Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face?

Why do dogs lick your face?
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

We associate dogs licking our faces with affection and adoration. If you own a dog or have ever encountered one, you’re probably familiar with face licking. After all, there’s nothing better than your dog spoiling you with kisses after a long day.

However, why do dogs lick your face? And when should you be concerned? Here’s everything you need to know about your dog licking your face.

Why Does My Dog Like to Lick My Face?

Your dog licking your face goes back to its instinctual and biological drives.

According to Pet MD, your dog licking your face stems back to wolf puppies licking their mother’s face in anticipation of the regurgitated food she would bring back after a hunt. This is backed up by Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, and the head of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, reports that wild dogs, such as wolves, foxes, and coyotes, begin licking in puppyhood.

Puppies lick their mother’s face when she returns from hunting to get her to regurgitate their food, according to the American Kennel Club.

Your dog licking your face is a common social behaviour. It can be a sign of submission, happiness, or acceptance. When your dog licks your face, it’s essentially a sign of adoration. They accept you as one of their own. It’s their way of grooming and showing affection. If your dog has any other canine friends, you might notice them licking each other’s faces from time to time. It essentially means your dog accepts you as part of their pack. It can also be a sign that your dog really wants your attention and love, similar to the way dogs paw at you when you’re in the middle of dinner or a really good book!

A dog licking one’s face can also be a sign of appeasement. If your dog licks a stranger’s face when out and about, it could mean that they feel uncomfortable and are trying to make peace with others to protect you, much like a dog would do in the wild.

Other Reasons Your Dog Might Like to Lick Your Face

However, there are several other reasons your dog might lick your face.

Your dog likes the scent or taste of your skin

It could be as simple as your dog likes the way you taste and smell. You might convey a sense of home to them which they can’t get enough of, or they simply might just like the way you taste.

Your dog is hungry

Since face-licking stems back to the days of wolf puppyhood in the animal kingdom, it could be a signal that they’re hungry.

Your dog wants your attention

Your dog could also just simply want your attention! Dogs are social, affectionate, outgoing animals that thrive off their owner’s companionship. Licking can be your dog’s way of trying to capture your attention.

Is Licking My Face My Dog’s Way of Kissing Me?

Your dog also just loves you! Your dog licking your face is an overt display of affection. Learned in puppyhood, mothers lick their puppies for grooming purposes and acceptance. Puppies internalize this behaviour at a young age as a form of love and acceptance. When your dog licks your face, it’s more so their way of accepting you and showing you love.

Dog kissing a face
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

So, yes, it can be construed as their form of kissing! If your dog is wagging their tails, excited, and happy to see you, it’s safe to say licking is their way of kissing. Licking, much like sniffing, is a form of greeting. If your dog is sniffing and licking you when you get home from work or running errands, it’s their way of asking you how your day was and wondering where you’ve been.

When Does Licking Become a Problem?

Licking can become problematic when it becomes compulsive. Some dogs’ licking behaviour will extend past just licking your face and extend to licking furniture, the floor, or other objects. According to the American Kennel Club, licking can be indicative of a more serious problem. If your dog is obsessively licking objects, it could be a sign that they’re anxious, bored, or even in pain. If your dog is obsessively licking itself, it could be a sign of something more serious.

According to ASPCA Pet Insurance, obsessive licking could be indicative of the following:

  • Itchiness, commonly a symptom of skin issues or allergies
  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Mouth problems associated with dental disease or tooth issues
  • Nausea, licking can become a self-soothing behaviour
  • Cognitive disorders, licking can become a compulsion
  • Stress, anxiety, or other behavioural issues

What Should I Do If My Dog is Licking Everything?

If you’re worried that your dog’s licking is becoming problematic, take your dog to the vet to rule out skin issues or allergies, dental disease or tooth issues, nausea or illness, cognitive issues, or behavioural issues. Your vet can help diagnose any of the aforementioned issues and get your dog back to its normal self!

You can also try enrichment toys like Kongs or food puzzles. Your dog might be self-soothing with its licking behaviour and could simply need a distraction. Kongs or food puzzles with peanut butter or canned dog food can help alleviate their licking and provide them with an enriching activity that stimulates their mental and physical states.

Is It OK to Let My Dog Lick Me?

As long as your dog’s licking doesn’t become obsessive or bother you, it’s perfectly fine to let them lick you! Licking can often be a sign of submission, so if your dog is licking you, it means they see you as their leader and it’s their way of showing you affection. If your dog’s licking begins to annoy you, sternly correcting them with a simple ‘stop’ can help curb the unwanted behaviour. Teaching them ‘stop’ as a command can also curb other unwanted behaviour. Also, avoid giving your dog attention when they lick, so they know not to do it.

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