A dog licking its owner's face.

Why Do Dogs Lick Our Faces?

5 mins |

Dogs are adorable and loving creatures, they always show their devotion by wagging their tail and licking their owner’s face and hands. Many owners love the licking part, while others don’t quite like it, but the question is why do dogs lick our faces?

Dogs lick our faces to show affection and devotion and to collect information through taste and smell. Licking is a  part of their natural grooming behavior. They communicate with us through this behavior and also to calm themselves. Dogs also lick us because of the taste. Excessive licking can be due to anxiety.

Why Do Dogs Like To Lick?

A dog licking its owner's face while they're both on the grass outside.
Why are you doing this, dog?! Oh, that’s why.

Dogs don’t communicate like we do. They use body language, and licking the face is a way dogs use to communicate with human owners. Licking aids in exploration. A dog picks up useful information about the person by sniffing and licking their hands and face.

Moreover, a dog conveys devotion and submission by licking the face of pack members, including other dogs and especially the human owner considered as an “alpha” in the pack. In the wild, dogs show submission to a dominant pack member by lying down, showing their belly, and licking.

Apart from devotion and submission, dogs have an instinctive habit of grooming themselves and pack members using their tongues. Dogs also greet each other by sniffing and licking.

Lastly, licking a stranger’s hands or face can help in calming an anxious dog because it releases endorphins in a dog’s brain that relieves stress. You can learn more about the role of endorphins in this research.

How Does Licking Behavior Develop In A Puppy?

The act of licking develops in a puppy over the period of maternal-puppy bonding. As soon as a puppy is born, the mother dog licks to clean off any amniotic fluid left on the baby’s body (the fluid that covers the unborn baby during pregnancy). 

Secondly, the mother dog licks a puppy to provide warmth and stimulate urination and defecation in the baby. 

This behavior develops in a pup over time, and the puppy learns that licking received or given helps in relieving stress. Licking also stimulates socialization in a growing puppy, therefore, a puppy makes new bonds using licking as a language.

A growing puppy often gets chewed bits of food from its mother’s mouth and develops a habit of licking the face to get some treats from the owner too.

Do Dogs Like The Taste Of Our Face?

Our face has a good taste for dogs because of the secretions through apocrine and eccrine glands present in the cheeks and forehead. We touch our hands to our faces multiple times, and any food we eat can leave an odor that attracts a dog.

In addition to the flavors, our face gets most exposed to the outside environment and has a lot of scent-giving signals to the dog as to where we’ve been, etc.

Does Licking Help To Calm Dogs?

As discussed earlier, licking helps comfort a dog because of the release of endorphins, which helps dogs cope with pain and stress.

An anxious dog may start to lick and sniff a stranger’s hand to pacify itself. Dogs living together often lick and groom each other to stay calm and relieve stress, creating a sense of security. 

Does Licking And Smelling Help Dogs With Communication?

Dogs use non-verbal means of communication with body language, movement of the tail and head, their eyes, and most importantly, licking and sniffing. A dog may start to lick you to get your attention, a belly rub, or a treat.

A dog has a very strong sense of smell thanks to the millions of olfactory receptors in the dog’s nose. They enable the dog to investigate and pick up useful scents.

However, a dog’s sense of taste is not as efficient as its sense of smell, but together these senses help the dog convey emotions,needs and read others. For example, an anxious dog sniffs and licks the hand of a stranger to acquire information about a person, whether that person is amicable or hostile.

Is Excessive Licking Behavior Normal?

Sometimes dogs may lick excessively. It’s not normal and indicates an underlying health issue, a food allergy, nausea, flea bite, or some kind of wound. 

A dog may overlick itself or its owner to comfort itself when facing anxiety. Mental health issues, boredom, and anxiety, in general, can result in overlicking in dogs. One must get to the root cause of the problem resulting in overlicking. Consult a veterinarian or a professional behaviorist regarding overlicking behavior in dogs.

Conclusion: Why Do Dogs Lick Our Faces?

To conclude, there are multiple reasons why dogs lick our faces. A dog loves licking its owner’s face because of the devotion and submission aspect involved. The salty taste of our face stimulates a dog’s taste buds too. Moreover, licking behavior is instinctual in dogs and is used for grooming and communication. Dogs also use licking to calm themselves in times of stress.

So, which reason that dogs lick our faces was most interesting to you or surprised you the most? Let us know your thoughts and why in the comments below!

Shahzaib is a qualified veterinarian and professional writer. He is from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. He did his DVM from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. Being a Veterinarian, Shahzaib has technically sound knowledge of pet health, nutrition, breeding, and housing. He has more than two years of experience in small animal medicine and surgery. Currently, he is working as an Associate Veterinarian in a renowned pet hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan.