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Dog licking behaviour guide

Ever wondered what it means when dogs lick you? Whether you’re greeted by an excitable, slobbery hound every time you come through the front door or see a friendly puppy in the park, you’re likely to have experienced dogs licking you.

Licking is a form of affection from dogs, but sometimes it can be a sign that something isn’t quite right. Find out everything you need to know about licking behaviour and what it means in this guide.

Why do dogs lick?

Licking is a natural dog behaviour. Often, it’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Where we use our hands to greet our furry friends, they use their tongues to say hello to humans – and each other. It’s a way to bond, groom and express themselves.

Mothers lick their puppies to provide comfort, keep them clean and help them go to the toilet. This means that dogs know right from the get-go that their tongues are a useful means of communication and help them interact with the world. 

Studies have shown that licking releases endorphins in a dog’s brain, which make them feel calm and relaxed. These endorphins lead to dopamine which is linked to pleasure and motivation. 

What does it mean when your dog licks you?

There are a whole number of reasons why a dog might lick you. It may be to show love and affection, or it could be a way of persuading you to give them a treat! We’ve put together a list of the mains reasons why dogs lick.

Asking for attention 

Some dogs might lick as a form of attention seeking. This is particularly the case if the licking is rewarded with a fuss. Your dog may learn that licking leads to stroking or you talking to them, so they’ll be more likely to do it in the future. 

You taste nice

Your dog might just want to know how you taste. In the same way that dogs lick their empty bowls or toys after they’ve finished eating or playing, your dog might lick you to get the salty flavour of your skin.

Showing affection

Some people see licking as the doggy equivalent to kissing. So, when your dog licks you, it could just mean that they’re being affectionate. Some breeds lick more than others, so don’t be alarmed if your pup isn’t licking you as much as you expected – it isn’t necessarily a measure of how much they love you.

Displaying empathy 

Dogs love their owners unconditionally. That’s why you may notice your dog licking you more if you’re upset. They may be showing empathy and are licking to soothe you. Your dog may seem to lick you more if you cry, as they might be trying to taste the salt from your tears.

When can licking be a problem?

While licking is usually nothing to worry about, in rare cases licking could sometimes be disguising a health problem. Excessive licking could be a sign of something more serious. This is the compulsive licking of any surface for a length of time that is longer than what is needed to explore.

Look out for any changes in your dog’s behaviour. If they are licking a lot more than normal, this could indicate that there is something wrong.

Why does my dog lick me excessively?

There are a few health concerns that could be the underlying cause of your dog licking you so much. These include compulsive behaviour, anxiety and pain.

Compulsive behaviour 

In rare cases, dogs lick people due to suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD in dogs can be triggered by stress and anxiety. Obsessive licking like this can lead to bald patches on their fur  and sores on their tongue.

If you think that your dog may be suffering from OCD, speak to a vet as they may be able to refer you to an animal behaviourist. 



Your dog may be licking excessively due to anxiety. Licking can help to release endorphins which help dogs to calm down, like when someone plays with their hair if they’re nervous. If your dog is licking themselves or surfaces while you’re out of the house, it could be a sign of separation anxiety.

If your dog appears to be suffering from anxiety, your vet may be able to prescribe medication to help.



Licking is a natural soothing mechanism for dogs, so obsessive licking could be a tell-tale sign that they’re in pain. Discomfort from an injury or condition like arthritis could make your dog lick where it hurts – just like a human would rub a sore muscle. The endorphins that are released from licking act as natural painkillers. 

If your dog is obsessively licking an area of their body, it could be that they’re nursing a wound, or suffering from an allergy or infection. It’s important to keep a close eye on them and contact a vet if you’re concerned.

How to stop your dog from problem licking?

Don’t forget that licking is a natural behaviour for dogs and it’s important for them to be able to lick express themselves, groom, and bond. But if your dog constantly licking becomes a problem, or you’re tired of getting slobber on your face, here are some things you can try:

Distract them

If you don’t want your dog to lick you, give them something else to lick instead. This could be a chew toy or some food. You could also redirect their focus into training to avoid their energy being used to lick you.


Make sure that your dog is stimulated and well exercised to avoid a build-up of stress. Reducing pent up energy means that they may be less likely to redirect this angst onto licking you.

Positive reinforcement 

Make sure to give your pup lots of love and affection when they do things you like. Try to avoid giving your dog mixed signals, as it may confuse them. Be clear on when you do or not want them to lick you and stay consistent.

Most of the time it’s normal when dogs are licking you, and the worst that’ll happen is you get slobbery hands. But as always, it’s important to look out for any behaviour changes in your precious pooch, as these could indicate that something’s wrong. 

Dog insurance from Sainsbury’s Bank can help you to prepare for the unexpected, and make sure your furry friend is covered for any unexpected vet treatments. Take a look at our pet insurance range, provided by Pinnacle Insurance plc, to find cover that suits you and your four-legged friend.

Frequently asked questions 

Why do dogs lick your face?

Dogs lick faces as a way of showing love and affection. It helps them enjoy your scent and feel close to you. They may also do it to see if they can taste your last meal – just like puppies would do to their mothers if they are trying to get them to regurgitate their dinner.

Should you let your dog lick you?

Dogs explore their world with their tongues, so they are bound to pick up lots of different types of bacteria. While it’s not the most hygienic form of affection, it’s hard to resist puppy love and dog kisses.

Which dog breed licks the most?

While all dogs lick to some extent, some breeds are more ‘licky’ than others. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are giant softies and love to show affection by licking. Dachshunds are little bundles of joy and lick to display love for their owners.