Dogs love to lick. And while we don’t mind the occasional slobbery kiss, sometimes their overeager licking can become, well, gross.
If you find your dog’s excessive licking bothersome, don’t fret. There are ways to curb this undesirable behavior.
Why Your Dog Licks You
Canine experts offer several interpretations for overly enthusiastic dog licking. One fact remains undisputed: it’s in a dog’s nature to lick you. This, of course, doesn’t make the behavior any less of a nuisance for those of us who prefer not to be greeted with a full bath.
If you understand why your dog licks you, it’s easier to address the behavior. So why does your dog want to lick you?
1. To Show Affection
To your dog, you’re the world. Smothering you with “kisses” is his natural way of welcoming you home after a long day apart. He wants to express how delighted he is to be reunited.
2. To Get Attention
Licking is also your dog’s way of saying, “Hey, hello, look at me!” This attention-seeking behavior is usually reinforced with your positive responses—treats, kind words, or a pat on the head.
And, as the American Kennel Club points out, this positive response inadvertently encourages future kisses.
3. You Taste Good
Plain and simple, your dog likes the taste of your salty skin (I know, major yuck). This is especially true when you’re perspiring (double yuck). Plus, your dog finds comfort in your scent.
Licking also has the added bonus of releasing pleasurable endorphins that relieve stress. No wonder your dog’s all up in your face!
4. To Get Resources
Your dog may lick you as a way to request food. This instinct is seen in young pups who lick their mother’s face before mealtime.
5. To Show Submission
Former AKC Family Dog columnist and veterinarian Nicholas Dodman explains that wild puppies lick their mother’s mouth as a sign of subordination. This instinctual behavior extends to other dogs and even humans. Your dog may also use licking as a “calming signal” to deescalate a stressful situation.
How to Get Your Dog to Stop Licking You
Keep in mind, licking your face is a natural dog behavior and only becomes a problem when you disapprove or find it annoying. Your dog will probably never completely stop licking your face.
That said, you can still try one of the following techniques.
1. Ignore It
When your dog starts licking you, walk away. Remove all attention, including eye contact. If this unwanted behavior goes unrewarded with your attention, it will become less frequent.
2. Put Something in Their Mouth
Redirect your dog’s urge to lick your face by offering an alternative—a chew toy, a bone, or a stuffed kong are all good options. These alternatives will keep him occupied by giving him something appropriate to lick.
3. Get Some Exercise
Taking a long walk will reduce your dog’s stress, which may reduce their urge to lick your face. This approach is especially useful with dogs who lick out of nervous compulsion.
4. Take a Shower
Does your dog find you especially enticing after a long, sweaty workout? Washing up afterward will deter your dog from seeing you as a walking salt stick.
5. Change Your Body Scent
Certain scents are more appealing to dogs. Try swapping out your body wash or perfume to a scent (and taste) your dog will find less appetizing.
6. Reward Good Behavior
Give your dog attention when they are behaving appropriately (as in not licking your face off). Rewards should take place immediately after the desired behavior for positive association.
When to Worry About Your Dog’s Excessive Licking
For the most part, having your dog lick your skin is not cause for concern. There are, however, a few negative scenarios to watch for.
1. Excessive Licking Can be a Symptom of Anxiety or OCD
If you notice your dog is obsessively licking you (or another object), he could be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. This extreme behavior warrants a vet visit to explore possible medical treatments.
2. Licking Can Spread Germs
Dogs aren’t exactly the most hygiene-conscious creatures when it comes to what they put in their mouths. They can carry all kinds of nasty bacteria and parasites in their saliva. Not the kind of stuff you want on your face.
3. Licking Can Become a Major Nuisance
In the end, if you’re bothered by your dog’s excessive licking then the behavior is a problem, no matter how natural it is. Maybe your dog bothers guests, or perhaps you’d simply prefer to skip the full saliva bath every day after work.
Whatever the case may be, you can discourage this behavior with a few simple changes. The key (as with any training) is consistency. Try implementing one or more of these techniques the next time your dog gets a little too close for comfort.