, an experienced dog behaviouralist and Kennel Club Accredited Instructor explained: “Licking is a very natural and instinctive behaviour for dogs.
"It helps them take in tastes and scents from things in their environment to help discover more about them, and can also be a way to show affection or interact."
By studying their behaviour, and getting to know your pet, you can make some educated judgments on why your dog is licking.
They are showing affection
One reason for the slobbery kisses from our canine friends is to show us affection.
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When dogs are young, their mothers spend lots of time licking them – it is a nurturing behaviour.
So when domestic dogs lick their owners, they imitate this behaviour and demonstrate the love they have for them.
This is also a sign of empathy as dogs will attempt to lick their owners if they see they are sad or crying, in order to comfort them.
It even feels good to your dog to do this; when they lick for affection, pleasurable endorphins are released in their brain.
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If your dog is licking you regularly it probably just means they love you.
They want your attention
When in nature and dogs travel in packs, licking plays a big role in the way they communicate.
They can use their licks to tell each other they’re hungry, hurt, or even just to ask to be friends.
If your dog comes to lick you then you will respond by fussing them or speaking to them, from here they can communicate whatever they need.
By responding to the licks with the correct solution, your dog will learn that licking is an effective way to get you to help them and the behaviour will be reinforced.
You taste good
It may sound a bit gross, but our skin is home to a range of tastes.
Particles of food we had for dinner, sweat, and even just the grease and bacteria that exist naturally on our skin can all taste great to a dog.
Make sure you don't have remains of something inedible to your dog where they are licking, such as melted chocolate, as this puts them at risk of poisoning.
If you spot your dog licking somewhere excessively they've probably found a patch that is particularly tasty so just make sure it is safe to lick.
Sometimes, they’re merely enjoying the flavour they get from you.
As a reward
When your dog licks you, you might start petting them, scratching them, or even giving them some food in return.
This reinforces the behaviour and dogs will lick you more because they are aware they will get something enjoyable by doing so.
This can be a two-way street as they want to show you that your response to their needs was correct, so they lick you.
Dogs don't understand that humans don't lick to communicate so they are just using the tools they know to speak to you.
They are exploring
A dog's tongue is a particularly sensitive tool and can help them learn a lot about their surroundings.
When dogs lick you, they are taking in sweat from your skin.
This contains water, ammonia, sodium, potassium and a whole host of other stuff that dogs can draw information about you.
It may be they are just trying to learn a bit more about you.
They feel anxious or unwell
Excessive licking can be a sign that your dog is feeling anxious or ill.
Dogs vary in how much they lick anyway so look for changes in this behaviour to indicate something is wrong.
Your dog may be seeking comfort when they lick you or be trying to alert you that something is wrong.
If your dog begins licking lots more than they usually do, you might need to check in with a vet and monitor what they are eating.
Plain food will help an upset stomach but if they have eaten something dangerous you should take them to the vet immediately.
How can you stop a dog from licking you?
While we trust dogs mean well when they lick us, it can get annoying or make us feel uncomfortable.
You shouldn't feel guilty as no compulsive behaviour is good for them, including licking.
Carolyn said: “When dogs lick, they get a release of ‘feel-good’ hormones – which is highly reinforcing for them, so encourages them to keep on licking!
“If you really don’t like your dog licking you, you can reduce it by ignoring the behaviour, and interacting with them only when they keep their tongue in their mouth.
"You can pre-empt their licking by asking them to do something else instead – for example, you could teach them to touch your hand with their nose – and reward them with a treat or toy, for doing that instead.”
In future, when your furry pet licks you, you should ignore them or train them to perform other behaviours instead.
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It can be hard to do this as none of us like ignoring our dogs but remind yourself that this will benefit them in the long term.
If this fails to change your dog’s behaviour and you feel they have a real problem with licking, a behaviour expert should be able to provide you with advice.
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