Disclosure: Our recommendations are based on our testing, research and analysis. We may earn a commission on products purchased using links on this page.
There’s no denying that dogs can engage in strange behaviors – including licking other dogs faces. As a dog owner, you will undoubtedly realize that dogs love to lick, whether it’s their owner’s hands, shoes, or other dogs. But why do dogs lick other dogs faces, and is this behavior cause for concern? This article takes a look at 4 reasons why dogs lick other dogs and the wild instincts behind this behavior.
Why Do Puppies Lick?
While puppies and dogs both love to lick, puppies usually engage in this behavior for an entirely different reason than an adult dog would. A young puppy will lick their mother’s face when they want to be fed. This instinctual act goes back to their wild ancestors, who would lick their mother’s lips when she returned from a hunt. In this case, licking their mother’s lips would signal her to regurgitate some of the yummy meat she had consumed during her hunt.
While this is clearly no longer the case with domesticated puppies, licking its mother’s face still has a similar meaning. After they transition to solid food, a puppy will lick their mother dog to indicate that they want her to “take care of them,” whether by way of food or affection.
4 Reasons Adult Dogs Lick Other Dogs Faces
While we know why a puppy will often lick their mother’s face, why does an older dog engage in this behavior? Is this just an instinct leftover from puppyhood, or is there more to it? Let’s look at 4 reasons adult dogs lick faces of other dogs.
1. To Show Subordination
One common reason dogs lick other dogs faces is to show subordination. This lets the other dog know that they consider them the boss and that they mean no harm. Your dog may do this when he has met a friend he respects – especially if he licks them from under the chin! If the “respected” dog licks them back, then they have accepted their show of deference. This is another dog behavior passed down from wild dogs, as subordinate pack members will lick the faces of the more dominant pack members to show their respect and subordination.
2. To Show Playfulness
If your dog comes into contact with a dog they already know and like, or even a dog they meet for the first time, they may lick their face as a sign that they’re ready to play! This shows that your dog is friendly and prepared to engage in some nice play, especially if a “play bow” accompanies the face licking.
3. To Show Affection
While dogs lick for many reasons, one of the primary reasons a dog may lick another dog’s face is to bond and show affection. Licking each other as a form of bonding is common for many mammals, as it releases endorphins that benefit both the recipient and the dog doing the licking. As you may have guessed, this is another wild dog instinct, as non-domesticated dogs lick faces to keep closeness in their pack.
4. It’s an Obsessive Habit
Unfortunately, not all dog licking is for a positive reason, and your dog may be licking other dogs as part of an obsessive habit. Just as dogs obsessively lick themselves, this behavior may extend to other dogs, furniture, and even their owner. Obsessive licking is often due to anxiety or dog Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and may need to be treated by a veterinarian.
If you suspect your dog is obsessively licking another dog’s face, it’s important to positively interrupt the excessive licking and distract them with something else. Obsessive licking can damage your dog’s relationship with another furry friend, and it’s also not fair to be the subject of compulsive licking!
What to Do if Your Dog’s Licking Becomes Obsessive
If your dog’s licking becomes obsessive, it’s essential that you avoid yelling at your dog or using force to break up the behavior. If your dog is licking due to anxiety or cognitive behavior, this type of negativity may worsen the behavior. Use positive reinforcement to redirect your dog’s licking and offer them toys or treats to divert their attention. Call your dog’s name in a bright, cheery tone and give them a basic command before rewarding them.
If your dog cannot stop licking themselves, it may be time to book a visit with your veterinarian. It’s important to rule out any physical or mental issues that may be causing the obsessive licking. Licking can signify several physical problems in dogs, including allergies, dry skin, parasites, and pain.
- Video chat 24/7 with licensed vets and nurses
- Unlimited text and video calls
- 7 day free trial; then $24/month
- Discounts on prescriptions & medicine
- $3000 safety net for emergencies diagnosed by their televet team
- Cancel anytime
Your dog may also be obsessively licking due to boredom. In this case, ensuring that your dog is mentally stimulated and receiving adequate exercise is key to stopping the licking behavior. While licking may seem like strange behavior for a bored dog, it’s essential to remember that licking is an activity – and your dog may find it soothing if they feel understimulated and depressed.
The Bottom Line
While licking other dogs’ feces may seem strange to us, it’s an instinctual behavior for our dogs that usually indicates something positive. If you find that your dog is obsessively licking other dogs and themselves, then scheduling an appointment with a licensed veterinarian may be helpful in determining the cause. Licking can indicate something more serious, and we owe it to our furry friends to ensure they’re living their best lives!
Please give us feedback on this post:
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?
Down to earth, common sense, proven DOG advice
Welcome to Spike’s Dog Blog by Acme Canine. Throughout the site, you will find a variety of helpful dog training articles, insightful dog behavior tips, and truthful product reviews from nationally-recognized canine trainers and professionals.