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Why Do Dogs Lick People, Faces, Paws & More

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dogs primarily explore the world with their mouths and noses, which is why they lick things.
  • Dogs lick people to show affection, calm people down, greet them, and make peace, but excessive licking could be a sign of stress or anxiety.
  • Dogs lick themselves to keep clean, especially their paws and joints, and sometimes, to self-soothe if in pain.
  • Excessive licking, especially of lips, limbs, or the floor, is often a sign of stress or anxiety. Identifying and treating the cause of stress, providing adequate stimulation, and positive association training can help stop excessive licking.
  • Some dogs may never lick, which is fine. Building a trusting bond with dogs can encourage them to become more affectionate, and teaching them tricks like "kiss" can also help.
Written by Laura
Laura is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Highly educated researcher and DVM with extensive experience in Clinical VetMedicine, Veterinary Nano Medicine, and Preventive Veterinary Medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 25 May 2022
Last updated on
Monday 5 June 2023
why do dogs love to lick
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If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably noticed that your dog licks everything, and you may be wondering – why? Let’s take a look at why dogs lick people, themselves, and more. Everything you need to know about your dog’s licking habits and excessive licking will be covered in this article.

Why Do Dogs Lick?

First and foremost, the reason dogs lick is that they primarily explore the world with their mouths and noses. The same way humans do with touch! But why do they lick us and why do they lick themselves?


Dog moms lick their babies to clean them. This has a soothing effect on the pups and reduces their stress levels. In fact, the more a mom grooms their pups, the more resilient and less reactive to stress they will be. So, they may also lick us to show us their love and calm us down. And it certainly does! Who doesn’t feel better after doggie kisses?

You’ll probably find that your dog will lick you to greet you, show affection, cheer you up when you’re sad, and make peace.

Our faces

When dogs are young, they do everything with their mouths. If they get a positive response when they lick your face, they will continue to do so as adults.

Our hands & feet

Dogs also like to lick our hands and feet, most likely because they smell! We touch everything with our hands, including food, and so naturally, dogs are going to be drawn to them. We also walk around all day on our feet. Not only do they probably get a bit smelly by the end of it, but dogs can smell everywhere we’ve been that day. So, again, they are going to be interested in our feet.


Why do dogs lick themselves? Most of the time – it’s to keep clean. Dogs groom themselves in the same way that we humans bathe every day. But instead of taking a shower or running a bath, they lick themselves clean.

Their paws

Again, dogs mostly lick their paws to clean them, especially after a walk. However, this is something that you should help them out with. Dogs can pick up irritants like pollen and chemicals like antifreeze on their feet, especially when walking in public spaces, and your dog could ingest them if they lick them off.

So, if you’ve been walking somewhere public, especially if it’s been snowing, or your dog’s feet are particularly dirty after a walk, rinse them off with some warm water and dog shampoo and towel dry them afterward.

Their joints

Older and arthritic dogs often lick their aching joints to soothe them. Arthritis is a condition that affects 4 out of 5 older dogs. It inflames and degrades the joints and affects a dog’s range of motion. It can be very painful and uncomfortable. Other symptoms include stiffness, difficulty moving, and a reduced ability to exercise.

Vets can usually diagnose the condition following a simple examination, and it can be treated with lifestyle changes, joint supplements, prescription pain killers, and non-surgical therapies. With treatment, dogs with arthritis can live long and happy lives.

Their lips

Dogs usually lick their lips when they’re hungry, after they’ve eaten, or they know that they’re about to eat. You may notice your dog licking his lips when he watches you get his dinner ready, for example. Excessive lip licking, however, is a common sign of anxiety.

At home

If your dog is licking parts of the home, such as the floor or a piece of furniture, it’s probably because someone dropped a bit of food there. However, if it is repetitive or excessive, it is likely stress-related. It can also be a sign of mineral deficiency and the presence of endoparasites.


A lot of dogs lick the ground when they’re outside. This is most likely because they simply like the taste of it. If they are also eating it, however, they may be trying to fulfill a gap in their nutrition or make themselves sick in order to purge something out of their system. Check your dog’s diet to make sure it’s nutritionally complete and watch out for other unusual symptoms and behaviors.

Other dogs

Similar to licking humans, dogs often lick each other to show affection, groom each other, and build a trusting bond. Sweet!

why dogs lick their owners
Dogs will lick you to greet you, show affection, cheer you up when you’re sad

What Causes Excessive Licking?

If your dog is licking excessively, especially their lips, his limbs, or the floor, it could be a sign of stress or anxiety. Common causes of stress and anxiety include big life changes, schedule changes, illness, separation anxiety, trauma, phobias, and illness or death in the family. Under-stimulation very often plays a part, too.

Other symptoms of stress & anxiety

Other signs of stress and anxiety include repetitive behaviors like pacing and panting, drooling, shaking, excessive barking or whining, destructive behaviors towards themselves and the home, going to the toilet indoors, and in extreme cases, aggression.

How to stop excessive licking

To treat stress and anxiety and stop excessive licking, you need to identify the cause of your dog’s stress. To treat stress related to life changes, be sure to give them lots of tender love and care and provide a stable daily routine until it passes.

For anxiety with specific triggers, such as separation or trauma, try doing positive association training by associating triggers with affection, praise, play, and treats, if possible.

For example, if your dog has separation anxiety, build up your time apart gradually, reward them whenever you return, and leave them with something fun to do, like a treat dispenser toy, to show them that time alone can be fun. Or, if your dog is frightened of cars, take them to sit by a busy road for short periods of time and give them lots of rewards to create a positive association.

If their trigger is something that can’t be made positive or even neutral, do your best to avoid it altogether or invest in some anti-anxiety products to help with symptoms. Herbal supplements and plug-in diffusers are both natural, safe, and effective at reducing stress levels in dogs. If you feel like you need extra help, don’t be afraid to contact your vet, a behaviorist, or a professional trainer.

It will also help to make sure your dog is fully stimulated. By this we mean getting enough exercise for their age and size, going to different locations, and doing different activities like running and swimming, as well as playing lots of fun, mentally stimulating games, like hide and seek and treasure hunt. To play hide and seek, get your dog to sit and stay where he is while you hide somewhere in the house. Then, call them to come and find you. To play treasure hunt, hide their favorite toy or some treats instead.

Playing with challenging toys like puzzle toys, snuffle mats, treat dispensers, and toys that stimulate the senses will help to engage their minds, too. You could even try teaching your dog some new tricks. Stress is energy, and if your dog is fulfilled and fully worked out, both physically and mentally, it leaves a lot less room in their lives for stress.

Try to engage them socially as much as you can, as well. Give them lots of love and affection, involve them in your family life, don’t leave them alone for more than four hours a day, and interact with as many people and dogs on walks as possible to prevent boredom and loneliness.

Why Doesn’t My Dog Lick Me?

If your dog doesn’t give you kisses – don’t fret! If they are rescue dogs, they may not have been socialized or encouraged to lick in their previous life, and so they may just take some time to adapt. Or they may never do it at all, and that’s fine. Just so long as they are happy and healthy, that’s all that matters. Alternatively, your dog might not trust you enough yet. Give it time!

If you’ve had your dog since their puppyhood and they don’t lick you, it might just not be their preferred way of communicating, or maybe they think you don’t like it. Dogs are sensitive creatures. If you can think of a time in the past when they licked you and you pulled away or reacted in a negative way, it might have made them think you don’t like it.

This is likely to be the case if your dog licks other family members and not you. Alternatively, you might need to work on your relationship so that your dog feels more comfortable being affectionate with you.

How to build trust with your dog

If you are worried that your dog doesn’t feel comfortable enough with you enough to give you a lick, practice building a trusting bond with them. First off, allow them to come to you in their own time when you greet them. This shows them that you respect their space and makes them feel more comfortable around you. Brush up on doggie body language if your dog is a rescue dog to learn when you’re overstepping the mark.

Pay attention to your own, too. Use a friendly tone of voice, get down on their level when you speak to them, hold out your hand when you want to interact, and don’t make too much eye contact if your dog is shy or nervous. Reassure them of your relationship with praise and treats whenever you interact and never punish or shout at them.

Spending some quiet time together by sitting and watching TV is a great way to get your dog comfortable in your presence. You can also build a bond by doing fun things together like going on walks and playing fun games. A great way to build a truly special bond with your dog is by introducing them to a new game, a new toy, or a new treat so that they start to see you as a true friend.

How to get your dog to give you kisses

If you want to teach your dog how to “kiss” – put some peanut butter, or something similar, on your hand and show it to your dog. When they lick it off, repeat the word “kiss” and praise them. They will soon make the association and learn to kiss on command!

why do dogs lick excessively
To treat stress and anxiety and stop excessive licking, you need to identify the cause of your dog’s stress.

Why Do Dogs Lick People, Faces, Paws & More: FAQ

What does it mean when a dog licks you?

When a dog licks you, it can mean a few things. The majority of the time, it’s a display of affection, but it can also mean that they smell food on you!

Why do dogs lick themselves?

Dogs predominantly lick themselves to keep clean. It can also be a way of self-soothing when they are in pain or a display of stress.

Why do my dogs lick each other?

Dogs sometimes lick each other to show affection and build a bond. If your dogs share a close bond, they may also lick each other’s ears and faces to groom each other, as they can’t lick their own!

Can licking mean a dog is anxious?

Excessive licking is usually a sign of stress or anxiety. If a dog is obsessively licking itself or something in the home, it’s probably stress-related.

So, that’s why dogs lick! Is your dog a licky dog? Let us know in the comments down below.

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