You know it’s coming every time you walk through the door, sit on the couch, and lean in for a belly rub. You brace yourself as best you can for an enthusiastic slobbery smooth from your furry best friend. Dogs lick their favorite people whether their advances are welcome or not, and some do it more than others. These “extreme lickers” are the dogs that can’t help but stick out their tongues whenever a person comes close. They’ll lick you forever if you let them, and they never pass up an opportunity to coat you in slobber.
Licking is normal dog behavior, but have you ever wondered why your extreme licker does what she does? Here are a few possible explanations.
1. To Get Your Attention
There’s no denying that a face full of dog tongue will grab your attention. Dogs quickly learn that licking their humans is a great way to get what they want. Do you remember the first time your dog “kissed” you? You probably cooed with glee and proceeded to scratch her behind the ears.
From that moment on, she learned licking elicits a response she’d like to repeat. Even if you pushed her away thinking of the toilet diving she did earlier that day, you still stopped what you were doing to pay attention to her. She’s not particularly interested in whether your response is positive or negative. All that really matters is that you acknowledged her. Eventually, licking turns into a dog’s number one strategy for stealing the spotlight.
2. To Channel a Survival Instinct
Back when your dog was a tiny puppy, she licked her mom as a way of saying, “Hey, I’m hungry!” It was a clear way of communication, and as long as mom was in a good mood, licking resulted in a tasty meal. In packs of wild dogs and wolves, lower ranking pack members also lick to solicit sustenance. Dogs lick their superiors to show them submission and respect. If all goes well, the licker is invited by the lickee to feast on communal prey.
Your pooch isn’t a baby anymore, and she’s definitely not a wild pack member, but the instinct to communicate through licking is still there. She sees you as a bearer of food and all good things. By licking your face, arms, and legs, it’s possible she’s showing you respect and asking for food at the same time.
3. To Figure You Out
Besides the fact neither can speak English, dogs have a lot in common with babies. A good example is the way babies like to put things in their mouths. They do it as a way to learn about their surroundings, and they’re not afraid to lick questionable materials. Canine behaviorists occasionally credit a dog’s licking behavior as their way of examining people. They don’t have hands to reach out and touch, so they rely on their tongues. A dog’s tongue isn’t as good at distinguishing between flavors as a human’s, but Responsible Dog Training says,
“…the tongue is connected to several nerves responsible for relaying information back to the brain…”
When your dog licks you, she might be trying to learn something about you.
4. To Taste Something Yummy
After a day at work, sitting in traffic, and stopping at that fast food restaurant, your skin tastes delicious—at least in your dog’s opinion. Some dogs love the taste of salty human skin. Don’t worry, your pup isn’t licking you in preparation to take a bite and fulfill her appetite. It’s like how dogs lick their bowls clean after meal time and go back to Kongs that at one point had peanut butter in them. With their strong senses, dogs know when you drove home with a greasy cheeseburger in your hand. If some of that grease dripped down your wrist, you can bet your dog knows and wants a taste.
5. To Show Affection
There’s a reason why we say a lick from a dog is a “doggy kiss.” There’s more tongue involved than lips, but licking is often a way for dogs to express their affection. They’re so happy to see you when you come home from work they can’t help but cover you in kisses. They feel safe and comfortable when you’re sitting on the couch, and they lick your arm to show their love. Your dog’s mom licked her as a sign of affection when she was a puppy, and now she’s doing it to you. Dogs also lick because it releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. Those chemicals reinforce the warm and fuzzy feelings your dog gets when she’s around you.
Whether your dog licks you because they love you or because you taste good, it’s safe to take it as a compliment. A face full of slobber isn’t always your favorite part of your dog’s personality, but it’s completely normal. Dogs like to lick, and even extreme lickers do it with good intentions. If your dog is obsessively licking themselves or random objects, however, there could be something else going on. Check with your vet if you’re concerned.
Sources: AKC, Responsible Dog Training