I’m sure many of you have felt that odd love from your dog, when she uses her tongue as a washcloth. Dogs seem to love to lick our faces, arms, hands, legs, and even cuts. They can be so persistent and intent on slobbering over every part of our leg or arm, it can seem as if they think we taste like pumpkin pie, or perhaps we are so filthy that we need their help washing! So why do they do this?
We took a look around for some answers, and here’s what we found. Of course, many people’s first thought goes like this: the dog licks you because she loves you. That makes some sense, but some dogs seem to be lick obsessed and will lick anyone.
The Science Behind Licking
When dogs meet other dogs or strangers, they may briefly lick these new companions on the face and mouth as a show of friendliness. The dog is trying to tell the new person that she has no aggressive feelings or fear towards them, and they use licking the face as that form of communication.
Another reason for any licking of the face and mouth comes from instinct. Wolves in the wild have pack leaders that go out and do the majority of the hunting. When the leaders come back, the other wolves will lick the mouth to try to encourage the leader to share the food, or even regurgitate it.
Lovely way to show you care, right? So, many dogs do seem to lick people near the mouth, and may be trying to see if there’s any leftovers for them. OK, so this isn’t exactly pleasant, but it is likely.
Now for the more interesting question. Why do some dogs lick arms and legs like its the only thing they ever wanted in life? Some dogs will just plop down and clean every inch of your foot or leg if you let them. Why?
Well, here’s the thing: licking can be pleasurable for dogs. Similar to when a mother cuddles her baby, when a dog does a friendly lick, endorphins are released, and it makes the dog feel good.
Dogs use licking as a gesture showing that they are submissive to the person, like their perceived pack leader. When your dog licks you, they are showing love and respect. They want you to know that they feel you are in charge, and they’re okay with that.
Dogs Are Just Trying to Help
As for licking cuts on humans, dogs have a natural instinct to try to heal sores by licking them. It is what they usually do in the wild to injuries, and they think that they can help us by licking our wounds, too. Dogs may not have any healing properties in their mouths, but at least the thought is nice. They want to make us feel better in the way they would when they lick their own wounds.
One more reason a dog might decide to “taste” you really quick: dogs also could be trying to read your mood that day. When humans sweat, they send out little bits of information in the smell, from the eccrine and sebaceous glands. Dogs have greater senses in their taste buds and nose, so most of their communication skills come from licking and sniffing things.
Your dog may simply be trying to determine your mood or what happened while you were out! Even though it is a bit yucky, dogs can pick up information from your taste and scent, after you’ve been out for a long day. So they are just trying to “taste” your mood.
Whatever the reason, licking from your dog is usually not a bad gesture. A dog won’t lick you if it is being aggressive, that’s not the point for them. A dog licks for nice reasons, although you may not enjoy being slobbered on all the time!