Face licking is a common behaviour in dogs. While some of us thoroughly enjoy these ‘doggy kisses’, others may be more reluctant to receive this attention, especially after having witnessed their dog engulfing some questionable brown substance on a walk. You might assume that this is simply a gesture of affection from your dog. But in fact, there are a wide range of reasons why your dog chooses to lick your face.
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From the day a puppy is born, licking plays a major role in their life. The mother will use her tongue to groom all her pups, in order to clean them and provide comfort. As they grow older, puppies will usually in return start to lick their mother’s muzzle and mouth; this will stimulate her to regurgitate food for them to eat. For wolves (the ancestors of dogs), this is an important step to let the puppies transition from their mother’s milk to solid food. So, when your puppy enthusiastically licks your face, it could be that they’re looking for you to share some of your digested lunch!
The most common assumption for why dogs lick our faces – they want to show their love and affection for us! Although there is no hard evidence to show that this is the case, it is certainly a likely reason. Puppies might start face licking due to instincts but continue to do this to show their affection for you, in the same way their mum would lick them in a soothing way. This behaviour will become further reinforced if you respond positively to the licking. By petting or praising your dog, they learn that licking will lead to attention, and so it will become part of their greeting behaviour.
Having a taste
Another more simplistic reason for why your dog shows enthusiasm for licking your face could be that they enjoy tasting what’s on your face. One lick may provide them with a sample taste of your breakfast, lunch and dinner remnants, left on your lips and mouth! Aside from food, dogs also tend to like the slightly salty taste which our skin has. So if your dog is paying particular attention after your workout, it may be because they see you as a salt lick.
Should I let my dog lick me?
There is no right or wrong answer as to whether or not owners should let dogs lick their face; it really is down to personal choice. For most people, the main concern with face licking is to do with hygiene. After all, you’ll be getting a tongue full of whatever your dog has eaten or licked up on their walks! This is a completely valid reason in itself to not appreciate doggy licks. But for those concerned about the actual harmful potential of being licked, it is fairly unlikely that most bacteria in dog saliva will transmit to you by licking your skin (as long as you wash the area soon afterwards). Mouth to mouth kisses are a rather higher risk!
Just be aware that there is a higher risk of infection when the skin is broken or the immune system compromised. So try to avoid letting them lick if you have wounds or are immunocompromised. Although it doesn’t happen often, on rare occasions, they can transmit life-threatening infectious bacteria. Also, beware if your dog is raw fed, as they are more likely to carry bacteria in their saliva that can infect you.
How do I stop face licking behaviour?
The most effective way is to stop encouraging the behaviour, by ignoring it. Walk away from the room or dog, so they learn that attempting to lick will not gain them any attention. Then when they are laying down calmly, you can give them a small treat to reinforce the behaviour. You could also try redirecting their attention, by offering a toy when they start to lick your face.