3 reasons why your dog licks you: it’s not just an expression of love

László Enikő

2023. June 10 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

You're probably familiar with the situation when your pet comes up to you and gives you a big, slobbery kiss. But are dogs expressing their love in this way, or is there some other reason for the behaviour?


Many owners like it when their pet licks them, but some not so much, as dogs tend to taste things that are disgusting to us. Admittedly, this is not the most hygienic way to show affection. But what else does it mean when your dog licks you?

Not every owner like when the dog licking them.

Why does the dog lick?

In wild canids, animals have also been observed to greet members of their pack by licking them. This is no different for domesticated dogs. Many dogs specifically give kisses when their beloved owner comes home. For them, it is already a ritual behaviour to welcome you. But of course they can’t just lick you when you arrive. It is a way for the dogs to express their love, and it gives them a sense of security and reassurance. They also envelop you with their own smell, which makes them even more cohesive.

Collecting information

Your pet also gets a lot of information by licking. Some dogs can even detect diseases such as cancer or diabetes. But it can also give them an idea of your current mood. If your pet licks you when you’re stressed or sad, it’s trying to find out what’s changed, because it can smell something’s wrong. If your pet is licking a particular part of your body regularly, it’s worth paying attention to its cues, as it may be detecting a disease. Similarly, it may indicate if a woman is pregnant, as it can sense that something is changing in the body.

Is he hungry?

Surprisingly, your dog may not be showing affection by kissing you, but may be trying to encourage you to vomit.

Researchers of wild dog breeds – wolves, coyotes, foxes and other wild dogs – have reported that pups lick their mothers’ faces and muzzles when they return from hunting to get her to regurgitate food back to them

– notes Alexandra Horowitz, head of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab. The behaviour can also be observed in dog puppies. By licking the mother dog’s cheek, puppies encourage the parent to regurgitate some half-digested food.

Your dog may also lick you because he thinks you taste good. Dr. Mary Burch animal behaviourist points out that people’s skin is slightly salty, especially when sweating. Therefore, these licks are more about seeking salts than expressing love. If your pet prefers to give you kisses after a meal, it’s a sign that he’s just looking for a little leftover on your face.

It does not hurt to be cautious

Understandably, many people dislike dog biscuits because dogs tend to eat and lick disgusting things. For example, they may eat animal carcasses, droppings or clean their backsides. And then an unwanted lick on the cheek can be very unpleasant. It is therefore recommended that people with weakened immune systems or small children avoid such contact.

It’s up to each person to decide whether to let their pet kiss you, but it’s important to be aware that the bacteria in your dog’s saliva can include E. coli or even salmonella. It also contains a bacterium called Capnocytophaga Canimorsus, which, although rare, can cause very serious problems when it enters the bloodstream. So it is best to avoid such contact, especially in children and patients.

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