Why Does My Dog Lick My Hands?

Every animal communicates differently. Humans will wave or call out a “hello!”. Birds will sing to each other. Dolphins will sometimes slap the water with their tails as a way to get a message across. For dogs, communication is highly reliant on their senses.

Although not every dog will lick your hands all the time, it is commonly understood that licking is a dog’s way of trying to tell you something. For the most part, a lick is a passive and positive behavior that isn’t a cause for concern. In other cases, obsessive licking can be a compulsive behavior. What your dog’s lick means can be interpreted by what other cues they are giving off or environmental factors they are living with.

This article will review different reasons your dog might lick your hands and what you should do in response.

To Show You Affection

When we think of puppy kisses, they are always warm, wet licks. A dog lick is one way dogs tell humans they are happy they are there.

It is typical for humans to offer their hand first when greeting a dog. This, along with the hand being a source for rewarding pets, is likely why the hand is a popular spot for a kiss from your pup.

To Read Your Feelings or Mood

A study published in 2018 found that dogs have a functional understanding of emotional expressions. The dogs were presented with angry faces, and scientists found that the dogs would have a licking response.

This response could be because a dog can pick up on our biochemical cues through their taste receptors. Like most animals, humans release different biochemicals in response to stimuli. Your dog could be licking your hands to see whether it was a relaxing time at the beach or a tough day at the office.

To Find Something Tasty

Dogs are highly motivated by food

If something tastes good, a dog will lick it. Dogs are highly motivated by food and can’t help but lick up the tiniest crumb if they can find it.

If your dog is licking your hands, they could be checking to see if you have a hint of something yummy.

The taste of your sweat might also be enticing your dog to lick. The salt from perspiration may as well be a potato chip to your furry friend, and they can’t resist it. 

To Show Submission

In the wild, leadership is essential. Wolves have been known to lick the alpha wolf. Scientists believe this is a sign of submission; in your home, the alpha is you.

Wolves will lick an alpha on the mouth when it returns to the pack, but that doesn’t exactly work with humans. Most human mouths are not typically at licking height, but our hands are usually at just the right spot for a pup to lick when we come through the door.

Do Some Dogs Lick More Than Others?

Like any animal species, dogs have some common traits, including licking. From breed to breed, a dog’s inclination to lick can vary. One dog may like the taste of your hand, while another might not taste the appeal.

Although breed might be a factor, the dog’s personality traits may determine how much of a hand licker they are. Some dogs may simply be less inclined to use licking as their primary communication tool.

When is Licking Too Much?

dog is licking

If a dog is licking obsessively, this might be a sign that the dog is experiencing anxiety. As licking tends to be a dopamine-releasing activity for dogs, the excessive licking of your hands may signal that the dog is trying to calm down.

It could also be their way of telling you they’re hungry. Without words or the ability to point to a menu, a dog might use licking as a way to show they need to eat.

Reading your dog’s other physical cues when licking will help indicate what they’re trying to tell you. Check their body language. If they lick and then move away when you’re cuddling them, they may say, “Okay, that’s enough.”

Do I Need to Stop My Dogs Licking?

You may have seen your dog put some pretty unsettling things in its mouth, but your dogs mouth really isn’t any dirtier than yours. Both human and dog mouths host a lot of bacteria, but the bacteria isn’t the same.

Generally, there is no harm in getting dog licks on the hand. Proper handwashing with an antibacterial soap is always a good idea to avoid sharing bacteria you wouldn’t usually be exposed to.

Otherwise, dog licks aren’t harmful, but you may find them too much. If this is the case, be mindful of what may trigger your dog to lick. A few behavioral changes might help reduce how many wet dog kisses your furry friend is giving. 

Have you been out all day or away for some time? Your dog may be licking to request some connection and quality time with you.

Is there construction going on outside or something new inside your home? If so, your dog may feel anxious and need your help calming down.

Is it possible your dog is hungry? You may want to try increasing or changing your dog’s diet and use nutrient-dense dog food. 

Also, consider your reactions when your dog licks your hands. If your dog gets pets and attention every time they lick, this will positively reinforce the licking behavior. Positive reinforcement is dog training 101, but you may unconsciously train your dog to lick for a reward.

Final Thoughts

Generally, dog licking is a positive behavior. As a dog owner, you do not need to worry about hand licking unless it is accompanied by other indications that your dog may need something from you. For the most part, hand licks from your pup are like kisses that make you and your dog feel good!

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