Almost every dog owner has experienced licking with their dog. You get home from a long day at work and they just can’t stop coating you in “doggie kisses”. Most professionals agree that this behavior is pretty safe, but the motivation behind it is still a bit of a mystery. A lot of things have been suggested, everything from defensive gestures to just pure signs of affection. So, what causes this behavior? Is it safe to have yourself exposed to your dogs saliva? And what does this behavior say about the health of your canine? Below are some of the more popular ideas behind licking.
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The Root of the Behavior
Strangely, one of the most common reasons for your dog to be licking you is that your skin tastes good to them. That can be a strange idea to accept, but the sweat and other odors that build up on our skin can actually be quite intriguing for your dog to experience. This is one of the reasons that your dog also likes to pick up items of your clothing. The residual odors of you, their owner are usually fairly comforting to them. This is also connected to an earlier time in your dog’s history when licking was an important part of pack communication.
They could also have been trained into this behavior over a period of time. When you think back to interactions with your canine, what did you do when they licked you? Did you sincerely try to discourage the behavior? Or did you acquiesce and supply them with whatever they were looking for, most likely physical affection or attention? Some of the most intense types of dog training can occur when you aren’t even attempting to do so. If this isn’t a behavior you want your dog to engage in, it’s important that you consistently discourage the behavior in a healthy way.
As referred to above, licking is a behavior that refers back to a much earlier time in canine history. What specifically? Grooming. Grooming for wild dogs continues to be an incredibly important piece of communication between themselves. Namely, it reinforces the group dynamic that seems to be so important to maintaining the pack hierarchy. The secondary reason for this grooming is to scent the surrounding areas. A pack of 15 dogs all licking each other may not be a very potent aroma for humans, but for animals in the wild, this combines with urine scenting to create a very potent “warning sign”.
Encouraging the Behavior
If you have a fresh cut or even a fresh tattoo, your dog may be trying to heal you. While they don’t have this knowledge consciously, their saliva contains a lot of bacteria fighting enzymes that can aid in healing even somewhat severe wounds. Take care to avoid letting this particular type of licking become excessive. If they’re allowed to lick any wound unchecked it can in some cases reopen the injury and ends up causing more harm than good. Depending on where you keep your canine, you may not want them getting close to your wounds at all. They could be picking up all types of bacteria from whatever yards or parks they tend to be in.
An unfortunate issue that can afflict a lot of dogs is anxiety. Just like human beings, dogs can go through extreme periods of stress. These stressors can externalize themselves in compulsive behaviors, one of which is licking. Compulsive licking can lead to a host of issues, not just hair loss. After a period of time, sores can develop which can pretty easily get infected. If left to progress to this point, your dog’s health can decline quite rapidly. If this is a behavior you notice in your own dog, it’s best to consult with your regular veterinary doctor about what solutions might be available.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Licking is also a great tool for your dog to explore new spaces. While their eyesight may be lacking in some respects, they have traditionally made up for it with their other, stronger senses. Licking works in tandem with their sense of smell to paint a “picture” mentally of what the space around them is like. They can take quite a bit of information away from just a few licks and smells. If it isn’t harming anything or annoying anyone, it’s best to just let this type of licking continue so that your dog can get his bearings in a new location.
So, licking isn’t generally a very large problem to handle. If it becomes an issue for you, reinforcing the right types of behaviors is crucial to curbing the behavior. But generally speaking if your dog is already a well behaved gentleman, it’s fair to say you’ve already got the biggest problem licked!