It’s no big secret—dogs love to lick! After all, it’s a natural and instinctual behaviour that has a variety of causes. Licking could be a sign that something tastes good, or that your dog is expressing themselves, wanting to get your attention, or trying to bond. Or, it can sometimes be a sign of illness indicating pain, nausea, or discomfort.
But what if it’s just… too much? “Excessive licking is basically when your dog will not stop,” says Los Angeles-based author and certified professional dog trainer, Nicole Ellis. And though doggy kisses can be sweet, they can also be kinda gross and bothersome if done uncontrollably. However, there are steps to help curb this habit from changing up your body lotion to redirecting behaviour with positive reinforcement. With the help of Ellis, we’ll take a look at some of the causes and solutions to excessive licking in dogs.
Why is My Dog Licking Me?
Though there can be several interpretations for an overly enthusiastic dog licking, one thing is for certain: it’s in a dog’s nature to lick you. This, of course, doesn’t make the behaviour any less of a nuisance for those of us who prefer to be slobber-free.
If you understand why dogs lick you, it’s easier to address the behaviour. So why does my dog lick me so much? Here are some possible explanations:
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 behaviour is usually reinforced with your positive responses—treats, kind words, or a pat on the head.
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.
4. To get things from you
Your dog may lick you as a way to request treats and food. Ellis notes that some dogs use licking as a form of communication, which means they may lick you if they want dinner, need to go to the toilet or have another request.
5. To calm themselves
Licking can also be a self-soothing practice for your dog. “They could use licking to soothe themselves and their stress,” says Ellis. “And in the same way, also to soothe other animals, and even ourselves, if we’re stressed.”
Licking behaviour is a way for your dog to cope with stress and can be self-soothing. You may notice your dog licking more frequently if they exhibit separation anxiety or other behaviours indicating stress.
Licking also has the added bonus of releasing soothing endorphins that relieve stress. No wonder your dog’s all up in your face!
How to Get Your Dog to Stop Licking You
If you’re already asking: “Why does my dog keep licking me?” You’re also probably wondering how you can get your dog to stop. Keep in mind, it’s unlikely that a dog will stop licking you entirely, as licking your face is a natural behaviour, which only becomes a problem when it can’t be redirected or becomes a constant nuisance.
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 behaviour goes unrewarded with your attention, it will become less frequent.
2. Give your dog a toy to occupy their mouth
Redirect a dog that licks a lot by offering an alternative—a chew toy, a good-quality 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
Just like with people, exercise can be an effective way to help manage stress. 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 afterwards will deter your dog from seeing you as a walking salt stick.
5. Change your body scent
“[Dogs] have what is called the Jacobson’s organ, and it’s actually located between the nose and the mouth,” says Ellis. So, if something smells good to a dog, i.e. your lotion, licking it lets them further experience that scent.
Certain scents are more enticing than others. Ellis says avocado or coconut-based scents and products are especially appealing to dogs. Peppermint, on the other hand, not so much! Try swapping your body wash or perfume for a scent (and taste) your dog will find less appetising.
6. Reward good behaviour
For dogs who won’t stop licking, try giving them attention when they are behaving appropriately (as in not licking your face off). Rewards should take place immediately after the desired behaviour for positive association.
When Does Dog Licking Become Excessive?
For the most part, having your dog lick your skin is not cause for concern. There are, however, a few negative scenarios to keep an eye on.
1. Excessive licking can be a symptom of anxiety or OCD
“When a dog is stressed, often they will pick up a behaviour just like we often do,” says Ellis. It’s like a nervous habit. “So often our dogs will start licking, and that’s kind of a calming repetitive behaviour,” she says. If you notice your dog obsessively licking you (or another object), he could be suffering from anxiety or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. This extreme behaviour warrants a vet visit to explore possible treatments.
2. Licking can spread germs
“Dogs have bacteria in their mouths that are zoonotic—which means they can be passed down to humans, and those can cause gastrointestinal issues,” says Ellis.
As any pet parent can tell you, 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, which is not the kind of stuff you want on your face.
3. Licking can become a major nuisance
In the end, if your dog exhibits excessive licking, and it’s affecting you or others negatively, then the behaviour is a problem. Maybe your dog bothers guests, or perhaps you’d simply prefer to skip the onslaught of saliva every day after work.
“Sometimes it can be annoying,” says Ellis of our dogs licking us. “But it’s important to also take it seriously and see if there is a medical reason.” If your dog’s licking behaviour is a source of concern, it’s always best to check in with your vet.
You can also try and help curb enthusiastic licking with a few simple changes. The key (as with any training) is consistency. Try implementing one or more of the techniques above the next time your dog gets a little too close for comfort.