Why Do Dogs Lick?

02 Sep

Do you frequently find yourself the recipient of your Labrador’s licky affection?

Do you leave cuddles with a damp face, or legs covered in drool?You are not alone!

In this article we are going to answer the popular question: why do dogs lick?

Looking at why dogs lick people, why they lick our faces, why dogs lick their paws and help you to work out why your own dog licks so much.

Dog Licking

Many dogs like a good lick, and Labradors are often at the wetter end of the spectrum. If you want a cuddle, they want to turn it into a kiss.

But not every dog licks as much as his friends. For example, our 4 year old chocolate girl Rachael rarely licks, whereas fox red Lab Tess will barely ever leave an encounter without making her damp mark.

So what is it that causes dogs to lick? Why do some lick more than others? What is the licking appeal when it comes to our faces, their paws or even their toys?

Let’s find out!

Why Do Dogs Lick You?

Almost all dogs will lick their owners. Some more than others, but they will nearly all do it at some point. Especially if they are Labs.

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Dogs lick people for a variety of possible reasons.

They might like the taste, want to show you affection or be trying to communicate something with you.
The motivation behind your dog’s lick can be guessed at by looking at where he is licking, and what the situation is that prompted him to begin.

Some dogs will lick you for attention, say if you are a bit late with their dinner or they want to go outside.

Some appear to lick simply for affection.

To prompt you to pet them or give them a treat.

Licking people is also a way of a dog making contact with his owner. He is using his tongue to feel your clothes or skin.

Why Do Dogs Lick your Face?

When a puppy is young and with their mother, they will lick her mouth to encourage her to regurgitate food. From the moment they arrive in the world, licking faces is something which pays serious dividends.

If you are happy for your dog to lick your face, then you will continue to reward this behavior into adulthood even accidentally. By giving him physical attention or even more rewarding food treats.

Dogs licking faces then becomes a learned behavior, reinforced accidentally by the owner. If you want to reduce your dog’s face licking, then immediately removing your attention when he does so should over time help to reduce it.

Remember that if you like your Lab licking your face, you should be even more careful about making sure that he is up to date with his wormer.

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Hands

On a daily basis, how much yummy stuff do you pick up? Preparing your meals, snacks, the kids’ dinner. Unpacking the shopping, clearing up the kitchen counters.

Every time you touch something that your dog might like the taste of, you leave tiny particles on your skin that his sensitive tongue can detect.

It has also been hypothesised that dogs like the salty taste of our skin, especially if we have sweaty palms on a hot sunny day!

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

The reasons dogs lick themselves can be broken down into the following four simple categories.


Dogs like so many other animals use their tongues to keep themselves clean.


When a dog is injured, they will lick the wounded area. Their saliva can help to remove dead skin particles and dirt.

However, if your dog is licking an injury you should take him to the vet to be checked over. As some injuries can be exacerbated by licking,


When dogs are worried they will often lick themselves. The act of licking releases hormones that make them feel happier, calmer and relieves stress.

Unfortunately this can lead to compulsive licking behaviors, which we will look at below.


Dogs may lick themselves, you or their toys simply because they find the act of doing so enjoyable. If they find licking fun, it’s self-rewarding, and they will do it more often. Licky dogs are often dogs who simply love licking!

Dog Licking Paws

All dogs will lick their paws from time to time for cleaning purposes. They will lick between their toes or nibble gently at their pads to remove dirt particles and clean the fur.

However, if they are paying particular attention to one paw or licking them far more than usual it is worth a trip to the vet to have them checked.

Dogs paws are a common point for injuries and accidents, treading on spikes, having reactions to plants they have encountered or hurting them when running can cause them to lick them more than usual.

Dogs chewing paws can also be a sign that something is amiss.

Dog Licking Lips

Dog lip licking is a little different to the other examples of dog licking discussed above.

Dogs lick their lips when they are worried about something. The act of licking their lips is both an appeasement gesture to other dogs, and a sensation that can release hormones which make the dog himself feel better.

Stress is also a big cause of lip licking in dogs.

You will see that some very well behaved dogs, who have been trained with physical punishment, may carry out the required behavior – like sitting still in a field of rabbits – but will be constantly licking their lips throughout.

This is because they are continuing to sit through fear of punishment, and the licking is a result of the stressful battle with their internal desires.

When a dog is positive-reinforcement trained they remain seated because the happy outcome of staying still has been trained to be even more rewarding and fun to look forward to than the distractions.

They will therefore be less likely to lick their lips or feel stressed by the activities.

Why Does My Dog Lick So Much?

Do you think that your dog licks more than most? There are several possible reasons this could be occurring.

We first need to look at how much is ‘too much’.

It’s a personal thing. One owner might find the occasional lick fine, but anything beyond hourly to be too much.

Another might only feel overwhelmed after a good twenty minutes of having their hand licked.

The amount that your dog licks will be dictated by your response to their licking, how rewarding your licking is to them and how they are feeling.

Dog Constantly Licking?

Some dogs lick an awful lot. If your dog is constantly licking, but has always done so since he was a pup, then he’s probably just doing so because it brings him enjoyment.

Our lovely Tess is one of these dogs. She’s always got her tongue out, approaching you with damp enthusiasm on a daily basis.

It’s when licking is excessive that you need to consider looking deeper into the issue.

Excessive Licking In Dogs

Excessive licking in dogs can be a sign that there is something medical which needs to be looked at by your veterinarian.

As we have seen above, excessive focus on a particular area can be a sign of injury.Likewise, obsessive licking in general can be a sign that your dog is stressed, especially if they are excessively lip licking.

If you feel that your dog’s licking is getting too much, then have a chat with your vet or ask for a referral to a local positive reinforcement behaviorist.

But rest assured that most Labs just lick because they enjoy licking, and it doesn’t usually indicate any kind of a problem, even if you’d like them to do it a little less often


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