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Everyone that has a dog is certain to see their pooch grooming themselves, licking over and over on various parts of their bodies. If you have two dogs, you’ll probably even see them grooming each other.
But this grooming behavior is rarely limited to self-grooming. Rather, most dogs are likely to attempt to groom their human.
You’ve almost certainly experienced this before.
You’re sitting on the couch and your best buddy comes up and sits right between your legs, reaches up, and starts licking all over your face! Or, if your face can’t be reached, they might settle for licking your leg, arm, or whatever skin is exposed.
This is perfectly normal behavior, but it probably leaves you wondering: why does my dog groom me?
Dogs groom their humans for many reasons. Your dog likely thinks you taste good. Grooming is also a form of social bonding; a way for your dog to show their affection. It can also be a greeting, a way to communicate a need, a stress reliever, or your dog could be helping you get clean!
In truth, there are loads of reasons why dogs groom their humans. The reasons we just mentioned are some of the most common and obvious.
We’ll go over them in more detail below, and while we’re at it, we’ll also discuss a few of the less obvious reasons that might be behind your dog’s grooming behavior.
Why Do Dogs Groom Humans?
If you’re wondering why your dog loves to groom you, you’re not alone. This is a common behavior for our best buddies to display, and few people stop to really think about the reasons for it.
Figuring out exactly why your dog is grooming you can be difficult though since there are so many reasons for such behavior!
Your dog could be grooming you for one or several of the following reasons.
Reason 1: To Show Affection
One of the reasons people love dogs so much is that we form such close bonds together. After all, dogs are man’s best friend!
Those bonds go both ways. Your dog likely loves you as much as you love them. As such, your pooch will want to show their love for you.
Dogs can’t speak though. Your dog can’t just tell you that they love you.
Instead, they have to show you that through the limited actions they can take, one of which is grooming.
Even breeds that get a bad reputation as dangerous or aggressive like Rottweilers and Pitbulls are actually highly affectionate dogs that want to show their love for their humans.
So, if your dog is always trying to groom you, it might just be their way of showing you love.
Reason 2: Social Bonding
Grooming is about more than just showing you affection. When your dog grooms you, it’s also a way of bonding with you.
This is a behavior that’s common throughout the animal kingdom. You’ll see all sorts of other animals grooming each other communally as a form of social bonding, including primates, horses, cows, lions, and many others.
Grooming of this sort is referred to as social grooming, and it helps to strengthen social structures, improve family bonds, and increase companionship between two animals.
While most social grooming takes place among two members of the same species, it’s no different when your dog grooms you. It’s still a way of strengthening the bond between you.
Reason 3: They Like the Way You Taste!
This explanation might seem like it’s too simple or obvious, but it’s one of the major reasons that dogs will lick or groom their humans.
You know the taste of sweat when it gets on your lips? It’s pretty salty.
While that salty taste might not be super appealing to you, it’s probably delicious for your dog.
Because of this, you might notice that your dog is more likely to groom you when you’re a bit sweaty, such as after a workout or when you come inside from the heat of summer.
Your sweat isn’t the only tasty part of you though. You probably don’t realize it, but there are food particles all over you.
These aren’t crumb-sized particles mind you. We’re talking about tiny food particles that you can’t even see.
They’re on your hands, stuck to your skin, around your mouth, and on other areas of your body including your “extra delicious” legs.
How does your dog even know they’re there if you can’t see them?
It’s because of their superior sense of smell.
Estimates rate a dog’s olfactory senses to be between 10,000 and 100,000 times more powerful than our own!
So, even though those food particles can’t be seen, your dog can smell them and knows they’re there, just tempting your pooch’s taste buds! This also explain a variety of canine licking behavior including why some dogs just can’t resist licking the floor.
Reason 4: The Behavior Has Been Rewarded Before
Dogs respond very well to positive reinforcement. If you reward certain behaviors, you’re likely to see them repeated.
If you’ve rewarded your dog before for their grooming behaviors towards you, then it’s likely that your dog is continuing to groom you in hopes of receiving another reward, even if you didn’t realize you were rewarding the behavior in the first place!
Rewards can be simple. It doesn’t have to be a treat or something you give your dog.
Rather, you might have simply pet your dog after they groomed you or you could have just used a positive tone of voice that your dog associated with a reward.
As long as your dog thinks you’re pleased with them grooming you, they’ll continue to groom you in hopes of pleasing you more and getting rewarded for their good behavior.
Reason 5: As a Greeting
Pay attention to the times your dog grooms you. Does it seem to happen most often right when you get home or when you’ve been in another room and your dog wasn’t near you?
If that’s the case, then your dog might be licking you and grooming you as a greeting! It’s simply your dog’s way of saying hi to you and letting you know that they’re happy to see you.
Reason 6: To Communicate a Need
When you need something, you just go and take care of it. If your dog could, they’d do the same, but that’s often not possible for your pooch.
For example, if your dog is thirsty, it’s not within their power to pick up the water bowl and fill it from the sink.
Unfortunately, your dog can’t simply tell you what it needs either.
Instead, they have to get your attention and hope you can figure out what they’re after.
This is sort of like dealing with a baby. They can’t tell you what they need, so they cry or do something else to get your attention. The behavior will usually continue until your baby’s need is fulfilled.
Your dog has to act in a similar manner to get their needs taken care of.
While your dog might wine, bark, or scratch at you to get your attention, they might also resort to licking you.
So, when your dog is licking you and they won’t stop, it might be a good idea to look around and see if something is amiss. Maybe your dog’s water bowl is empty or they’re hungry!
Reason 7: Grooming and Licking Can Relieves Stress
It’s well documented that dogs can alleviate stress in humans. After all, this is a major part of why they’re so commonly used as therapy dogs.
When you pet your dog, it causes oxytocin to be released in each of you.
Oxytocin is essentially the “love hormone.” It helps to strengthen the bond between two people, or in this case, a person and their pooch.
When your dog licks you, they’re getting a nice dose of oxytocin, just like you get when you pet them. This oxytocin helps to reduce any stress your dog might be feeling, leaving them happier and more relaxed.
It has also been shown that oxytocin improves social bonding for dogs. So, when your dog gets that hit of oxytocin from licking you, it’s helping them to feel closer to you and making the bond between you stronger.
Reason 8: To Clean You
Grooming is essential for proper health. This goes for all sorts of creatures, and it’s why your dogs are always grooming themselves. Even though we think they’re usually in need of some grooming your dog would probably say they do a pretty good job.
When animals groom themselves or each other, they’re aiding in good health, keeping the coat clean, and helping to reduce the possibility of health problems.
Of course, grooming isn’t just for dogs, pets, livestock, and wild animals. Humans also require grooming, and when your dog is licking you, they could just be trying to help groom and clean you.
You might be wondering: I shower all the time, so why does my dog clean me?
This is a learned behavior. Dogs are cleaned and groomed by their mothers when they’re puppies, and so it’s ingrained in them to lick things in order to clean them.
Reason 9: They’re Being Submissive
Dogs display many submissive behaviors. This can be towards other dogs or towards you since you are the leader of the pack in their eyes.
Some submissive behaviors are obvious, like when a dog rolls onto their back exposing their stomach.
Other submissive behaviors may not be so obvious, such as licking.
Granted, licking and grooming aren’t always signs of submission, but if your dog displays other submissive signs like tucking their tail between their legs, avoiding eye contact, or rolling onto their back, then the grooming might just be another submissive behavior.
Reason 10: Helping You Heal
Have you noticed that your dog tends to lick your cuts and wounds? This is because they’re trying to help you heal and it probably helps that they like the taste as well (as gross as that sounds to us).
Dogs grooming their human’s wounds are very common and can even be beneficial for you- at least in theory. Well talk more about this later but you shouldn’t allow your dog to actually lick your wounds.
First, your dog’s licking will help to loosen and remove any bacteria or dirt around your wound, helping to prevent infection and promoting healing.
Your dog’s healing powers go a bit further than simple wound cleaning though.
As it turns out, dog saliva has some antibacterial properties that can help you to heal faster. Your dog’s saliva helps defend against both E.coli and strep, for example.
Of course, your dog’s saliva doesn’t have the same healing power as modern medicine. Even so, your dog’s grooming of your wounds is a behavior intended to help you heal.
While I recommend people use this method, you can still find dozens of people on YouTube showing off their dog’s commitment to wound grooming:
Reason 11: They’re Comforting You
Earlier, we mentioned the relationship between dogs, humans, and the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
Interacting with a dog will release oxytocin inside of you, while simultaneously reducing your cortisol levels, which is a hormone that causes stress.
Your dog obviously doesn’t understand these mechanisms. What they do know is that interacting with you feels good for them and has a relieving effect, so it’s reasonable for them to assume that this works both ways.
Plus, as many dog owners will tell you, dogs seem to have somewhat of a sixth sense regarding our emotions. Your dog will likely know when something is amiss with you.
If you’re sad, angry, worried, or any similar emotion, your dog is probably picking up on those feelings and is licking you as a way of providing some comfort and helping you to feel better.
Reason 12: Neoteny
We’re discussing neoteny last because it’s the least likely reason for your dog to be grooming you, though it certainly is still a possibility.
Neoteny, which is also referred to as juvenilization, is when an animal retains its juvenile characteristics into adulthood.
As a puppy, your dog was being groomed and licked repeatedly since they were born. This behavior may have ingrained itself into your dog, leading them to continue such behaviors, especially if your dog is mentally trapped at a younger age, as is the case with neoteny.
Is It Safe to Let Your Dog Groom You?
If your dog only licks you once in a while, then it’s barely even worth considering. But if your dog is incessantly grooming you all the time, you might start wondering if this behavior is ok or if it’s even safe for you.
While your dog’s grooming behaviors don’t pose any major threat to you, there are some ways it could be detrimental.
Having said that, there are also some benefits to letting your dog groom you, which we’ll explore in a moment.
When It’s Unsafe to Let Your Dog Groom You
Dogs’ mouths are full of bacteria, which might seem a little counterintuitive since we’ve already established that dog saliva also has antibacterial properties.
While most people don’t get sick from their dog’s grooming, it’s a real possibility.
In fact, one lady suffered through an agonizing case of sepsis resulting in a lengthy hospital stay, and the Capnocytophaga canimorsus in her Greyhound’s saliva was identified as the culprit.
Here’s something that might scare you. This same bacteria is estimated to be found in up to 75% of all dogs! Luckily, it rarely results in illness.
Other bacteria can also be found in your dog’s mouth, including Toxocara canis and visceral larva migrans.
You might also find Dipylidium caninum, which causes tapeworm infections, or Haemophilus aphrophilus, which can result in heart inflammation and abscesses of the brain, or any of several other bacteria known to be present in dog saliva.
It’s not just the bacteria naturally found in dog saliva you need to worry about though.
Think about how your dog interacts with the world. They use their mouths like we use our hands.
Your dog’s snout gets pressed into dirty corners, they sniff dirty and nasty things like other dogs’ feces, and they root around in the dirt.
Through all of this, your dog’s teeth, nose, and muzzle pick up tons of germs and bacteria that could potentially be harmful for you.
Benefits of Allowing Your Dog to Groom You
On the other hand, there are some notable benefits to letting your dog groom you. You’ll have to decide if they’re worth the tradeoff of a potential bacterial infection.
The biggest benefits for both of you are the hormones and chemicals released inside of you both when your dog grooms you.
Like we discussed earlier, when your dog grooms you, it raises oxytocin levels in both of you, which can help you both to feel happier, less stressed, and improve the bond between you.
Plus, for you, cortisol levels will drop, which can help to reduce your stress levels while alleviating the negative symptoms associated with high stress levels.
How to Stop Your Dog from Grooming You
Some people love wet and sloppy dog kisses! Others can’t stand them, even from their own dog. If you’re in the latter category, then you might be wishing to stop your dog from grooming you.
Stop Rewarding the Behavior
Dogs will often resort to grooming behavior because it has been rewarding for them in the past. As we discussed, you might not even be aware that you’re rewarding this behavior, so you’ll need to be extra vigilant to make sure you’re not.
Avoid petting your dog or offering praise in a rewarding and positive tone when your dog grooms you. Instead, you might try a gentle reprimanding like telling them no and pushing them away when they try to groom you.
Provide Another Outlet Like a Toy
Your dog might just need another way to alleviate its stress or some sort of good taste, if they’re grooming you for the taste or to relieve stress.
A toy can be a great alternative. Whenever your dog starts to groom you, get their toy out and give it to them instead.
Not all toys are equally adept for this though.
One of the best bets is a flavored chew toy since the taste can attract them instead of the flavor of your salty skin, and the chewing can help to alleviate any stress or anxiety they might be feeling.
If you’re looking for a great chew toy, I suggest the Benebone Real Bacon Wishbone Chew Toy. It’s incredibly durable and long-lasting with real bacon flavor that your dog is sure to love- even more than they love licking you!
Train Them to Not Lick You
If you don’t want your dog to keep grooming you, then you need to train them not to. One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply leave the room whenever your dog starts licking you.
Your dog is licking you because they love you and want to be close to you, so if you walk away, your dog won’t be happy with the result.
Soon, they’ll realize that licking you causes you to leave. Once they make this association, they’ll likely stop grooming you so you stop leaving the room!
Play With Them Instead
Since dogs will also groom you to enhance social bonding, you can provide other ways of strengthening your bond.
A play session is one of the best ways to improve the bond between you, while also helping to alleviate stress for you both. You’ll get all the benefits of your dog grooming you without any of the sloppy saliva!
Grooming is a completely normal behavior for dogs. They groom themselves, each other, and even their humans!
There are many reasons for this behavior, including affection, social bonding, the taste, and even as a form of stress relief.
If you like it when your dog grooms you, then you can allow the behavior to continue, but be wary of the potential for bacterial infection.
On the other hand, if it’s a behavior you don’t like, then you can help to prevent it by offering a toy, playing with your dog, or training them not to lick you.