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What Does It Mean When A Dog Licks Your Hand? 5 Most Common Reasons

Key Takeaways

  • When a dog licks your hand, it is most likely a sign of affection.
  • Other reasons why a dog might lick your hands include grooming, communication, compulsive behavior, or health problems.
  • If licking seems to become a compulsive behavior, seek the help of your vet or dog trainer to rule out possible medical issues and help your dog stop the habit.

Many dogs will automatically go for your hands or your face as soon as they see you, which may make you wonder, what does it mean when a dog licks your hand? The most common explanation to dogs licking the hands of their humans is a sign of affection for them. It is also something that makes them happy, as experts say dogs release endorphins when they lick the hands or their owners. However, there are also other reasons for this natural dog behavior which includes grooming, communication, compulsive behavior, or possible health problems.

My dogs love to lick. This is simply one of those facts with which I, like most dog owners, learn to live with. Of course, part of this reason certainly has to do with the fact that your dog is, well, a dog! Your dog isn’t as visually-oriented as you are; instead, dogs make more use of their senses like smell, taste, and even touch when they’re exploring the world. My dog, for example, may be trying to learn more about me when he licks me. At the same time, though, he might be using his tongue to communicate something. 

Dogs also definitely lick more when you’ve spent time around things that interest them. If I’ve been playing with another dog or handling dog food, my dog’s definitely going to want to know more about what is going on. For many dogs, this means investigating first by sniffing, then by licking you. Likewise, your dog might be investigating you because of some new or unique smell or taste that he has found on you – a new makeup or perfume, for example, can provoke licking.

Why else, though, might a dog decide to lick your hand or face? While there are almost certainly countless reasons, there are at least a few that tend to be more common. 

Why Dogs Lick: The Major Reasons

Grooming

If you’ve ever watched a mother dog with her puppies, you’ve probably seen her lick them somewhat excessively. The mother dog in this case is trying to keep her puppies clean, a habit that’s a major part of a dog’s life. Dogs will keep licking even if there’s no one else around to lick, as this behavior is closely related to cleanliness for them. This is why your dog will idly lick himself after going outside or his butt after he has gone to the bathroom.

Sometimes, your dog is going to extend that same behavior to you. Your dog might be licking because he is trying to keep you clean, as a kind of a lovely social gesture. Your dog definitely doesn’t want you to get dirty, so he is performing the equivalent of wiping a smudge off your face. This is actually quite a nice gesture if you stop to think about it! 

Communication

Yes, communication is a fairly big part of licking. I often take a nice, gentle lick as my dog trying to communicate affection. If my dog is being more insistent, though, he is most likely trying to communicate something different to me—perhaps excitement or even anxiety. My dogs will go absolutely nuts licking me when I first get home or if I’ve been on a long trip, which is indeed more than just a simple greeting. In such cases, a dog is not just happy to see you on a basic level, but he has been so entirely flooded with hormones that he feels as happy as he may have ever felt in his life.

A great way to know if your dog is licking to communicate emotions with you is to watch his body language. If he is wagging his tail, your dog is probably excited or happy. If your dog tucks his tail while licking or starts crying, your dog is probably trying to say that he is stressed out or overwhelmed. 

Compulsive Behavior

Sadly, some dogs lick just because they feel like they have to lick. These dogs will continually lick something in their environment—not only you but perhaps a spot on their bodies or even a specific piece of furniture. If your dog is compulsively licking even when there’s no other emotional response, you may want to get him to a vet as soon as you can. You may need to rule out a few basic illnesses and determine whether or not you need to look into training in order to get your dog to stop licking. 

Affection

Yes, the common wisdom is actually right in this situation. Your dog may well be licking you simply because he loves you! Licking is actually a behavior that causes your dog’s body to release endorphins, which feels great for him. It’s even a behavior that helps your dog to show that you are the boss of the house. 

Shiba Inu being petted. | The Pampered Pup

In this case, you may want to think of your dog’s behavior in terms of how he interacts with other dogs. If your dog licks another dog’s muzzle, he is trying to show that dog that he is in charge. If your dog is doing the same with you, he is probably trying to show you that you’re the leader. 

Health Problems

Sometimes your dog licks because he is dealing with a health problem. Excessive licking behavior can be both a sign of allergies and of skin issues, so you’ll absolutely need to get your dog to a vet to figure out the cause of the problem. In many cases, you’re just going to need to prepare an oatmeal bath for your dog and possibly get him the right lotions, but in others, you might have to radically change your dog’s diet or even try to look into medical procedures to help him out. 

One of the big problems with licking, in this case, is that what starts with allergies can quickly become a compulsion. This often means that you’ll need to follow up with a trainer after you get your dog’s health issues under control. Sometimes you really will need to make some fairly major steps to help get your dog’s licking under control. 

Is It Okay For to Encourage a Dog to Lick Your Hands?

There’s absolutely no reason for you to avoid having your dog lick your hands. In fact, it’s something that can help you and your dog bond! The last thing you want to do is to punish your dog for licking you, something that would be the equivalent of getting mad at a child for trying to give you a hug. 

Licking is an incredibly important part of how your dog communicates with you. Though it may not always be your favorite thing in the world, it’s quite meaningful to your pup. As such, you should definitely let your dog lick you if and when it is appropriate to do so. 

How to Get a Dog to Stop Licking

Obviously, not everyone likes being licked by dogs. While it’s probably not a great idea to try to get your dog to stop licking entirely, it makes sense that you would want to get your dog to stop licking on command. The key here is to figure out a way to help your dog continue to communicate while reducing the amount of slobber. 

There are plenty of situations in which licking is inappropriate, after all. Some people just don’t like to be licked, while others simply cannot be licked. If someone has a weakened immune system, for example, the saliva in a dog’s mouth may not be great for him. Likewise, getting licked by a bigger dog can be an awfully painful experience for someone who is recovering from surgery or from an injury. 

The most important thing pet parents can do when trying to get a dog not to lick is to learn how to be consistent about it. If you know that there are some people your dog cannot lick, you’ll need to extend this rule to everyone. Dogs don’t really get the idea of context, so they will not understand why the behavior is okay sometimes and not others. If you’re going to make the decision that your dog can’t lick, you’ve got to center your training on making that ban as easy on your dog as possible. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does it mean when a dog licks your hand constantly?

Your dog licking your hands constantly can actually be a sign of a few different things. In some cases, it’s just a sign that the dog is very happy to see you. In other cases, it might be a sign of submission—the dog is just trying to show you that you are the boss. Your dog might be licking you because he is a compulsive licker, or even because the dog is trying to groom you. Finally, the dog might just be licking you because you had something interesting on your hands and he wants to figure out what is going on. 

2. Are dog licks really kiss?

It’s fair to say that a dog’s licks are kisses, at least in some cases. Dogs’ licks are kisses in those cases in that they definitely are signs of affection. Though licking can mean many things, it can also definitely be a sign that your dog is incredibly happy that you are around and that he loves you. Though your dog may also lick you for many other reasons, he will sometimes lick you just because he is showing affections in the only way that the dog can understand. 

Holding a dog | The Pampered Pup's chin.

3. Do dogs lick to show affection?

Yes, dogs definitely lick to show affection. Though there are also other reasons why your dog might lick, dogs do lick to show you that they care. Dogs can’t talk, after all, but they still want to let you know how they are feeling. Licking can be a good way to do this not only because licking is a very clear message, but it’s also one that allows the dog to touch you and be close to you. Licking also releases plenty of endorphins, a similar occurrence when humans themselves show affection. 

4. Why does my dog lick my hand when I pet them?

Your dog might lick your hand for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s just that your dog likes to be pet and they’re trying to show you. In other cases, your dog might be trying to put on a show of submission so that he can keep an established pecking order in the house. In some cases, though, your dog might just be licking your hand because you touched something interesting, as your dog uses touch and taste along with smell in order to explore your world. You’ll definitely want to take a look at everything your dog is doing while licking to figure out why he is exhibiting this kind of behavior. 

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