An extremely happy feeling for a dog owner is when as you enter the home your dog comes running to you, barking vociferously, excitedly wagging its tail and starts licking you. But is every type of dog licking a sign of affection? What kind of licking should be allowed and what should be curtailed? Let’s understand all about dog licking behaviour including do’s and don’ts.
Licking activity in dogs releases pleasure stoking hormones called endorphins. A dog licking you may purely be a sign of affection and an expression of a dog’s happy feelings.
Related Article: Does your dog love you?
As is widely known, dog’s saliva contains enzymes which can kill off certain bacteria. That is the reason why they lick their injuries which helps prevent any bacterial infection. Licking also helps clean any dirt from the wounds and to get rid of any dead tissue. You should consult your Vet in case any such licking over a particular area is leading to soreness or rashes.
A dog can lick you to just seek your attention or to communicate something. Take a look around if your dog is licking you with intensity to figure out the cause. Maybe the dog is hungry or wants some water.
Related Article: Body language of dogs
Sometimes dogs can just pick up a habit of licking you without any possible reason. In case you have always encouraged your dog’s licking, it has learnt that as a positive behaviour. A good way to teach your dog not to do that is to leave the room when he starts licking you. This sends a message that when he starts licking, the petting would stop and you will walk away without giving him any attention.
Mother dog licks puppies just after they are born in order to stimulate breathing on their own. Many puppies may never breathe if not for this behaviour. This is a way for the mother to care for their young and groom them into a new life.
When a dog licks another dog’s face, it is a symbolic gesture of appeasement and submission. By licking, the dog is trying to communicate that he is not a threat but a harmless friend.
Sometimes licking things or oneself is a manifestation of stress or separation anxiety by the dog. They would either lick themselves to the point of self-injury or start licking any particular object like a carpet or any piece of furniture. Sometimes such licking can purely be because of remnants of food on that object. But if such obsessive licking is persistent then one should consult a Vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Should you allow your dog to lick you?
As per a scientific study, only 16% of the bacteria in a dog’s mouth are common with those in the human mouth. Rest 84% are non-human bacteria which humans may not be meant to tolerate or fight. Some of such bacteria are zoonotic which essentially means that those to humans will cause disease or infection. Some of such zoonotic bacteria are E.Coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium etc.
A natural question is then should you allow your dog to lick you or children? A key answer to that question is the hygiene that you make your dog practice and the area that the dog is licking. Former US President, Barack Obama once remarked about the two dogs he kept at White House “I still don’t let Sunny and Bo lick me, because when I walk them on the side lawn, some of the things I see them picking up and chewing on, I don’t want that, man.” Dogs sometimes even taste their own poo and their mouth can get contaminated by hookworms or roundworms. Such contaminations can spread to a human especially through vulnerable zones like the human mouth, nose or the eyes. You can train your dog not to lick these body parts. Also regular deworming and required vaccination is paramount.
Related Article: Oral hygiene for dogs. Worth caring for?
Understand your dog’s body language
A dog’s brain releases dopamine when he is the company of his human. Your dog certainly loves you and the licking is just a manifestation of his happiness. You may train your dog to display its happiness by doing a high five instead of licking. Dogs may not speak our language but their body language provides tremendous clues if read carefully.