You come home from a long day, and your dog slobbers you with kisses. This is a situation that most pet parents must have encountered. Licking is often seen as the dog’s way of showing affection to its human family.
Licking is a behavior that comes naturally to canines. For example, research on foxes, wolves, and wild dogs found that young animals would lick their mother’s face once she returned to the den.
Other reasons for licking could include attention-seeking behavior, a form of greeting or submission, or underlying medical issues.
If you are fine with receiving a few slobbery licks from the dog, there is no problem with the behavior. But, in some cases, the licking may not be limited to your hands. If you do not like to be licked by the dog or if it excessively indulges in the behavior, you will have to train the pet to stop doing so.
The article will look at possible reasons for the query, why does my dog lick my hands? We will also see when licking can become a problem and what you can do about it.
- Licking a Normal Behavior for Dogs?
- Why Does My Dog Licks My Hand? – 11 Possible Reasons
- 1. It is the Dog’s Way of Showing Affection
- 2. It Wants Your Attention
- 3. The Dog is Trying to Groom You
- 4. It is a Way of Greeting
- 5. It Empathizes with You
- 6. You Taste Good
- 7. It is a Form of Submission
- 8. Trying to Guess Your Mood
- 9. Licking has Become a Compulsive Behavior
- 10. The Dog is Anxious or Stressed
- 11. Medical Issues
- When Does Licking Become a Problem?
- What Can I Do If My Dog Licks Excessively?
Licking a Normal Behavior for Dogs?
Licking is an instinctive behavior for dogs. You do not have to teach them to lick your hands specifically. The root of licking lies in the way ancestral packs behaved in the past. For example, as the offspring would be too young to hunt, they would lick the food around their parent’s mouths.
Newborn puppies will be licked by their mother repeatedly. This is done to nurture and groom the puppies. As a result, the animal may feel warm and comforted. Thus, licking is registered as a positive experience in its memory.
So, yes, due to its genes and early positive associations, licking is normal behavior for dogs.
Why Does My Dog Licks My Hand? – 11 Possible Reasons
Licking is a form of communication for dogs. They could be trying to convey their feelings, needs, and wants. Let us look at 11 possible interpretations of dogs licking your hands.
1. It is the Dog’s Way of Showing Affection
Licking is often considered the equivalent of kisses in dog language. So, your dog may lick your hand to show affection towards you.
Dogs do feel love like humans. And they will adopt different ways to express this love. For example, the dog may follow you around, listen to your commands, or seek you in a crowd. Similarly, licking can be an expression of love. It may lick your hand, face, or body.
If your dog doesn’t lick you or keeps the behavior to a minimum, do not assume it does not love you. It could just mean the pet does not prefer licking or does not have any associated positive memories from puppyhood.
If the licking ensues after you have had a good outdoor play session, giving the dog its favorite toys, treats, or belly rubs, then it is the pet’s way of expressing love and gratitude.
2. It Wants Your Attention
Some dogs like to be the center of attention in their human parent’s life. They would want you to play, cuddle and spend all your time with them. For example, Siberian Huskies, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and Border Collies are some of the attention-seeking breeds out there.
These dogs may use licking to get your attention. Your reaction determines if the behavior will continue. For example, if licking is rewarded with hugs and chants of, ‘you are a good boy,’ the dog registers it as a positive habit.
So, the next time when the dog wants your attention, it will resort to licking. If you want the pet to continue this behavior is totally up to you. But, if you do mind it, ignoring the licks would be the way to go.
3. The Dog is Trying to Groom You
Wolves and wild dogs that have lived in packs would lick members as a grooming and bonding activity. The young animals do not know how to groom themselves, so their parents would do it for them by licking. The behavior is considered a sign of bonding, nurturing, and protection.
Grooming is an activity that the dog will continue for life. And as the pet considers you family, it may also lick to groom you.
4. It is a Way of Greeting
If the dog licks you after waking up or seeing you after a long day at work, the behavior represents its preferred way of greeting you.
When you are seeing your favorite person after a long time, your instinctive reaction would be to go in for a hug or a kiss. It is the same for your furry friends.
When you are away, your dog misses you, and seeing you walk through the front door can make the dog excited and happy. So the pet may come bounding, lifting its front legs and covering your hand or face with wet kisses.
5. It Empathizes with You
Dogs are highly-intelligent. Some breeds like Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Beagle, Corgis, and Greyhounds are highly empathetic and make for great emotional support dogs.
There have been studies that have found that dogs feel empathy – it means they have the ability to understand the feelings of others. Moreover, some dogs can also act on this feeling. It is this ability that makes a dog a comforting addition to therapist offices and rehabilitation centers.
So, when it comes to people important to the canine, it may give special attention to how they feel. For example, if you are feeling sad or are crying, you find your dog beside you, its paws on your lap, or it is trying to comfort you by licking your hands.
6. You Taste Good
Human sweat mainly comprises water and small amounts of salt and electrolytes. Your dog might be licking you because it likes the taste of salt in your sweat.
Dogs have evolved by eating meat, which naturally contains some salt. According to AKC, salt is a flavor that dogs can taste and appreciate. So, if the dog tends to lick you after a run or a workout session, it does so because you taste good.
It may also try to lick your hand after you have finished eating. For example, you finished a meal of fries and burgers, and licking is the dog’s way to taste the flavors left behind on your fingers.
7. It is a Form of Submission
Dog ancestors have been known to live in packs in the wild. Every pack will have an alpha, a leader who takes care of and protects the pack. So, when the alpha is back from a task like hunting, the pack members would lick the alpha. It is to show their obedience, respect, affection, and submission.
This type of licking is thus instinctive to dogs. If the animal sees you as the alpha of the family, hand licking can be a form of submission. If the dog suffers from separation anxiety, the behavior can be calming for it.
You may have noticed that the pet may listen and obey one person more than other family members. If you are that person, it would be safe to assume that you hold higher importance in the dog’s life.
8. Trying to Guess Your Mood
This is one of the interesting answers to the question, why does my dog lick my hands?
It is no secret that canines have a superior sense of smell. Their sense of taste does not compare well to humans, but it is still strong. And to add to this, dogs can study and assess your feelings. All these senses together can help the canine gauge the person’s mood.
Dogs can understand the chemical changes our bodies go through when producing pheromones. So, if you are sad, anxious, or stressed, licking can let the dog know something is wrong.
Similarly, the dog will use these senses to decode whether it can trust the stranger standing in front of them.
9. Licking has Become a Compulsive Behavior
Dogs may indulge in behaviors like excessive licking or chewing if they are bored, stressed, or anxious. It is rare, but canines that have been dealing with mental conditions for a long time can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
In such cases, the licking may not be restricted to your hands. Instead, the dog may lick itself, you, furniture, or other random objects in the house.
If the dog does not obey your commands and keeps at such behavior, it would be best to take it to the vet. Underlying conditions, anxiety may require medication and therapy.
10. The Dog is Anxious or Stressed
Licking is a behavior that brings dogs a sense of comfort and safety. It reminds them of their early years and their memories with their mother and littermates.
For the pet, you are the closest thing it has as a family. So, when it is anxious or stressed, it will turn to you for assurance. And licking, with its nostalgic component, can help the dog calm down.
If the dog frequently gets anxious, you need to identify its triggers. Then, if possible, you have to eliminate the triggers or train the dog to ignore them. Seek help from the vet at the earliest, as stress and anxiety can be causes of OCD.
11. Medical Issues
Each canine will have its limitations when it comes to licking. As pet parents, you will be well aware of it. For example, the dog may lick your hand when you return from work, give it a treat, or when you are done with your workout. These might be the usual scenarios.
If the dog suddenly starts licking you, itself, or inanimate objects in the house, the cause needs to be investigated. Some possible health conditions can be allergies, infections, joint pain, injury, and gastrointestinal issues.
If your dog displays a change in its behavior and has other physical or mental symptoms, please get in touch with the vet.
When Does Licking Become a Problem?
Your dog licking your hand, in general, is normal behavior. There is nothing to be alarmed of. As you have seen above, it has several positive associations. For example, the dog is showing affection, greeting you, seeking comfort, and treating you like a part of their pack.
Licking can be a human problem or a dog problem. What we mean is that if you are someone who doesn’t like being covered in dog saliva, the behavior can get annoying fast. Also, if you do not train the dog, the behavior can get out of hand and even strain the bond you share with the pet.
A dog’s mouth is full of bacteria. So if you have a family member in the house with a weakened immune system, slobbery kisses from the dog can send them to the hospital.
By dog problem, we mean that the pet could suffer from a health condition for which excessive licking can be a symptom. So, if the dog goes overboard with such behavior, it would be best to discuss its condition with the vet.
What Can I Do If My Dog Licks Excessively?
Here are some training methods you can try to limit the dog’s licking habit.
1. Ignore the Licking
You encourage the behavior if hand licking is rewarded with attention, cuddles, and hugs. Even if you react negatively to the licking, with yells or shouts, it is still a reaction.
Please do not give them the attention they are seeking. For example, when the dog licks you, get up and move away from the pet. If possible, go to a different room. If you consistently ignore the licking, the dog will get the message that you want it to stop behaving so.
The method has to be followed by all family members. If not, the dog may not lick you but will keep up with the habit with others.
2. Redirect Attention
This is a positive way of teaching the dog not to lick. You can redirect its attention by choosing an activity that does not go hand in hand with licking. For example, you can give the dog an interactive puzzle to solve or a bully stick to chew on. You could also play ball or tug of war with the pet.
You can get into an awkward situation if the dog tends to lick strangers as well. The redirect method works well here. You can carry a small treat around and feed it to the dog if it goes into licking mode.
Like ignoring, the redirect method, when applied consistently, will make the dog understand you do not want it licking you.
3. Reward Good Behavior
You can train the dog to obey simple commands like no, stop, or let it go. If the dog stops licking your hand after you command it to stop, reward the behavior. This could be treats, hugs, or belly rubs.
Do not resort to yelling. Instead, calmly command the dog to stop. Yelling may have the opposite effect if the dog is licking to seek comfort.
4. Trick Training
According to AKC, trick training can be an effective method to stop undesirable behaviors. For example, you can stop the habit, such as excessive licking, and replace it with a fun trick.
You can start small by teaching the dog to sit still for a few seconds. Use treats as positive reinforcement. Next, you can train it to lay down, roll over, or stand to hug you.
Once the dog has mastered simple tricks, you can proceed with advanced techniques like leg weaving or army crawling.
Another point to remember is that dogs with high energy need an outlet to use this energy. So, ensure they get enough physical exercise and participate in activities that can keep them mentally stimulated.
5. See a Vet or Behaviorist
If the dog shows signs like excessive licking, physical discomfort or pain, mood swings, or lack of interest, it is best to get it checked by the vet.
Do not wait to try the training methods mentioned above in case of symptoms. The underlying medical condition may require medication or lifestyle changes.
Once the medical condition is settled, a behaviorist can help limit the dog’s licking habit and provide you with tips to better care for and handle the pet.
Why does my dog lick my hands? Firstly, know that licking is a behavior that comes naturally to dogs. It is how their ancestors behaved and how their mothers groomed and cared for them.
Dogs may lick your hand to show affection, greet you, get your attention, gauge your mood and support you emotionally. This may sound weird, but the dog might find your sweat tasty and thus the licking.
In other cases, the dog may want to seek support and comfort from you. Or it could be a medical condition that requires vet attention.
If your dog tends to lick obsessively or has started showing clinical signs, please visit the vet at the earliest. If the issue is not medical, you can try techniques like ignoring, redirecting attention, and trick training.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.