Why your dog licks your face

If your dog licks your face you might think it’s terribly cute; but others might hate the idea. Why do dogs do this, and is there anything you can do to stop it?

Dog licks: it’s in their genes

Blame evolution! Dog face licking has evolved from the wolf puppy behaviour of licking the mouths of adult dogs to prompt the regurgitation of partially digested food. This is how puppies transition from suckling their mother’s milk to eating partially digested food to more solid food.

Licking another dog’s face or a human’s face is a normal social behaviour but if your dog does it he is trying to tell you something:

  • I’m accepting that you’re the pack leader
  • I’d like more food
  • I’m checking out who you are
  • I love you, and I want more attention

A dog licking faces or other body parts can also occur as part of grooming. Your dog may lick his canine housemate’s face and your face or other body parts. When your dog cannot reach your face, he may lick the closest body part, which may be your hand, arm or leg.

My dog licks total strangers!

Some dogs may try to lick a complete stranger’s face in an effort to ward off aggression or harm. Your dog is telling the stranger he is a good dog and please don’t do anything harmful of threatening.  When dogs lick the faces of children, it can be a sign of affection, appeasement or simply the act of cleaning food residue off their face.

Are dog licks a health risk?

For healthy children and adults, dog saliva is not a health risk for intact skin but if you have an open wound it is best not to let the dog lick it. Bacteria in the saliva could lead to potential infection. If your dog does like you, wash with an antibacterial soap afterwards just to be safe.

But I hate his dog licks. What can I do?

Remember, that you might unintentionally be reinforcing his habit by pushing him away and loudly objecting. Even showing displeasure is giving him some form of attention so he will probably keep doing it just to get noticed. If he licks your face, turn your back on him and ignore him. Encourage other forms of affection with treats and cuddles. You’ll soon break that face licking habit.