What Does It Mean When Your Dog Licks You?

Many people think of affectionate licks from their dogs as doggie kisses, while others recoil at the sensation. Experts have several theories, positive and negative, about what makes dogs lick.

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Dog licking owners face
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Puppies

Girl (8-9) crouching in park hugging dog
Young girl hugging her dog
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Puppies learn to lick from their mothers, who lick them to clean them and encourage digestion. Licking also helps bond a mother dog to her pups, according to animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman at Pet Place.

Positive Licking

Dog licking boy (6-7 tears) sitting in car, close-up
Boy sitting in car seat being licked by family dog
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Sometimes dogs lick to express affection toward someone they respect, such as a human owner. Animal Planet dog trainer Victoria Stilwell states that dogs also like the salty taste of their humans' skin.

Negative Licking

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Owner not amused by dog licking her face
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Other times, licking is a naughty behavior for a dog. Some dogs, who like being the center of attention, lick their humans to express dominance. Dodman states that they notice that it makes humans more animated, either because they like it, or they start shooing the dog away.

Rewarded Behavior

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Samoyed Bolan dog licking face of owner
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Humans may unintentionally train their dogs to lick by rewarding the behavior with affection, according to Dodman. In other words, when dogs lick, humans, thinking that licks are kisses, pet the dog, which the dog interprets as a reward.