Why Do Dogs Lick Everything?

Littlethings writer Phyllis Maddox by Phyllis Maddox
Phyllis is a retired English teacher and a freelance writer for LittleThings.

Every dog owner knows the joyful greeting you receive from your dog when you arrive home. It may involve barking, jumping, and wiggling, or all of these things, though with most dogs it certainly also involves licking.

Of course, this could include your face, your hands, your feet (if you aren’t wearing shoes), the insides of your ears, your hair, and every other spot the dog can gain access to before it’s told to stop!

When your dog licks its own body (its paws, its privates, and even its butt!), another dog’s body, inanimate objects, such as your couch, or even the air, some of the reasons are perfectly normal. However, other licking activity might indicate that it’s time for a visit to your vet.

Not everyone wants to be licked all over by their dog, though you might be surprised when you learn why licking is such a central part of a dog’s identity. Why do dogs lick, when other pets do not? For example, your cat will clean its fur for hours, but it’s not likely to want to lick every inch of your face! Your guinea pig? Horse? Hamster? Goldfish? Lovebird? No way! The dog is born to lick, and there are important reasons why!

Renowned dog behavior expert and author Victoria Stilwell says that licking is a behavior that is very important to a newborn puppy’s survival. “Right from birth, that is how the mother communicates with her new puppies, how she stimulates them to start breathing, and how she cleans them when they are born,” Stilwell says.

Licking is the first expression of love a dog receives!

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face?

Dog licking a woman's face
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Your dog wants to greet you with a wet tongue, right? Let’s consider it a doggy kiss! Dogs use licking with people primarily to express affection.

According to Stilwell, when dogs lick, pleasurable endorphins are released, which brings feelings of pleasure and comfort, much like physical exercise or other stress-relieving activities do for people. More obvious is the fact that you might or could have bacon crumbs or some other delicious food residue on your face, which of course appeals to your dog.

He probably still remembers that one special place where you once dropped some beef by mistake on the kitchen floor! What could be better than food combined with the scent of his favorite person?

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Feet?

Dog licking feet
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

It’s easy to understand why your dog licks your feet when you step out of the shower. The water on your feet and legs is probably a lot tastier and more interesting than your dog’s impersonal water dish!

Another fact is that dogs like the saltiness of our skin. That means they might want to lick us even more when we’re hot and sweaty! The odor of your feet when they’ve been inside of your shoes is also appealing to dogs because it’s the essence of you, intensified!

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Hands?

Dog licking hands
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Some of the same reasons apply here as they do for your feet. Your dog licks your hands because she loves you. When you think about it, you feed her, you pet her, and you bathe her with those loving hands. That makes them especially appealing to a pup.

Why Do Dogs Lick The Air?

Dog licking air
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

This is not very common among dogs. According to Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) Jessica Potosky, of Sanford Animal Hospital in North Carolina, “Dogs have an extra sensory organ in their mouths that gives them a better sense of smell. It’s a little like what snakes have, only not as well developed as a snake’s sense of the air.”

If your dog is licking the air, he’s probably trying to find out more about something he can’t quite identify or that he’s interested in.

Why Do Dogs Lick the Couch?

Dog licking couch
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

The object may have something left on it, like human oils or food. Dr. Potosky says that “sometimes a dog is bored and licks an object for something to do or for comfort, like a baby sucks a pacifier.”

Maybe your dog needs more stimulation. You might give her something to do, something to learn, or something to enjoy. Getting her outside in the sunshine to chase a ball or have a nice walk will exhilarate her.

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Paws?

Dog licking paws
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Dogs have no reason to lick their paws unless something is on them or something is wrong. In many parts of the U.S., beggar lice (Hackelia Virginiana) stick like glue to your socks and shoes when you walk your dog through the fields, or it sticks solidly to your dog’s fur or hair around her legs and paws.

She could also get any number of other things stuck there that she immediately sets out to lick or chew free. If it can find nothing there, it’s a good idea to take your dog to your vet to find out if she has allergies, or if some kind of infection is causing her pain.

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Butts?

Dog licking butt
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Many people have this question because dogs often lick their private parts. It may be that they’re cleaning themselves after going potty outside, or it could be a red flag that your dog needs medical attention. Dogs often need to have their anal glands expressed, which can be done by a good groomer as well as a veterinarian, but it must be a vet if the dog has developed an anal-gland infection.

It might be that your dog has fleas, and her butt is not the only place she has them, but it is a place she can reach to lick or scratch. She could also have a urinary tract infection. It’s best to go to the vet and get to the bottom of your dog’s licking instead of waiting and wondering about it and possibly allowing your dog to get an even greater infection.

Why Do Dogs Lick Each Other?

Dog licking another dog
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Dogs may lick each other as a social grooming act, says Dr. Potosky. We shake hands and hug, and dogs lick. Pooches learn early in life to lick their mothers around the mouth. This may be a sign of submission to the one providing the food. Many times in packs of dogs, those in submission to the leader will lick him. With their owners, dogs will show submission after they’ve been scolded, licking their pet parents to “make up.”

There are times that a dog may lick another dog’s wounds, and there are some people who believe that dogs have healing bacteria in their mouths that help wounds. According to Dr. Potosky, this is not true. Dogs licking others’ wounds is never good, as it just causes more infection for the dog with the wound and possibly also for the one licking him!

How Can I Stop My Dog From Licking So Much?

Woman playing fetch with dog
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

If your dog’s licking you bothers you, you can ignore this attention-seeking behavior, or you can redirect him to something else, like a favorite toy. If he seems to be excessively licking himself or licking an object, and there is no apparent reason for it, you need to take him to a specialist who does know how to get the answer!

As you can see, there are many reasons dogs lick. Some of them are happy results of being a dog and some of them are cause for alarm and action on your part. Please share this article with your dog-loving friends to clarify when it is important to act and get help for your dog, and when you can just enjoy — or modify — his licking!