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Licking is a very common ritualized behavior in dogs. They learned it as puppies when their mothers would lick them to clean and groom them, and likewise, puppies lick their mother’s mouth as a sign of appeasement, and affection, and to taste anything good she might have eaten that day. Because it is such a basic ritual for dogs, it often becomes a comforting behavior.
Once that puppy has settled into their new home, they might transfer the habit of licking onto their new person. There are many reasons a dog might lick their owner’s hands, limbs, face, or their head and hair.
So what specific reasons will lead a dog to lick a person’s head and hair?
Licking is a very common dog behavior that communicates affection, stress, or appeasement. Some dogs might specifically lick your head or hair simply because you smell or taste good. Licking and grooming your head could start because you taste delicious, but might become a habit because it helps form bonds and relieves stress.
So let’s explore the different reasons your dog might be prone to licking your head and hair and why they might like some heads better than others. We will also address how to change the behavior if it should become a nuisance.
Reason 1: Your Dog Is Being Affectionate
Licking your head or hair could be a sign that your dog loves you! Since licking is social behavior for dogs, it is a common way to show affection. When you are snuggled with your pup under a blanket on the couch, your head is often the only accessible body part for them to lick.
This bulldog is showing affection to their owner by licking the only part of him they can reach, his head!
We often anthropomorphize our dogs and think of licking like kissing, but dogs probably do not think of it like that. Licking is a sign of affection from your dog inherited from their mother who licked to clean and groom them as young puppies.
You might notice your dog licks you more than anyone else, this is probably because you are their favorite person! You feed them, pet them, exercise them, and snuggle them, so it is no wonder they want to show you affection.
Dogs are often encouraged to lick our heads and hair more often if we think it is sweet, or if we have products in our hair which might smell or taste good to our dogs.
Reason 2: Your Dog Likes The Way You Smell And Taste
Licking is a way for dogs to smell and taste their way through the world, and we as people often put curious things on our bodies that our dogs might be interested in trying to taste or smell. Some of the most fragrant products that dogs want to lick go in our hair or on our heads. Products that are scented with fragrant like vanilla bean, lavender, and peppermint might attract your dog to lick your head because they like the taste.
While licking a little bit of scented moisturizer off your head is fine, be aware that skincare products you might put on your head or hair can be toxic to your dog. These include:
- topical medications
- retinoids (vitamin A compounds)
Dogs’ sense of smell is over 10,000 times more powerful than our own, and this is why they can pick out the subtle hints of smells on our skin. And it is not just skincare products that attract dogs to taste our skin. The taste and smell of salt are often irresistible to dogs and if you are sweaty your might have to bat your dog away from licking your legs, or your head and hair.
My dogs will try to lick my head and hair if I have been swimming in chlorinated water, it is a new smell, and licking is a way for them to try to figure out what it is.
Reason 2: Your Dog Is Showing Appeasement
Licking is often a sign of appeasement or submissiveness in dogs. Dogs lick their lips, other dogs, and people as a sign of appeasement, especially if they are stressed or nervous. Since licking is a behavior that many dogs pick up from licking their mother, both for affection, finding food, and submission, it is natural that your dog is going to lick your head and hair.
If you have built a relationship with your dog based on firm boundaries with positive reinforcement and not trying to force submissiveness on your dog, your dog will still see you as the head of your household. This means they will feel comfortable enough to lick your head and hair to show you not only affection but appeasement.
Reason 3: Your Dog Is Trying To Make You Feel Better
It is no secret that our dogs are very attuned to our emotions. If we are stressed, they get stressed. So if you are having a bad day and your dog starts licking your head and hair, there is a good chance they are trying to make you feel better.
It has been proven that both humans and dogs show increased levels of oxytocin (or the “cuddle hormone”) just by spending time together. Dogs are very attached to us as owners and incredibly sensitive to our emotions. So if your dog is suddenly showing affection by licking your head or your hair, it could be your stress and your dog is trying to comfort you.
Reason 4: Your Dog Is Stressed
Anxiety, boredom, and stress can all lead to excessive, even obsessive, licking. Licking can be a way to calm themselves down, and you might catch them licking themselves, your bed, the floor, or your head and hair. Other symptoms of anxiety besides excessive licking include:
- Having accidents in the house
While it is easy to push your dog away if the licking of your head or hair becomes too much, always be aware if you feel like your dog is licking because of anxiety. If they are obsessively licking themselves they can lick their fur off and cause hot spots. And if they are licking surfaces like rugs or blankets, they could unintentionally ingest something that could lead to an emergency visit with your veterinarian.
I always warn clients that while their dog licking their head and hair is usually sweet and innocent, it can become a way for dogs to relieve stress, so always know your dog and keep an eye on any changes.
Reason 5: You Have Accidentally Been Rewarding Your Dog’s Licking
If you have never discouraged your dog from licking your head and they enjoy the behavior, you have been accidentally been rewarding it. It is often cute and funny, and if you laugh and smile, you have only encouraged your dog to learn to lick your head and hair. It has become a habit and a good bonding experience for you and your dog.
The little kid in this video can barely contain their laughter, which seems to make the dog want to lick them even more.
There have been many studies that prove that dogs can read and understand human facial expressions. This means that when we are happy when our dog licks our head and hair, they will want to keep doing it to elicit the same response from us over and over again.
Most dogs will lick you at some point, but we found 28 dog breeds that are more likely to be rewarded by your happy response and enjoy licking your head and hair.
Reason 6: Something Is different…
Between taste, smell, and texture, dogs often lick to explore their environment, especially if something has changed.
So have you done something different with your hair recently? Drastic changes like going from platinum blond to dark brunette or shaving off your hair might cause your dog to investigate your head and hair by licking and making sure you are still the same person they love.
Dogs are sensitive enough to recognize even simple changes we make. When I changed my shampoo recently, my dogs sniffed and licked my hair. Something was different and they had to investigate to make sure everything was okay and still normal.
Other Ways A Dog Might Interact With Your Head And Should You Stop It?
Your dog might not stop at just licking your head and hair. Some dogs will start grooming your hair, licking and nibbling like they would their fur. And some bald people find that dogs can be more obsessive about licking their heads than if they had hair. If the licking becomes too much, is it okay to stop it?
If you are worried that your dog licking your head and hair is excessive or you simply do not like it, there is no reason you have to let your dog continue the behavior. Maybe you simply do not like to be washed down by your dog’s tongue, especially if you have an expensive product on your head or in your hair. There is also no reason to feel bad about changing the behavior simply because you do not like it.
Why Does My Dog Groom My Hair?
There are several reasons a dog might groom your hair. Grooming is a natural behavior for dogs that they usually learn from their mother. As soon as they are born, their mother is licking them to clean off the afterbirth and to stimulate their blood flow. It is not only a healthy and natural behavior but shows affection.
Check out this video of newborn puppies being groomed by their mother, your dog might be telling you they love you in a similar caring way.
If you have a new unfamiliar product in your hair, your dog might lick and nipple on your hair to help clean it out. Some dogs are extra sensitive to those smells and might not like the change. Or your dog could just find grooming your hair soothing and appreciate the bonding experience.
Why Does My Dog Lick Bald Heads?
My husband is bald, and our dogs are way more likely to lick his head than my shaggy head. Dogs like licking bald heads for the same reasons dogs like licking all heads: for affection, because it tastes or smells good, or because of stress. Some dogs, like huskies, show affection by licking, while others like the taste, especially if you have recently exercised and are sweaty and salty.
Plus bald heads are going to give dogs a lot more unencumbered surface area to lick. With less hair to get stuck in their teeth and mouth, licking your bald head is going to be a much more enjoyable experience.
Should I Stop My Dog From Licking My Head And Hair?
Whether you should stop your dog from licking your head and hair is up to your personal preference. Some people enjoy the love and affection that a dog shows by licking their head and hair. Since it is reminiscent of a mother bonding with their puppy, it is often a good bonding experience for dogs and their person.
However, if you do not like it, there is no reason you have to let your dog lick your head and hair, especially if you are grossed out by dogs licking. Our dogs get into things, eat garbage, and lick themselves; so it is no wonder that some people do not appreciate kisses on their head and face.
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 your head and hair:
- Give them a chew toy or a food toy they can lick
- Redirect them to their bed
- Work on crate-training
- Play a different game like tug or fetch
You can also try interactive toys to redirect and mentally stimulate your dogs like the puzzle toy this Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has!
If you do not like dogs that love to lick maybe think about dogs that are more independent in the way they show affection like the Great Pyrenees!
Should I be Worried About My Dog Licking My Head And Hair?
Dogs sometimes lick when they are sick. Licking and drooling can be a symptom of nausea and other stomach issues. If you suspect your dog is licking your head and hair because they are sick, you should reach out to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Licking can be an incredible bonding experience for many people and their dogs. As people, we think of it like a kiss and enjoy our dogs licking our heads and hair. Dogs who love licking as a sign of affection will often go for the head and hair for the bonus of taste. We sweat and use skincare and hair-care products that often taste good to dogs.
However, if your dog is obsessive, eats gross things, or gets into the trash, you might want to redirect your dog’s behavior to something more appropriate than licking your head and hair. You can give them an interactive toy, play a game of tug, or pet them and scratch them instead. All these things are fun ways to bond with your dog, and your dog might learn to love a good belly rub more than a good head and hair-licking session!