Why Does My Dog Lick Me When I Pet Her? Animal Experts Share the Surprising Reasons

Your favorite furball is so adorable, you can’t help but have at least a few petting and cuddle sessions a day. Whether it’s once in a while or every single time you stroke your pal’s coat, your cuddly cutie might even lick your hand in return. This behavior may lead you to wonder: Why does my dog lick me when I pet her? As it turns out, there are several reasons your four-legged bestie might lick your hands — it could be her way of expressing her mutual adoration for you, but she might also just be gathering information or trying to tell you something. So the answer might vary from canine to canine. Read on for the various reasons why.

Why does my dog lick me when I pet her? 7 possible reasons

1. Affection

Ask any canine expert, ‘Why does my dog lick me when I pet her?’ and the most likely answer is that it could just be her way of giving you some sweet puppy kisses! Dogs most often lick while you’re petting them as a display of affection. “When a dog licks your hand, it could be a sign of bonding, trust and affection,” says Aaron Rice, professional dog trainer at Stayyy.com. “This behavior stems from their puppyhood, where licking was a way to bond with their mother and littermates.” As a fully grown dog, your fuzzy sidekick licking as you pet her could be a sign of affection for you. Adds Sally Grottini, Dog Behavior Expert for JustAnswer.com, “Just as the mother dog would do with your sweet girl as a puppy to show affection, now she may do this with you, her favorite human.”

2. Communication

Dogs use their sense of touch, smell and taste to communicate. “So licking can be a form of communication for dogs,” says Jennifer Sperry, DVM, veterinary advisor at Pets Plus Us Pet Insurance. “They might lick the faces of other dogs, or they might also lick their own lips, to show appeasement." That is to show that they have no desire for confrontation.

Dogs sometimes express this behavior when they interact with humans as well. What’s more, licking while being pet can also be a dog’s way of showing you that they’re not that comfortable and want you to stop, adds Rice. Other signs that a pup feels uncomfortable might be mouthing, biting, panting or sneezing. If your sweet pea is showing any of these signs alongside licking, it might be a good idea to stop petting STAT.

3. Attention seeking

Why does my dog lick me when I pet her? It might because they are looking for some attention like this dog is.

When they’re seeking attention from their owners, dogs tend to lick. “Any attention from the owner is welcome to the dog,” says Grottini. “Generally, when a dog starts licking your hand, the other hand is used to pet the dog softly and so to a dog, they view that licking their owner gets them something in return.” When a dog licks us, we’ll tend to respond in a positive manner, often paying attention to the dog and giving them a pet. “Even if you’re just trying to get them off you,” says Dr. Sperry. “Dogs view any type of interaction as attention, and doing so is more encouragement for the dog.”

4. Curiosity

Human hands carry a lot of scents and sometimes, your little rascal might just be intrigued by the scents on your skin. “Licking also has a practical purpose for dogs,” explains Rice. “It's a way for them to gather information about their environment and its people.” Since dogs have a highly developed sense of taste and smell, licking allows them to explore and understand the world around them — besides ‘tasting’ things, dogs also often explore their surroundings by sniffing. What starts out as curiosity may end up as a habit, says Dr. Sperry. “If they've licked your hands in exploration before, they may have discovered that they like the salty flavor of your skin.”

5. Grooming

Mother dogs will lick their puppies to keep them clean, so your sweet pooch might be trying to help ‘clean’ you. Since your beloved pal sees you as part of her pack, she could be carrying this behavior she learned as a puppy into adulthood. “Dogs groom themselves and often one another by licking,” says Grottini. “Perhaps you’ve brushed up against something sticky or you have something else on you that you can’t see, and your dog is just cleaning you up.” This type of licking is also a sign that your furry friend trusts you and wants to protect and take care of you, just as you protect and take care of her.

6. Anxiety

Why does my dog lick me when I pet her? it might be because they have anxiety like this dog does.

Another cause of excessive licking in dogs could be that they’re feeling nervous or anxious. “A dog might be licking if they have a nervous or fearful temperament,” says Grottini. “Obsessive licking can be a sign of stress or anxiety.” This type of licking can often be more forceful and rapid, if your bestie is exhibiting this type of behavior, besides licking you while you’re petting her, she might also be licking herself.  “Licking can be a soothing or self-comforting behavior for dogs,” explains Sabrina Kong, DVM at WeLoveDoodles.com. “Think of it much like how humans might bite their nails or twirl their hair when anxious or relaxed.” The reason they do this is because the act of licking helps release endorphins for a dog, so in turn, it makes them feel comforted.

7. Upset stomach

As mentioned above, humans emit a lot of salt through their hands, which tastes good to a dog. “Some dogs will lick the salt from their owner’s hands due to an upset tummy,” says Grottini. “Licking in this way could be a sign that they feel nauseous.” Other signs your pal’s stomach is upset is if she is licking the air or gulping — and if these signs are also paired with lethargy or loss of appetite, it might be time for a visit to the vet.

Is it ever unsafe for my dog to lick me?

One important factor to keep in mind when it comes to your pal’s licking is if there are certain instances when it’s dangerous for your pal to lick. For example, while doggie kisses are usually safe, some people with a compromised immune system might want to put the kibosh on puppy licks since dogs’ saliva contains bacteria. In fact, this bacteria might also be risky for people recovering from a surgery.

Grottini also cautions that you should stop your pal from licking your skin if you use certain treatments on your hands. “Be very careful if you use any creams, medications or lotions on your hands that might be toxic to dogs,” she says. “For example, steroid creams, zinc oxide, pain relief sprays or retinoids can all be toxic to pets.” To find out which other medications might be toxic to pets check out the list at the American Veterinary Medical Association.

How to get your dog to stop licking you

If you’d like to end the licking for whatever reason, the experts we spoke to agreed that there are plenty of ways to nix this behavior.

Throw her a "bone"

First up, the best way to hinder licking is to teach your sweet girl the ‘Leave it” command. Check out how to teach this command at The American Kennel Club. Or you could teach a different command like ‘touch hand to nose’ or ‘high five’, or even ‘shake’ to distract a pup that likes to lick. An even easier option is to redirect your pup to lick a toy or something that is just as fun to lick, like a treat dispensing toy such as a Kong filled with plain Greek yogurt that has been frozen. “Offering a toy is not only satisfying to your pal’s taste buds, but in trying to get the treat out, it also uses the dog’s mind,” says Grottini. “Being mentally stimulated will help ease anxiety as well, if that is the cause of licking.”

Ignore it

Perhaps the easiest way to curb this behavior is just for you to ignore it completely. “Regardless of why a dog started licking your hands, if they do it a lot, it may be because you have inadvertently been rewarding this behavior by showing your pet attention,” says Dr. Sperry. “It doesn’t matter whether the attention was positive or negative, sometimes any type of response from you encourages your dog to keep doing it.”

Next time your lovely lassie licks, pull your hand away. Simply clasp your hands behind your back, and say, ‘No.’ You may have to do this a few times, but she’ll soon learn that licking stops the petting, and eventually she will refrain from doing it. Dr. Sperry says you can start paying attention to your dog again after their focus has moved away from licking for a few minutes. Keep in mind that consistency is most important when it comes to hindering licking. That means all family members should take the same approach to discouraging licking behavior.

Basically, the experts we talked to agreed that licking is a typical dog behavior that serves multiple purposes. So when it comes to the question: Why does my dog lick me when I pet her? The most likely answer is that she is showing you her love and affection, which we think is pretty doggone sweet!

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