Why Does My Dog Lick Me When I Pet Them? (Trainer Explains)

Why Does My Dog Lick Me When I Pet Them
<a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

<a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 19px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 19px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>
Fact Checked & Reviewed By: Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

It is easy to anthropomorphize our dogs when they lick us. They are giving us kisses, right? They are showing appreciation for when we feed them or try to cheer us up when we’re having a bad hair day. Or maybe that is just silly and dogs are simply curious about the way we taste and smell.

Well, all of those things can be true, from giving us kisses to showing their appreciation by licking us when we pet them. However, dog licking is not always a sign of relaxation and it is important to understand dog body language to help us figure out what they are telling us as they lick us when we pet them.

So why does your dog lick you when you pet them?

Your dog licks you when you pet them because they are affectionate, happy, and grooming you back. They also probably like the way you taste and smell. While most dogs appreciate being petted, licking you could be an appeasement behavior, signaling that they are stressed or uncomfortable and want to be left alone.

Let’s take a look at what your dog is trying to communicate to you by licking you when you pet them. We will also discuss when you should be worried and when it might be a behavioral problem.

Why Does My Dog Lick Me When I Pet Them?

There are many reasons why dogs love to lick people, but why do they love to lick you when you pet them? It is probably because they trust you and love the attention they are getting.

However, not all dogs love being petted and while it might be confusing, they show that by licking you. Hopefully, this article will help you understand your dog’s signals and whether licking you means “Please keep petting me” or “Please leave me alone.”

Reason 1. Your Dog Is Showing Affection

Licking is a social behavior learned from puppyhood. Mother dogs lick their puppies to not only keep them clean but to comfort them.

This is exactly what this affectionate mama dog is doing to her puppies in this video!

This means licking is one of the first forms of affection that dogs learn from the moment they are born. So when you show affection by petting them, they often will return the favor by licking you.

Petting and cuddling, as a symbol of affection, is a great way to bond with your dog and to show your dog that you love them. And while in the world of doggy communication, licking might mean many things, licking you when being petted will often mean they are reciprocating those positive feelings.

If your dog tends to lick you more than anyone else, especially when being petted, then it could mean that their bond is stronger with you. Besides licking their owners when being petted, I’ve also noticed many dogs, including my own, licking to show affection whenever they think something might be wrong.

Reason 2. Your Dog Is Grooming You

Grooming and affection are very entwined in the world of doggy communication. As we discussed earlier, mother dogs keep their puppies clean to show affection. But grooming is also an important part of dog hygiene and learning how to stay healthy. So if your dog licks you while you pet them, especially stinkier parts of you like your armpits, or licking off sweat in general, they might be trying to groom you.

Dogs that get along and are comfortable with each other also groom each other. By grooming hard-to-reach places like ears, they are not only doing one another a favor but also showing love and trust.

Petting can be perceived by your dog as a form of grooming, especially if you are petting a dog who is excessively shedding like a husky or giving a satisfying scratch to itchy skin. In this case, licking you when you pet them could be a way for your dog to return the grooming favor.

Reason 3. Your Dog Is Happy

Depending on your dog’s personality, there are a lot of different things that might make them happy. Naps on the couch, a game of fetch, or treats are all favorites of many dogs. However, most dogs enjoy being petted and will show that they are happy by licking you.

Being petted and licking are both methods that calm down dogs and make them happy. Certain breeds of dogs will lick a lot, especially as a response to being happy. Being petted by a trusting human feels good, and licking shows that they are happy and enjoying the interaction.

Besides licking you when being petted, happy dog will slowly wag their tail, have a soft facial expression, and probably roll on their back to invite more belly rubs.

Reason 4. To Get Your Attention

Dogs and humans are so in tune with each other’s emotions that simply spending time with each other is calming. One study has shown that people and their dogs who spend a lot of time together show increased levels of oxytocin or the “cuddle hormone.”

This is why dogs make such excellent therapy dogs, like this dog who works with patients in a hospital.

Since affectionate behaviors like cuddling and licking you while being petted are so enjoyable, it only makes sense that your dog will want you to keep going. If they notice that you pet them more when they lick you, or when they start licking you, you start petting them, then not only does your dog get his reward, but you are also the one reinforcing this behavior!

Reason 5. You Taste And Smell Good To Your Dog

A dog’s sense of smell is over 10,000 times more powerful than our own therefore they can pick up all sorts of subtle smells on our body. Whether it is a hint of lotion that you put on your hands that morning, food particles from a tasty sandwich you ate, or a sweaty smell from exercising, it makes you more interesting to explore.

Since dogs explore the world through their tongue, when you try to pet them your dog will probably lick your hands to figure out what that smell is. Plus when you are cuddling and petting your dog, the two of you are in much closer proximity, which means they can easily explore the smells that are on your body.

That’s why when my clients try to help their dog get used to spending time alone, I tell them to leave an old item of clothing that smells like them in their dog’s bed, to make them feel more relaxed and safe.

Reason 6. Your Dog Is Showing Appeasement Behavior

While dominance theory has been disproved, dogs can still show appeasement by licking you when you pet them. They are not being aggressive, but they are showing you that they are stressed or uncomfortable with the attention you are giving them.

Besides licking you, other body language signs that communicate that they are uncomfortable being petted include head turning, avoiding eye contact, whale eyes and tucked tail and ears, and lowered body (making themselves smaller,) as well as, exposing teeth and flipping on their back to avoid interaction.

There are several reasons why your dog might be uncomfortable with being petted. They might not know you very well, have had a bad experience, or be a breed that does not like to be cuddled. Always respect your dog’s boundaries and give them space if they are licking you when you pet them out of appeasement or stress.

Finally, before you start saying your dog sees you as the alpha because they lick you when you pet them, remember that your relationship with your dog is not based on alpha or dominance theory. Dogs do not understand that kind of mentality. Instead, they thrive under solid boundaries built on positive reinforcement.

Why Does My Dog Lick Their Lips When I Pet Them?

While licking or smacking their lips could be a response to feeling good, not every dog enjoys being petted. In this case, it could be a sign of discomfort and stress. By licking you or licking their lips when you pet them, your dog might be politely asking you to stop.

While there are plenty of tips for you to help your dog enjoy being cuddled, I find it is best to go slow and let your dog learn to trust you. Forcing them to cuddle or be petted and ignoring their body language like licking you, lip licking, avoidance or cowering, and shaking could lead to your dog using less passive body language to set boundaries.

Most dogs do not like to growl or bite as their first course of action and will be aggressive only after the above body language signals have been ignored. My first course of action when dealing with reactive or aggressive dog behaviors is management and helping them feel safe. If your dog is licking you or licking their lips when being petted, as well as other signs of stress, it is best to give them space and not force them into uncomfortable positions.

I love this video about doggy consent and how it improves your relationship with your dog.

Should I Be Worried?

While you should always listen to your dog’s body language and give them space if they are stressed, licking you out of affection is not something you should worry about.

However, you might want to reconsider allowing your dog to lick you if you use certain skincare products since some ingredients can be toxic to dogs. These include sunscreen, topical medications, retinoids (vitamin A compounds,) and anything made with grapes as well as anything made with avocados.

Veterinarian Dr. Nita Patel shared her opinion with us by saying “If your dog experiences vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea after licking a product off of you, then you need to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.”

Furthermore, licking can be a symptom of nausea. Dogs get into and lick weird things and can easily catch stomach bugs, but could also be suffering from colitis, parasites, bloat, or some other stomach disorders. So if your dog is licking you excessively while gagging, they might not be feeling well. Besides nausea, signs of stomach issues include diarrhea and vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss.

Many dogs can feel clingy when they are not feeling well, so they appreciate being petted and will lick you in appreciation and to make themselves feel better. So, as Dr. Patel suggested you need to make sure you take care of your dog if you suspect they are not feeling well and take them to the veterinarian.

Can I Change My Dog’s Behavior?

Getting licked when petting your dog seems sweet, but not everyone enjoys it. And that is a reasonable opinion to have; dogs can be gross! They eat weird things, get into garbage, and lick each other’s privates. Not everyone wants that slobber on them.

Plus some dogs can become obsessive about licking which can be a sign of stress and anxiety. Here are some ways to redirect your dog away from licking you while you pet them.

When you’re petting your dog take your hand away the moment they start licking, then begin petting them again when they stop. This will condition them to stop licking you. You can also redirect their licking by giving them a chew toy or a food toy they can lick instead. You can also play a different game that doesn’t trigger their licking like tug or fetch.

Final Thoughts

It seems like licking is a lot like giving kisses! Dogs lick us when we pet them as a sign of affection and to communicate that they appreciate the attention, are happy, and want to groom us back.

Of course, a bonus for dogs is that we probably smell and taste good. Whether that smell is a funk from not taking a shower or a new lotion, be careful about what you let dogs lick off of your body when you pet them.

Nonetheless, it is important to understand that licking is not always an indication of content. Uncomfortable dogs will lick you to show appeasement and stress. It is important to listen to your dog’s body language and respect their personal space.

Ultimately, most dogs might occasionally lick you, but some breeds are mouthy by nature. If you want a dog that will not lick you when you pet them, there is a dog out there for you. It is perfectly reasonable to not want to be covered in drool but still enjoy petting your dog!

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