Why Do Dogs Lick?

Why Do Dogs Lick

Do you ever wonder why do dogs lick?  If you have a dog who licks a lot or know a dog who does this, I suspect you’ve pondered this. Humans sometimes have nervous ticks— the things we do for no apparent reason. We bite our nails, drum our fingers, tap our toes, whistle and hum just to let off steam. Since dogs aren’t equipped with the mental capacity or appropriate anatomy to do most of these things sometimes they lick — a lot.

What and when a dog licks can tell their pet parents why he licks and what he feels when he licks. It can mean your dog is hungry, sick, happy, sad, or simply nervous. Dogs lick their pack members, humans and themselves for many reasons, and if you want to curb the behavior, it helps to understand why do dog dogs lick.

Below are some of the most common reasons answering why do dogs lick:

  • Affection

This is the commonest reason domestic dogs lick, and this tends to be the kind of licking most pet parents want to change. The affection component to licking behavior actually starts when dogs are pups. Mothers lick their young a lot during the first couple of weeks of their infancy, so there’s something innate that tells dogs that licking is an act of love and care-giving. This will carry forward for most of their lives and puppies will lick their human parents as much as the human parents allow them. Therefore, licking for affection causes your dog to release pleasurable endorphins that calms and comforts them.

  • Communication

Dogs lick other dogs to communicate hunger, friendship, submission, etc.  They do this with humans as well, but we are typically not as good at interpreting the message. There’s a possibility that your dog needs something. If your dog is licking you with intensity, take a look around and see if something is amiss. Maybe the water bowl is empty, or the doggie door is closed.

  • Grooming

You might not think of your pup as particularly concerned with hygiene, but just like cats, dogs also lick to clean themselves. However, excessive anal cleaning may be a sign that the glands need to be expressed.

  • You Taste Good

If your dog is licking their bowl, it’s pretty easy to tell that they like the taste. The same is true when a dog licks you or someone else in your household. If a dog licks you right when you come out of the shower, it’s because you’re wet or because the lotion you just put on smells good. And sometimes, it’s nothing more than sensory stimulation.

  • Healing

Dog saliva has enzymes that kill off bacteria, and when a dog licks himself, it helps to get rid of dead tissue and clean dirt from wounds. Some dogs, however, just can’t stop themselves and may actually reopen wounds or cause other kinds of harm through excessive licking.

  • Compulsion

Excessive licking is a nervous tick. If you notice that your dog licks the same spot or object continuously or that they seem to be doing so whenever they are scared or nervous, it might be time to seek the help of a vet. While licking can be a healthy stress reliever, obsessive licking only reinforces anxiety and worsens the problem.

Licking can sometimes get to be too much for people. If you don’t like your dog licking you, you have to walk away to stop the behavior early on. All it takes is a few minutes of you leaving the room when your dog starts licking you for him to realize this behavior drives you away, which isn’t what they want.

If you have a dog who licks a lot, are there other reasons you can add that would answer why do dogs lick?

For another interesting read, you may also like this article on Why Do Dogs Sleep So Much.

*This blog was updated in December 2018.*












  • Anita Harris says:

    Why does my dachshund bite his nails to such a degree that we don’t have to get them trimmed, and some of them are sharp?

  • Jennifer Shafton says:

    Hi Anita – we haven’t written an article on why dogs bite their nails yet but thank you for giving us an idea for another topic. Do you see your Dachshund biting his nails or are some shorter based on walking on concrete or different types of floors? This could also be a good question to ask your vet if you are concerned.

  • Richard Winship says:

    Why does my pup bite when he is playing. Not a vicious bite but useing his teeth to get hands and arms?

  • Jennifer Shafton says:

    If you have a puppy, it is normal behavior for a puppy to be mouthy or to nip. However, since you wouldn’t want your dog to continue with this behavior as he gets older, perhaps try redirecting your dog with an appropriate toy or bone that is meant for him to bite or chew on each time your dog tries to bite when you are playing. This is also a great question to ask a reputable dog trainer.

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