For the first few years of my family's life with our Lab, Torah, we assumed his wild licking was purely a sign of affection. "He's kissing you!" we would tell bewildered friends. Eventually I came to realize that the licking wasn't always as pleasant for the recipient as it was for my family and my dog.

To us, some of our dogs' behaviors are bad manners. But to them, it's a completely normal way to communicate. In fact, they may be trying to honor us.

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

So, why do dogs lick us? You'd be right in supposing that affection is our dogs' main message. They're also conveying respect and honor, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). "A submissive lick lets you know that your dog accepts your leadership role."

"Licking for most dogs begins with their mother cleaning them and stimulating certain body functions. But as pups grow, their littermates join in the licking fun. They help each other out with cleaning out-of-the-way places like ears, the back, and faces. It is an act of friendly cooperation." This, the AKC says, is the origin of our pups' gestures toward us.

Watch your dog among other canines the next time you're out. If you notice any licking, you're observing one dog telling another "I submit to you," or " I'm friendly, and I'm so happy to see you." When they greet us similarly, the message is the same.

Reading the Context Clues

It is always our responsibility to decode our dogs' messages based on current circumstances. There are a number of other messages our dogs are sending with their oral oddities. When your dog licks you, he may be communicating:

  • A desire for food
  • Happiness when you get home at the end of the day
  • The need for attention or comfort
  • An acknowledgement of your sadness
  • The desire to put his scent on you to "claim" you

Correct Behavior When It Matters

Jumping up, barking, and most especially, excessive licking can make us feel loved and appreciated, but they are behaviors that should not always be encouraged. How do you know when to correct these behaviors? In particular, when our dogs are excited to see us, should we correct them?

Being a responsible dog owner means caring for the preferences of others. Even though we pet owners might appreciate a slobbery greeting from our companions, we should strive to teach our dogs "do's and don'ts" when it comes to kissing and to control them around those whose comfort levels might not be clear.

Proper behavior around children is also a must. Children's immune systems are still developing which may make them more prone to becoming sick from that lick on the face from the friendly neighborhood dog.

Train your dog well, and he'll soon be voted "most popular" among all of your friends.

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