[UPDATED AUGUST 2023]
Why do dogs lick your face?
Is it a sign of affection? A way of getting your attention? Or a form of canine play? Let’s take a closer look at this iconic dog behaviour…
It’s a primal instinct
Dogs in the wild lick each other’s faces in order to communicate. It might be to let their mother know they're scared or hungry, or to show submission to a dominant animal. Domestic canines, like our pups, still have this basic instinct, despite living very different lives to their wild ancestors!
They’re asking for attention
Whether it's walkies, a treat, or some love – whatever it is your dog is after, a lick to the face is a not-so-subtle hint that they want your attention.
It’s a token of their affection
Dogs learn from an early age that a lick to the face is a way of saying “I ruff you”! When a pup is born, their mother will lick their face to clear their nostrils and aid breathing and blood flow. The pup’s siblings will also lick each other to bond.
So, if your pup is licking your face, it could mean they're telling you they love you!
They like our reaction to it
Chances are, if a dog licks your face, they know you'll respond in a positive way. Whether it’s a laugh or squeal, an affectionate hug, or a scratch behind the ears, you'll react by showing your dog some happiness and love. Quite simply, your dog enjoys this positive outcome of licking your face!
They love the taste
Our skin is a pleasurable attack on the senses to a dog! It might hold the scent of a meal we’ve eaten, and the salty taste is desirable to our pets, strange as it sounds!
What can you do to stop your dog licking your face?
If you want to keep the dog face licks at bay, here’s what to do:
- Ignore your dog – if they don’t get a reaction, they're less likely to continue with the face licking.
- Put something in their mouth – a treat, a chew toy – it doesn't matter what, the key is to distract your dog!
- Shower. It might sound odd, but if you greet your dog immediately after returning from a run, for example, they’ll be attracted to the scent of sweat and the taste of salt on your skin.
Keeping clean will make your dog less keen.
Is your dog licking you a problem?
Licking is a natural behaviour for dogs, but if your dog is constantly trying to lick you and you’d like them to stop, you can train them to do it less.
If you’re at all uncertain about how to proceed, get in touch with your vet or a registered canine behaviourist and they can advise you on the best behavioural training techniques and can also rule out underlying issues.