Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face?

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified
By Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified on Dec. 19, 2023
russell terrier licking woman's face

It is a universal curiosity—"Why does my dog lick my face?”

No one knows with certainty why dogs lick you. There are many well-established theories based on understanding of dog behavior.

“I love you.”

“You’re tasty.”

“I’m anxious.”

If dogs could talk, we may hear these and other reasons why dogs lick us.

Licking raises curious speculation. Not all dogs enjoy licking faces and they can be quite uncomfortable with “giving kisses.” If we look at the behavior from different angles, it can provide information about what’s behind a good old-fashioned tongue bath from your pup and why dogs like to lick us.

Why Does My Dog Lick Me So Much?

Dog Licking Is an Instinctual Behavior

Wolf and wild dog cubs lick their mother’s face to stimulate food delivery through regurgitation. Domestic pups will lick their moms’ muzzles to signal they are hungry.

When kissing a human, dogs are communicating that they are friendly and non-threatening.

Puppies continue this behavior of licking faces with humans who typically react with attention, affection, and play. These outcomes teach puppies that licking their humans continues to work as a behavior that leads to good things.

Dog Licking Is a Sign of Affection

People love to label face licking as “kissing.” This leads to the notion that licking is a sign of affection. This may be more about appeasement than love, but one can follow the other.

If a dog licks another dog’s face, they’re indicating their intention. It’s a gentle approach designed to get a gentle response by communicating that they are non-threatening.  

When kissing a human, dogs are communicating that they are friendly and non-threatening as well. Once the pet parent responds with laughing, petting, playing, or attention, it creates a positive emotional response in the puppy. People typically label this as love.

Dog Licking Is an Attention-Seeking Behavior

When dogs lick us, the behavior gets our attention. The response can be one of joy or one of displeasure. Because dogs have a difficult time with the nuances of positive and negative feedback, it typically all equates to attention.

Licking must be taken in context and considered together with other body language. For example, if your dog wakes up from a long nap and stretches out, then bounds over and starts licking your face while you are on a Zoom call, they may be ready to play.

Dog Licking Is an Attempt To Get Space

If your dog is licking a person (child or adult), moving their head forward, has dilated pupils, a tucked tail, or is alternating between forceful licking (licking that looks and feels like there is some pressure behind it) and their head or body turning away, it’s a sign that your dog is licking to get them to move away.

The term “kiss to dismiss” was coined by Jennifer Shryock, a certified dog behavior consultant specializing in kids and dogs, for the kind of licking described above.

Pet parents should be aware of potentially stressful situations—like interacting with very young children or being overwhelmed by new people. They should intervene, gently calling the dog away or removing the child or adult.

Dog Licking Is a Stress-Reliever

If your dog struggles with stress or anxiety, you may see periods of continuous licking. They may choose a specific texture like a rug or a couch. They may lick you or themselves more often. The licking may be a little difficult to interrupt because it’s so intentional.

Licking promotes endorphin release, leaving the dog feeling more at ease. If your dog licks to calm themselves down, give them a LickiMat® or LickiMat® Wobbler Bowl loaded up with wet dog food, peanut butter, or yogurt.

Dog Licking Is Their Way of Grooming

Dogs use their tongues to groom everything—either directly or by licking a paw and rubbing places they can’t get with their tongue, like their eyes. This behavior starts early in life, when moms lick their pups to stimulate bowel and bladder movement, and to clean their young.

When dogs groom themselves or each other, they are drawn to a scent like ear wax or blood. They either like the taste or find it offensive, and lick to eliminate it.

Dogs Lick Because They Like Your Taste

People’s faces—especially mouths—are full of scents, bacteria, food particles, and other interesting contaminants.  A human face is a playground for a dog’s nose and tongue.

Human eyes produce tears, our skin may be salty from sweat, and our mouths contain leftovers from our last meal. These things make faces very attractive to a dog.

Dogs Lick Because They Are Hungry

While dogs aren’t expecting you to regurgitate food, they could be licking you to get your attention and alert you that it’s time for snacks.

Is It Safe for Dogs to Lick My Face?

Dogs licking our faces is a low-risk event. A dog’s mouth contains germs called Capnocytophaga. These germs are found in human mouths too and typically do not pose a threat. Even when exposed through a bite or scratch, the risk of illness is low.

If you’re upset, there’s a chance your dog will pick up on it. Licking can be a soothing behavior for pups.

However, if you have an open wound and a compromised immune system, are taking certain medications, or are allergic to animal saliva, the risk of infection or allergic reaction caused by being licked could be higher.

If you are unsure about any exposure to a dog’s saliva, it’s safest to seek medical attention.

A Dog Licked My Face. What Should I Do?

If you have been licked and feel uncomfortable with the dog licking, you can wash up with warm water and antibacterial soap. If you are allergic to dogs, be sure to wash off any saliva or fur.

To discourage dogs from licking our faces, consider training your dog to understand a cue that lets the dog know when to stop, or give them a different target, such as your hands.


Why do dogs lick your face when you cry?

Tears are droplets that contain more than just saline. The popular thought is saltiness causes a dog to lick our face during and after crying.

Because emotional tears also contain additional hormones and proteins, your dog could smell those components and want to lick them up.  The drive to do so may come from wanting to taste what they smelled or to clean the area, so the scent is no longer present. 

Studies show that dogs’ emotional states sync with their pet parents. If you’re upset, there’s a chance your dog will pick up on it. Licking can be a soothing behavior for pups. They can use it to soothe you—which in turn soothes them.

Why do dogs lick your face in the morning?

Likely reasons include the number of bacteria that accumulate in your mouth, the scent of your morning breath, your dog is ready for breakfast, or they are just ready for you to get up.

Why do dogs lick your face and ears?

Both areas are full of bacteria, skin cells, perspiration, and food particles. If it smells good, then licking follows.

If you laugh and giggle as a result, your dog learns that their behavior has a positive outcome. They will lick your face and ears more in the future to engage

Featured Image:Evrymmnt/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified


Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

Professional Trainer

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