Why Does My Dog Lick My Face?

Dogs can mean a lot of different things when they lick. Believe it or not, licking is a form of communication for dogs, as well as something dogs use for grooming and eating. So it can serve multiple purposes. That makes it complicated and a little hard to figure out at times.

Licking begins in the whelping box, along with most of the behaviors that your dog displays. A mother dog licks her pups to stimulate them when they’re first born. Licking encourages their circulation, it rouses them, it removes the membrane covering them when they’re first born, and it stimulates them to nurse. Later on the mother will lick them to encourage their bowel movements and to wash them. Of course, to someone observing a mother taking care of her pups, all of this probably looks like maternal love! And it may be, but it still serves many purposes.

As they get older, puppies will lick their mothers (and other adult dogs) around the lips to try to stimulate them to regurgitate partially digested food for them. This is quite normal for wolves and wild dogs, but our domesticated dogs can do it, too. This behavior — licking a mother figure around the face — may be retained later in life. Perhaps this is the reason why dogs try to lick people around the face? In some cases this could be true.

As communication, puppies will lick around the faces of their elders to show their submission. A dog may also lick their owner’s face for this same purpose.

Dogs also engage in licking behavior out of nervousness or because of feelings of anxiety. Licking may help to relieve the nervousness. A dog may lick as a way to try to appease someone higher in the “pack” and the pack may include their owner. If your dog is nervous or anxious, or fears that he has made you angry, he may try to lick around your face as a way to make up with you.

Dogs can also lick people as a way of getting attention. Like other behaviors, licking can be learned and become a habit if you reinforce it. For instance, if your dog licks you and you think it’s cute, you may laugh or pet your dog. This will encourage your dog to lick you again in the future because he’s getting positive attention (or any attention) for performing this behavior. If your dog is very socially bold he may become very pushy about this behavior and try to lick your face whenever he feels like it. It can be difficult to break this habit once it gets started.

Some dogs can lick things compulsively. This licking is usually directed at their own grooming but it can also include things such as woodwork or furniture. In some cases it may also include the owner. Dogs may lick toes, feet, hands and faces in a compulsive way. You may need to talk to your veterinarian about medication to help with these compulsions and you will need to work on changing your dog’s behavior.

Dogs may lick someone’s face for a lot of different reasons depending on the individual dog. If you want the behavior to stop, try to figure out what’s motivating your dog. Is he nervous? Is the licking a habit? Is he trying to get attention? Once you know why your dog is licking you, then you can work on what to do about the behavior.

What about your dogs…tell us why they lick your face.

Until next time……….

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Comments

  1. Mary says

    My dogs lick all the time. I do turn my head and tell them NO..but they don’t care. I think I do or did pet them and now that incouraged them to do it more.

    I think I should start getting up or pushing them down off my lap when they do the licking, perhaps this will change their minds.

  2. says

    I’m pretty comfortable with being licked (so long as our dog remains calm and not pushy about the action–the minute she gets overly excited I stand and turn my back to her, and she gets the message), but my husband only wants to be licked when *he* wants the attention. So what I did was, whenever my dog would lick my face I would repeat “Kisses” over and over in a happy but calm voice. Now, whenever we’re hanging out and watching TV, my husband can lean over and say to our dog, “kisses,” and she’ll happily walk over to lick him. When he pulls back to relax in his chair, our dog backs off and returns to her chew toy.

  3. Nancy Thomas says

    Every evening when my husband comes home as soon as he gets still our four year old female Brittany (Liberty) begins licking my husbands toes of his right foot. Liberty basically sticks to the three smaller feet and does so as if she is on a mission. My husband doesn’t really like it but we don’t want to hurt her feelings. Why might she do this and how might we get her to stop nicely.

    • MsLisa says

      Maybe the dog senses cancer, or on the lighter side it could be some type of foot fungus. I had a small female mix that would tend to my boo boos that would sometimes occur on my extremities. Believe it or not, they say that the dog has some type of healing enzymes within their saliva.

      • Kevin says

        I believe dogs saliva contains a small bit of healing properties or dogs know how to rid of infection. I have recovered from a slice on my arm by a winch cable that snapped.. Left a gash wound on my arm. Around the redness my female Carin terrior would lick and would try to nibble off the scabs.. After all the healing and all that jazz. I never got a scar or had it get infected while and after she licked it.. Now when I come home.. I feel she gives me the 3rd degree checking for cuts and bruises.. She`s a 19lbs dog with a 140lbs heart..

  4. Betty says

    My dog loves to lick. I guess we have re-enforced this behaviour by being happy and petting her back.
    She sleeps with me at night. She gets up with my husband in the morning, but when I come down for coffee she HAS to lick me she is so excited to see me.
    It is a bit of a bother, but she is so happy when she licks you.

  5. Shaunte says

    My Kokoa Beans loves to lick me compulsively. I think it’s because I rescued her. She was a stray dog before she became the new addition to our family. When I first brought her home she didn’t lick at all. It’s like she wanted to know if my home was really hers before she got comfortable. But after buying her new things, bathing and grooming her regularly, she became more attached to me. So when she licks me I think it’s Love, Happiness, & Greatfullness

  6. Audi says

    My dog climbs up my bed and licks my face/mouth every morning to wake me up. It’s both gross and adorable.

  7. Mike says

    My Boston “Izzy” loves to lick my mouth and face, and to be honest, it really doesn’t bug me. I know she is doing it to show not only love, but submissiveness.

    What I do to ensure she understands who is in charge is, I’ll let her have a minute of so of licking to get all worked up .. and then … I give a quick “STOP” in a stern voice … and if she stops (as she always does) … I pause about 5 seconds , tell her she is a good girl with lots of praise. If I then see fit to also reward her with allowing more kisses, then I do.

    My wife on the other hand does not mind licking, but NOT the face … and rather than a STOP she was giving a stern NO .. Izzy understands that Licking is NOT ok with my wife, but OK with me.

    We trained her to understand STOP as .. well .. just that. The action is not BAD, just unwanted at the moment.

    NO on the other hand she understands as DO NOT DO THIS and DO NOT ATTEMPT to again.

  8. courtney says

    My toy poodle will completley lick my face, like take 20 minuites and lick my entire face and she’s only 7 months old so I don’t know why she’s doing it so I don’t say no because maybe she’s scared or she’s saying like I love you so anyadvice?

  9. Wayne Booth says

    Courtney in the article I mentioned several reasons your dog may be licking you. I don’t have any way of knowing which reason pertains to your dog.

    I can tell you that as long as you allow her to do it she will continue. So if you want it to stop simply move your face out of her lick it zone.

  10. says

    My dog does the same thing. She licks me and my husband. I think she is trying to tell us something! Because when my husband or I ask her a question like “do you want a treat?” or “do you have to go potty?” she licks us, and it usually answered as yes. So I believe that dogs lick to communicate but also to just give kisses. :)

  11. Lindsey says

    My dog, Mocha, loves licking my face. I’ll be sitting on the couch and she’ll just hop right up and lick me. I think it’s adorable, and it’s one of the only times her little tail gets wagging like crazy. She’ll stop if I turn my head. She also likes to lick feet and essentially anything nearby. It’s the cutest when she licks the eyes of our little Chihuahua, Papita, because she treats her like a little puppy.

  12. Hardeep Singh says

    I have a little rottweiler myself that often tries to lick my face lol. She used to try to jump up on people to lick their face. We’ve managed to stop her doing that because its not nice obviously having a 40kg dog jumping on you.

    Anyways i think another reason for dogs licking faces, esp when you come back home after work etc, is to try find out where you’ve been and what you’ve been eating and things like that.

  13. Jenn says

    Our Jack-Russell/Pug, “Izzy” is a compulisve licker. We notice it especially after an absence or in the morning g when we come downstairs. Common sense tells us that she is happy to see us (as I’ve been told dogs have no sense of time??) Therefore it may seem as if a long time has passed since he’s seen us. Others times its when we air on the couch and he jumps up, but his head is higher than ours, and he bends down to lick us (smaller dog, thus showing some alpha male characteristics??). He always stops when we firmly say “all done” with a gentle pressure on his chest. I figure that they have so many things to say and show us, that as long as it doesn’t bother you (he doesn’t do to strangers or extended family, just my husband, son, and me) then let him/her show their affection and thanks to you for loving them unconditionally. Great site by the way! Can’t wait to visit more, thanks for all the info!

  14. Matt says

    My Dog Abbey licks my bald head when I lay back on the recliner. She will sit on my shoulder, and lick until I tell her No. Then she falls asleep with me. I believe this is her submission to me as the pack leader and her way of saying “I love you”. It drives my wife nuts lol…but I don’t mind it at all.

  15. Cyndi says

    My Bochi, Benjamin licks my mouth all the time. I’m severely Bi-Polar I, I have severe days where I can barely cope, and recently severely injured myself. He shakes intensely and licks my mouth. He is a very social dog with other people, and dogs; but I rescued him from the Humane Society and I want to reassure him that it’s not him. I’m afraid I’m making him neurotic with worry. I know Chihuahuas tend to shake. He just licks my mouth incessantly. I don’t mind really but I’m worried. Advice?

  16. Nancy says

    My chihuahua will here me sniffle and start licking me to make me feel better. If I’m crying he wants to soothe me by licking away my tears. I have to pull him off and say no to get him to stop. At that point he will cuddle with me. Dogs want us to be happy and will do anything for us.

  17. Paula says

    Florence my gorgeous 9mth cockerpoo licks me, my cat and my mums dog – who is very much an alpha female. When she licks my mums dog & my cat it’s usually followed by lots of ‘look at me’ type attention & straight into the submissive position. After reading the above blogs I thinks it’s because she wants them to play but also knows they are boss which me being the leader of the pack (hopefully!!) …

  18. says

    There are many reasons a dog may lick you. My lab pitty gets very excited / happy to see me when I come home so the first thing he does is come towards my face and give me a few kisses on my cheek, then immediately get down on his back belly up which is a big sign of submissive behavior showing me that I’m the “alpha”. He does not however excessively lick to the point of annoyance nor does he lick my feet or any furniture. If your dog is licking excessively all the time and doesn’t want to stop they may have some anxiety and looking for a way to relieve it somehow. Talk to your vet and see if they can help!

  19. says

    Furthermore if its not excessive compulsive licking they just want to show you affection and that they respect their owner and love them very much for being the “pack leader”. :-)

  20. Jodi says

    Suzanne, I had to laugh at your “I lick my dog’s face” comment. My youngest Chihuahua licks my face mostly when she wants something. Having said that, she does it for attention quite often…and of course when I wake up, go to bed, come in the door, sit on the couch…wait, I guess that means she’s always licking my face. And I love it!

  21. S.A.Duval says

    My dog knows when and where licking is appropriate for instance he licks me a lot for attention and loving, but knows not to lick ‘grandma’ as she does not like it.

  22. Karen says

    I love this article! My older dog (11 year old Lab/Border Collie) used to lick whenever we would ask for a “smooch”. She’s since decided she’s much to grown up to do that though! I also have a 9 month old puppy (Lab) who licks as often as possible ~ especially my face and hands ~ and generally in the morning when he is excited to get up and I would prefer to sleep in. I noticed he was licking the mouth of my older dog (which really annoys her!) and wondered what that was about … she has a growth on her lip and I thought perhaps he was licking that.

  23. Yakj says

    Actually, I would like some advice.
    My friend has a really big, really friendly dog. But, her family doesn’t seem to give it much attention, and when they do, they treat it more like a little kid and not like a dog.
    Recently I came over to her house, to see that the dog was in a cage (which they only do when they’re not home or company comes over). I received permission and released it from its cage. Then I got one of her toys and threw it around for her to catch. We played for maybe 5 minutes. A little bit later, the dog comes up and licks me several times. Then a little bit later, comes back and does the same thing. But it wasn’t like annoying or anything. Keep in mind that I never pet her: I don’t ever want to be thought of as “least of the pack” by a dog! Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE animals. I just don’t let myself be bossed around by one.
    Do you think that it was because she wanted to thank me for playing with her/releasing her from the cage? An expression of affection? Or just to ask for attention? Or to recognize that I was a leader? What do you think it meant?

  24. Dorrie L says

    I have three dogs. They all lick my face at different times. I think it is sweet. Sometimes it says I like you, sometimes it is to make up, sometimes it is to say hi I missed you. Sometimes I think it is to get the salt from my skin, especially if I have been running. Sometimes with a puppy it is a game to see who can move the fastest, me getting out of the way, or him/her trying to give me a smooch. It never ocurred to me that it would bother some people before reading this. I like happy dogs.

  25. Dawn says

    My dogs are my kids I have 2 of those too, I love getting kisses from my “boys” but I have two dogs one is 7 mo and he’s a kisser but also loves licking ears ugh that drives me nuts, haven’t been able to break him of it yet tho. My biggest thing with the boys is the older one is 2 1/2 yrs old and when it comes to food he’s the Alpha but when it comes to me the 7 mo old is he is soooo possessive it’s so funny, well funny because my older dog is a Terrier mix 28 lbs and the younger one is half Yorkie half Pom weighing in at a whopping 7 lbs its funny but sad at the same time bc he really seams to hurt his big brothers feelings.

  26. Frank says

    My yorkie licks me all the time, especially when I get home from work. I hit the sofa to relax from the long commute, he jumps up on me on his side, gives a couple licks to my face then licks my hand as I rub his belly while he wraps his front legs around my hand as if to say, “don’t let go” … After a couple minutes he’ll roll up, shake his har to fix it and lie down at my feet until I get up.

    Some nights while watching television he’ll come over and start licking my cheeck or in the summer, my leg if I’m wearing shorts.

    I don’t mind … He loves me and is clearly happy to be with me.

    When company is over he greets most of my nieces and nephews with a lick on the face (if they pick him up) but that’s it … He won’t continue, and the kids don’t mind.

    I don’t understand people that shun this behaviour …. One day our dog will be gone and we’re going to miss that unconditional affection only man or woman’s best friend gives us.

  27. Lauren says

    I have a boxer mix that’s a year and a few months old. She doesn’t lick much, except when someone comes home, or when it’s bedtime. She sleeps on my bed beside me and sometimes, if I leave an arm or a hand outside the blankets, she’ll sleepily lick it for a few minutes before going to bed. She’ll sometimes go for my ears or neck, too. I think it’s either to clean me or because she smells salt on my skin or something.

    She’ll also lick my face sometimes when I get up, because usually she’s awake before me and so when I do get up she gets excited. Or, she’ll lick my face when I start to stir to try and get me up sooner so she can eat and go outside, which is the normal morning routine.

  28. Maggle says

    My dog will lick either myself, my husband, or both of us, as we are settling into bed at night. She always seems very pleased in doing so, therefore I always took it as her relaxing into the night and letting us know she loves us and is comfortable. Perhaps it is something else?

  29. Leah says

    Heh. I think my dog is trying to get attention, but i cant be competely sure. Sometimes if im sitting on the couch or bed, he will walk up to me, lick me once or twice and walk away. Then he will come do it again in 5 minutes and so on. :)

  30. ryan says

    i have a great dane and everytime my girlfriend comes over he’ll knock her over and lick her face till she’s in hysterics, which she loves
    he only did that to me once

  31. Dwight Walker says

    I have a 2 year old Shih Tzu who I love more than life itself who loved licking my face and I enjoy it. I taught him the world kiss and he is such a little lover when you say kiss he go’s nuts at your lips. He also attacks my face when I am sleeping in the middle of the night but I love my baby so much I don’t mind none of it at all.

  32. claudia says

    when i come home from school, my black lab jumps into my lap and licks me 2 death
    why would anyone shun that

  33. Patty says

    My 3 year old Chihuahua mix Toby licks my face occasionally when I am reading he wants attention- to go outside or play fetch.

  34. Bex says

    My dog is insanely affectionate. If it’s been a few hours and you haven’t paid him attention, he will climb up on your lap to give you a cuddle.

    He loves licking my sister’s hands because she always has cold hands. He loves licking my mum’s neck because she’s really ticklish. With me, it’s the face, but if I’m wearing makeup he has to lick it ALL off my eyes. He loves it when people lie down because then he lies down on your chest to he can give you lots of cuddles.

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