You have just sat down in your favourite chair, all ready for some quiet r&r, and your dog pops over and starts licking you. Does this sound familiar?
On the face of it, and many people assume, that a dog licking a person or another dog is either a sign of affection, or they are getting the last remains of whatever your last meal was off you.
While the above is very true, there are also other reasons along with signals that your dog is sending by licking. Below, we take a look at the various meanings this behaviour has and how this effects your relationship with your dog.
Why do dogs lick other dogs?
Dogs have a complex hierarchy within their pack, along with more obvious signals, licking plays an important role in determining the pecking order.
Starting from puppies, their mother will provide slow, (and sometimes noisy) licks, which not only server the obvious process of keeping their puppies clean, but also cement the bond between mother and babies, this lick demonstrates care, security and cleaning in one move. The mother's lick is also used to stimulate bodily functions, and the pups are licked clean afterwards, not just for cleanliness, but to remove any odours that may attract predators.
It is also common to see puppies reciprocate this licking, to demonstrate their need for attention and care. A puppy licking around its mother's mouth, tells mum that the pup needs to eat, and in the wild this is useful during weaning as their is a natural reflex for the mum to regurgitate food, which is the ideal food for a puppy transitioning from milk to solid food.
In a pack situation you will often notice the more submissive dog licking the nose or mouth of the more dominant dog. This act communicates their deference, and is often used to get them out of a scrape when they have over stepped the mark.
Why do dogs lick humans?
You probably know the situation well, having been away from your dog for a while, you return to be greeted by an over excited dog, part of this process will involve you receiving "kisses" or rather licks to the hands, feet, and even face if they are allowed to.
While obviously pleased to see the most important person in their life, it is possible that this harks back to puppies with their mum, licking the face etc, is the classic "care for me, feed me". This behaviour will be reinforced if you feed your dog immediately after greeting it.
Of course, if you taste good (for instance you still taste of that great burger you had), or even if you just taste different or interesting, a dog's super-sensitive taste and smell will want to absorb all of this information and licking is a great way to do this.
As most dog owners will tell you, dogs do lick as a sign of affection, and it is known that licking releases endorphins that will calm them. One of my collies (who can be nervous), demonstrates this perfectly when she is unsure and looking for reassurance.
How do I stop licking?
If you really want to stop licking, the best strategy is to ignore them and walk away, it wont take long for them to learn that the behaviour causes you to leave them.