Why does my dog lick my face so much? It’s a common inquiry among dog owners. Naturally, there are lots of reasons for this behavior.
When asking myself Why does my dog lick my face so much, I conclude that it’s either hungry, showing affection, or simply wants to acknowledge my dominance.
But sometimes, licking might indicate a health issue. In that case, it’s important to take the pooch to the vet.
Why Does My Dog Lick My Face So Much?
As a seasoned pet owner, I know quite a bit about dogs. One major part of learning about canine behavior is asking some seemingly simple and, at first glance, pointless and even silly questions. One such question is, Why does my dog lick my face so much? And believe it or not, the answer may not be as straightforward as you think.
Googling the phrase why does my dog lick my face so much will give you hundreds of thousands of results, and the only thing all these results have in common is the overall conclusion — we don’t know. Yes, that reply can be absolutely frustrating, but your frustration won’t end there; in fact, that phrase is also the response to a different question, Should I let my dog lick my face or not?
With that in mind, this article is going to try and cover everything you need to know about your pooch and its habit to lick faces.
Why Does My Dog Lick My Face So Much: Potential Reasons
Sometimes, the simplest and most uninteresting answer is the correct one. Your dog might be licking your face because it’s hungry.
Hounds and other related animals (like wolves, jackals, coyotes, etc.) share a common trait that you can trace all the way back to their ancestors. Namely, pups would normally lick their mother’s face in order to stimulate her to regurgitate. Yes, as nasty as that sounds, prehistoric puppies would eat their mom’s vomit. So, as they grow older, dogs can use the same type of behavior on their pack leader to get food. And since you are the pack leader in your home, you’re the person the dog will be licking.
Pay close attention to your dog’s behavior. Does it constantly lick your face around lunch or dinnertime? Did it use to lick you before you gave it snacks? If so, then your pet probably associates licking with feeding time.
For thousands of years, way before domestication, dogs would use licking largely to express physical needs. However, according to the current understanding of canine behavior, since becoming the man’s best friend, pooches have started to lick out of pure love and affection for human beings.
Of course, there’s a little more to that story, and it’s safe to say that humans have definitely had a hand in converting licking to a sign of affection. But there have definitely been traces of this type of behavior with hounds even before that. Mothers would lick the pups very early to help strengthen family bonds. This type of behavior would continue well into the dog’s infancy when littermates would lick each other. So, if your dog is licking you non-stop, it might just be showing you how much it loves you.
There are times when licking is meant to display complicated social norms among pack animals like dogs. Normally, if there’s a dominant pack leader, the submissive males and females would acknowledge the alpha by licking its face and nose. Interestingly, a lot of people I came across would think that it’s the exact opposite, i.e., that the dog who licks you wants to establish its own dominance. However, that is not the case.
If you happen to own a new dog for a brief time (let’s say, about 4 months) and it starts to lick your face, it’s definitely a good sign. Your dog is acknowledging you as the pack leader and is showing respect and reverence through licking.
As we sweat, we produce a number of differently scented molecules, and our dogs can pick up on nearly all of them. On average, a dog’s olfactory system contains over 220 million receptors. And these receptors are distributed evenly on both the tongue and in the nose.
So, ‘Why does my dog lick my face so much and not just sniff it instead?’, you may ask. Well, it’s simple — both the nose and the tongue help it gather information about you. With the help of their olfactory receptors, dogs can tell if we’re sick or if we’re even remotely anxious. Considering that licking is also a form of soothing among the canines, it’s no wonder that they might try and calm us down by giving us a slobbery kiss.
Taste of Sweat
As bizarre as this might sound, your dog might really like the taste of your sweat. No, there is no joke here, it is absolutely true.
Human sweat is quite salty and it’s primarily made up of water. Dogs generally don’t care much for salty food, but they do like water, and when they spot that you’re sweating, they will try to lick it all off.
But how can they sense the sweat of humans? Well, if you’ll recall, an average dog has hundreds of millions of olfactory receptors. And a receptor can easily spot one of the many ingredients that make up the sweat of humans:
- Nicotinic acid
- Uric acid
- Ascorbic acid
Interestingly, this behavior doesn’t just happen when you sweat. For example, if you’ve had some lunch before and have washed your face, there will still be some trace molecules of food and the water you’ve just used. Naturally, your pooch will try to get at your face just to have a taste of those food remnants. On the other hand, this phenomenon also explains why so many dogs lick their owners when they are done taking a shower.
Earlier, I mentioned that dogs lick their littermates to maintain close familial bonds at an early age. As they grow, that licking also becomes a form of grooming among the dogs. In fact, mothers would also lick their pups in order to keep them clean.
If your dog starts to lick your face, it might simply want to clean you up. Of course, this type of grooming won’t just be limited to one part of your body. Let’s say that your dog can’t reach your face, but it still wants to groom you. Instead of giving up, the dog will simply try to lick you somewhere else. The most common areas are hands, feet, knees, and ankles.
The very act of licking will activate several different biological and chemical processes in your dog. For example, once your dog starts slobbering away, endorphins will be released in its brain. Known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone, endorphin is responsible for providing pleasure and relieving stress in mammals (humans and dogs very much included).
So, how do you know if your dog is licking your face out of pure pleasure? Simply pay attention to its behavior; if it starts to lick everything around the house, you can safely assume that endorphins are the main culprit.
Boredom or Anxiety
When a dog is licking everything around the house, including your face, it might just be indulging in a bit of harmless fun. However, obsessive licking isn’t always a good sign. In fact, it could be a sign of extreme boredom, anxiety, stress, and even pain. And if the puppy is licking itself obsessively, it might be a sign of allergies or even more serious health problems.
Spotting the difference between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ obsessive licking isn’t easy, so keep a watchful eye on your pet. If the licking seems like an obsession, as if the puppy can’t stop doing it (similar to how an addict might behave), take it to the vet as soon as possible.
Yes, as difficult as it might be to admit it, sometimes you are responsible for the dog constantly licking your face.
Dogs learn through a process called operant conditioning. In simple terms, a dog will repeat an action if that action elicits a positive response from you. For example, when you tell your dog to sit or stay and it does so, you pat it on the head, give it a treat, call it a good boy (or a good girl), or a combination of the three. Your puppy will remember this pattern and associate sitting and staying on command with positive results.
The same goes for licking. If you act happy or overjoyed when the dog’s tongue slobbers your face, your furry friend will think that you want to be licked all the time. This type of pattern is most common with children; since a child will almost always react with joy after the lick, dogs will continue to do it, even with other people.
Form of Greeting
Dogs will often greet their owners with a good, hearty lick to the face. This is a particular form of giving affection, especially if the owner has been away for a long time. Once the owner returns, the dog’s ‘pack’ is complete, and it will show how happy it is with its tongue.
Of course, human beings express their greetings through handshakes. When we greet dogs, we also use our hands, usually to scratch them, pet them, or pat their heads. So, the question then arises: ‘Why does my dog lick my face so much when it’s greeting me? Why not just shake my hand instead?’ After all, we do have the ‘shake’ command, don’t we?
Well, unlike humans, dogs don’t have a lot of mobility in their front paws. They can definitely shake on command, but if you really look at it, that handshake is really cumbersome and clumsy. By far, the most versatile part of your canine pal is its tongue. So, in order to give you the best attention possible when you go through that door, it will jump on you and lick your face.
A lot of dog owners I know are afraid when they see their dog lick the face of a ‘stranger’, i.e. a person whom their dog has never seen before. However, a dog licking the new person’s face is actually a good sign. Your pet is simply communicating to the stranger that they have nothing to worry about, that they won’t be mauled or barked at while they’re visiting your home.
The Encouragement Dilemma
A lot of times, when people google why does my dog lick my face so much, they want to know how safe that licking is. After all, the dog’s mouth isn’t exactly the cleanest part of your dog, so it’s only reasonable that it shouldn’t try to lick your face, hands, feet, etc., right?
Well, the answer is a little more complicated than that. So, let’s cover both the benefits and potential dangers of dogs licking faces.
Why You Shouldn’t Let Your Dog Lick Your Face
Your furry pal’s tongue and mouth can be the home to a few nasty bacteria. These include, but are not limited to:
- Proteobacteria (including Salmonella and Helicobacter)
- Actinobacteria (including Streptomyces)
- Firmicutes (including Bacilli and Clostridia)
All of these bacteria can cause a wide variety of conditions, including fever, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, skin ulcers, Lemierre’s Syndrome, periodontal disease, and others.
In order to discourage your dog from licking you, try a few simple methods to dissuade it. First off, just ignore it. If you don’t react to its licking, it will stop soon enough. However, if that doesn’t work, simply don’t give your dog a chance to lick you. Either avoid contact or distract the dog with treats and toys.
Why You Should Let Your Dog Lick Your Face
As you can see, there are lots of bacteria living in our dog’s mouth that can harm us. However, if you work hard and keep your dog healthy and happy, the number of bacteria will be extremely small and it will cause you no threat. In addition, a dog’s saliva contains certain growth factors that help with wound closure. That’s why we have the popular expression ‘he/she licked their wounds like a dog.’
Why Does My Dog Lick My Face So Much: Final Thoughts
And there you have it. There can be any number of replies to the dreaded question of why does my dog lick my face so much. So, which one of them applies to your own buddy? Ultimately, the best way to find out is to observe your dog’s behavior and talk to an expert if you sense anything suspicious.