Why Dogs Lick Faces

  • 04/10/2013

Does your dog jump up and immediately start licking your face when you walk through the door? It may not be the loving signal of affection most people perceive it to be, but it's certainly not sinister either. It's a completely natural response to a "family member" for the dog. One thing is for sure, people generally love it or they hate it. The key is in understanding it, and deciding what to do about it.

Although there are several secondary reasons for face licking, it is primarily a way of showing respect. In the wild, and even amongst your house pets if you have more than one animal, a submissive dog who is lower in the pack order will lick the face of the "big dog." Of course, size has little to do with it. You could have a 95-pound Doberman who is strong, powerful and very protective of the house and family, but completely submissive to a tiny 6-pound Papillion. So, if your dog licking your face doesn't gross you out, just pull out your Aretha Franklin record, and get all the R-E-S-P-E-C-T you deserve, and consider it quite an honor your dog things you are the top of the heap.

Under Investigation
Of all the other reasons dogs lick faces, the strongest secondary reason for this instinctive action is to investigate. Dogs have powerful tongues that can pull in a lot of information off of the scents and tastes on your skin. They can tell where you've been, and probably what have eaten for breakfast. They can also tell who you've been with, but don't be too concerned, your best friend will keep your secrets well.

The Laws of Attraction
The last of the instinctive secondary reasons for face licking is attraction. This sounds a lot like the loving reaction most people assume face licking is all about, but it's actually more chemical than that. People (and other animals) produce pheromones that are released through the skin, and it is an attractive scent to other animals. Your dog is just taking it all in.

The Spice of Life
You may notice that when you've been working hard, and are all sweaty your dog just can't resist you. That's not love; you are just perfectly seasoned. Your dog loves the salt your sweat brings to the surface of your skin, and can't get enough of it. You might find it "yucky" but he loves it! From his perspective, it's you, only better.

Hey, Sometimes We Just Taste Good
Finally, sometimes humans just taste good. Your dog is looking for morsels of food that might be stuck in the corners of your lips, and can taste the lingering odor of what you ate hours ago. That may seem a little disgusting, but it's a natural instinct, and puppies in the wild will immediately start licking their mom's face and mouth when she enters the den in order to get food from her.

What To Do About Face Licking
Well, if you like it you don't have to do anything at all. There's nothing harmful in it, and it satisfies a basic instinct in your dog. You don't even have to think about the real reasons your dog licks your face, if you like it. Just keep on thinking it's a sign of affection, and bask in the glory of his lovingly slobbers.

On the other hand, if your dog licking your face is a real turn-off for you, there are ways to curb his constant tongue action. The first thing to remember is that to the dog, there is no bad behavior. It's all natural. The second thing to remember is to be fair and consistent. It's not fair to your dog if you love something one day, and then yell and punish him the next for the same thing. So, decide right from the start when you bring your new dog home what behaviors are acceptable, and which ones are not. These behaviors can range from kissy face to sleeping in the bed. Many offensive behaviors are ignored at first, especially when the new dog is a puppy, because the obvious concern is house-breaking, and besides, puppies are just so darned cute. They can get, and often do, get away with murder. However, that little puppy rushing up to greet you at the end of the day, and jumping on your leg may be as cute as the dickens, but it might not be so cute when he's a full-grown 200 pound Great Dane, and a full-grown Mastiff drooling all over your face may not be quite as much fun as a puppy either. So here are some tips to help you stop the tongue lashings from your dog right from the start.

• Be Firm: Speak in low, firm tones, and tell your dog "no" when they are doing something you don't want them to.

• Be Gentle: There's never a cause to hit or shake your dog.

• Act Hurt: This is especially helpful with puppies, but even works with older dogs, and of course it only works with contact behaviors such as licking or jumping. Your dog isn't licking your face, or jumping on you to hurt you. If they think they are, they're likely to stop immediately. When your dog licks you or jumps on you, let out a high-pitched yelp and draw back quickly. If you are an actor at heart, go all the way and whimper a bit. Your dog will come to your rescue, but quickly get the hint that licking or jumping are not okay.

• Make Sure Your Dog Has What He Needs: Provide plenty of water and food, and don't forget to give him attention and loving. Dogs are social creatures and simply giving them food, shelter and water aren't enough. Even though you don't want him licking and jumping on you, you do need to give him a lot of other types of affection to satisfy his needs.

• Give Him Plenty of Exercise: A pooped pup isn't going to be as interested in jumping all over you. Take your puppy or older dog out for a good run, play fetch in the yard, or anything that will get all the energy out of their system. It will make you both healthier too.

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