1‑866‑ARF‑MEOW

9 Dog Questions Dog Parents Can’t Stop Googling

Written By
8 min read

Updated - Oct 13th, 2022

Anyone who spends time around dogs – whether they’re yours or someone else’s – knows about the licking tongue. You reach out to pet a dog and their tongue, without fail, appears to reciprocate the greeting. Dogs have instincts that explain this behavior, and we’re going to tell you why your dog – and all dogs – like to lick us so much.

Why does my dog lick me so much?

Dogs lick things for several reasons, but there are a few in particular that explain why they lick YOU. In the wild, where dogs run in packs, they lick their leader to show affection and submission. When the leader comes home after a day of hunting, submissive dogs lick him to demonstrate that they missed him. In your dog’s eyes, you are the leader, so their instinct is to show affection by licking you. In other words, your dog licks to tell you they miss you and love you.

Ever wonder why your dog licks your hands when you reach out to pet them? The salt on our skin tastes good to dogs. But our hands also give off pheromones and scents that your dog uses to get information about your mood and where you’ve been. 

Why does my dog lick his paws?

Mostly, dogs lick their paws to self-groom. But they also lick them when their nails or pads are injured. In the summertime, dogs can burn the pads of their feet, causing them to lick themselves in ways you don’t usually see. If it’s very hot out, be sure to check your dog’s paws frequently.

Other reasons your dog might lick their paws include allergies or food intolerances, which may cause dry, itchy skin or yeast infections between their pads and nails. To relieve these symptoms, your dog will lick areas where they feel discomfort. They can also lick their paws out of boredom or anxiety, or as a self-stimulation habit. Parasites can also cause discomfort. A dog’s foot is moist and warm, which makes it a comfy spot for parasites to gather and cause itchiness.

Why does my dog lick my feet?

If you have ticklish feet, you might find it uncomfortable when your dog licks them. But remember: dogs are driven by their senses, and licking your feet serves three purposes.

First, your feet have pheromones, just like your hands. This means they give your dog important information about you. 

Second, your dog is showing you affection and submission, just like their wild ancestors did. 

Third, your feet are salty, so your dog finds them tasty. Plus, licking you gets your dog the attention they’re seeking. Even if you discourage the behavior, your dog doesn’t understand the difference between good or bad attention – all they understand is that you’re interacting with them. For that reason, licking you can be a learned behavior.

Pet Pro Tip: Any responsible pet owner should seriously consider pet insurance. Properly understanding how pet insurance works and what pet insurance covers can help you make an informed decision about your pet’s health needs and plan your finances accordingly!

Why does my dog lick my face?

Over time, dogs have learned how to communicate their emotional and physical needs. Think about it for a minute. When your dog licks your face and clearly wants your attention, you respond with hugs, kisses, snuggles, or conversation. Your dog provokes an emotional, comforting encounter that meets their needs when you reciprocate.

Wild dogs lick the faces and eyes of their leaders to show submission. They’ll also lick the eyes and nose of the pack leader to get themselves out of trouble. Your dog may try to do the same thing when you seem upset or in a bad mood. 

Why does my dog lick his lips?

Your dog may lick their lips when they’re expecting food or a treat. But there’s another reason for this curious behavior. 

When dogs sense a threat from a person or another animal, they lick their lips. It’s considered an appeasement gesture, which conveys they’re not looking for a fight. Besides the lip licking, you’ll see your dog averting their gaze, yawning, scratching or sniffing the ground.

You might also see this behavior if they’re confused – in a training session, say, when they aren’t sure of what you’re asking. If you see your dog lick your lips, back up a few steps in the training sequence to give them the confidence to move forward again.

Medical reasons for lip licking include dehydration, nausea, dental problems, or mouth pain. These are all reasons to see your veterinarian.

Why does my dog lick the air?

Dogs lick the air when they smell something they’re curious about. This is called the Flehmen response, and it directs scents to the vomeronasal organ (AKA Jacobson’s organ) in their mouths. The Jacobson’s organ sends information to their brain to help them identify or process the scents. 

Some dogs lick the air because of anxiety and stress. If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, you might see them licking the air in response to loud noises. They might also lick the air if they have a gastrointestinal disorder, or even a neurological disorder (which can also cause seizures). Pay attention to when your dog displays this behavior to narrow down the possibilities.

Why does my dog lick the floor?

There are a few reasons your dog might lick the floor. One possibility is that your dog is a “Hoover,” cleaning up crumbs and tasty things from the floor. If that doesn’t seem very plausible, your dog might be anxious or bored. Rigorous exercise – or a good training session to stimulate their brain – may solve the problem. If not, certain medical issues may cause this behavior.

Frequently, dogs with gastrointestinal upset or pain in their stomachs or intestines will lick the floor or the walls. They might also do this if they lack nutrients in their diets, which causes them to seek out needed nutrients in less-appropriate sources than food. Older dogs might also lick the floor more often at the start of dementia. They’ll pick up repetitive behaviors to soothe their own anxiety. Your veterinarian should rule out medical issues if exercise doesn’t end their floor-licking habit.

Why does my dog lick the couch?

Frequently, bored or anxious dogs will lick the couch, or other furniture. Repetitive behaviors release endorphins in your dog’s brain, helping them calm down.

Since the tongue is a sensory tool, dogs with dementia will lick themselves to self-soothe, relieving themselves of feelings of confusion or boredom. Making sure your dog can go on walks, socialize, and play with toys helps to curb this behavior before it becomes obsessive.

Why does my dog lick everything?

Some dogs just like to lick everything, leaving a sticky wetness on the surfaces of your home. It’s not fun to sit down in a chair or couch to find them wet with dog slobber. But there are ways to figure out why your dog is licking everything in sight – and ways to encourage them to stop.

Sometimes, your dog licks you instinctively to show love and affection. It can also be their way of showing you respect, or that they missed you when you were gone. No matter what, they’ll gather information about where you’ve been – and with whom.

Other dogs, feeling bored or anxious, may lick you to get that endorphin release brought on by repetitive behavior.

Lastly, some dogs lick everything to signal a medical problem, or pain that needs to be addressed. No matter why your dog is licking things, you should pay attention to what prompts this behavior. That’s the first step in helping your dog learn more appropriate behaviors.

If you feel your dog is licking obsessively, and no amount of exercise or environmental enrichment solves the problem, it may be time to see your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist for help in curbing their behavior.

Types of dog licks

Here are the most common types of licking and what they may mean for your dog:

  • The long, wet sloppy lick: This is a loving lick that demonstrates affection and respect.
  • Tail-wagging, wiggly body licks: This is neoteny, a puppy-like behavior that means your dog is excited. It usually happens when you arrive home. In the wild, wolves don’t exhibit this behavior after puppyhood. In domesticated dogs, we see neoteny well into adulthood. It’s a learned behavior because we respond positively to them when they greet us enthusiastically.
  • Small licks, close to your mouth or hands: These licks help your dog gather information about where you’ve been and what you’re feeling.
  • Frantic, incessant licks: These licks usually mean anxiety. But they can also mean your dog needs something from you. They might want food, need to go outside to relieve themselves, or feel that something is wrong and they need help. (Remember Lassie?)

Conclusion

Regardless of the reason your dog licks you, the  furniture, or anything else, it’s usually not a big deal. Often, it’s easily fixed with exercise and enriching their environment. But if the behavior persists, you should schedule a vet visit to rule out any medical problems or cognitive issues.

The short answer to “Why Does My Dog Lick…” is that dogs lick us for many reasons, most of which are easily re-trainable. And it’s likely your dog’s licking is a learned behavior you’ve taught them with your responses. So, instead of cringing when your dog licks you and leaves their slobbery wetness on your hand, love them back, because that’s most likely what they’re asking for.

Lynn Guthrie

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!
Back to Top