All dog parents know that when they fall asleep on the couch, it is only a matter of time before “slurrrrp!” and you’ve got your face covered with a wet doggy tongue.
And while some dogs will lick you to say “hi” or to share their excitement when you step in the door, others constantly lick you, and then you realize they are obviously grooming you.
If you’ve ever wondered why your dog gives you a tongue bath every once in a while, this blog post is for you! Here are all the reasons why your dog grooms you.
1. To Show Love and Affection
Mother dogs groom their pups as soon as they are born, and dogs continue to groom other dogs as well as any member of their pack. This practice will often spill over to human owners for this same reason, as it is a dog’s way of saying that you are a member of his or her pack, and the grooming is simply to communicate affection and acceptance.
Just like you love your dog, it loves you back and will lick you to show it.
2. To Communicate With You
Dogs, much like babies, cannot communicate with you directly. Since they cannot ‘talk’ to you, they largely communicate through licking. When your dog is grooming you, it’s like a crying baby: look around and see if something could be wrong.
For example, you may have forgotten to refill their water bowl and they are thirsty.
Your dog could also be hungry or trying to draw your attention to something. Dogs also do a lot of grooming when they are trying to get you to participate in an activity, for example, taking a walk or when they would like you to play with them.
The next time your dog grooms you continuously, you may want to have a look around to ensure they are not hungry, thirsty, or uncomfortable in other ways.
Furthermore, dogs have such an acute sense of smell that they can tell when their owner is pregnant or has a disease like cancer even before their dog parent knows. During such periods your dog will likely become extra loving and extra protective by slobbering you with dog kisses.
Grooming is their way of communicating their knowledge to you. Maybe your dog is licking you more to let you know you have a bun in the oven.
3. To Comfort You
Dogs are sensitive to human emotions. They are known to be highly attuned to their owner’s feelings. By combining their smell, sight, and hearing, your furry friend can tell what mood you’re in.
Furthermore, your dog is likely to mimic your mood.
For instance, when you’re excited, your dog gets excited with you and shows it by slurping your face and playing around. In the same way, when a dog senses the distress of its owner, it will try to offer its owner comfort by grooming them. The next time you’re stressed and your dog curls up next to you and grooms you, know that it’s their way of telling you that it’s going to be okay.
4. You Taste Good to Your Dog
If you’re wondering why your dog keeps licking you the answer could be as simple as the dog likes how you taste. This may sound a bit puzzling but the sweat we naturally release onto our skin is appealing to dogs.
That is why your dog may tend to groom you more than usual just before you take a bath or on hot days when you’re sweating more than usual. (This is why dogs lick legs after running or exercising)
Other than that, dogs have such a powerful sense of smell that they can detect remnants of food particles that the naked eye cannot see. The food particles are what your dog is trying to lick off you especially when they are licking your hands and mouth area.
It may come as a surprise to you that even after you wash your hands and mouth after eating, a lot of microscopic remnants of food are still present. And no dog can turn down a healthy slurp of some human food!
Neoteny is when the physiological development of an adult organism is delayed. Simply put, your dog may have reached adulthood but will still retain the characteristics it had as a puppy. As puppies, dogs are licked by their mothers as a show of affection.
As mentioned before, they will in turn lick their owners to express love. They may grow into adulthood but still retain this habit and groom you just like they did as puppies.
6. They Are Cleaning You
Dogs are said to have a sense of smell that is between 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than humans. Your dog can smell the scent of sweat on your body and will lick you in an attempt to clean it off.
Dog parents may notice that licking is more rampant after a workout or just before taking a shower. Your dog is just trying to look out for your cleanliness because dogs lick themselves to groom. They understand that being clean is important to health and respond by licking both themselves and their fellow pack members.
7. It Is a Stress Relief Strategy
When your dog gets a little down in the dumps, licking you is an effective strategy to feel better. This is because licking you releases the feel-good hormone called oxytocin.
Oxytocin has many benefits, one of which is reducing stress. When we feel stressed, our bodies release cortisol, which can lead to a number of health problems. Oxytocin helps to offset the effects of cortisol by reducing stress and anxiety.
In addition, oxytocin has been shown to boost mood, reduce blood pressure, and promote healing.
Dogs are also prone to negative emotions like fear and anxiety and grooming their owners is a natural way for the dog to get the emotional support it needs. Sometimes your dog is licking you because they want to feel better.
8. As a Show of Submission
Dogs are pack animals and will show deference to their pack leader. Dogs have a myriad of ways of showing their submission to you. This includes actions like avoiding direct eye contact and rolling over on their backs and exposing their tummy to you.
Grooming is another, less obvious way of showing submission.
This is especially true if your dog does it alongside other acts of submission. When your dog is grooming you it could be a sign they are submitting because they recognize you as the pack leader.
9. Repeating a Behavior That Has Been Previously Rewarded
Positive reinforcement is a great motivator for behavior in a dog. Like the famous Pavlov’s dog, when you use positive reinforcement, a dog will easily adopt a habit. When you pet your dog, speak nicely to it or even give it a treat when it grooms you, the dog will take this as positive reinforcement even though this was not your intention.
This will make the dog develop a habit of grooming you in the hope of getting rewarded. This could be the case when your dog grooms you mostly at certain times of the day because they have made it a habit.
10. For Emotional Connection
It is common practice for animals to groom each other as a way of social bonding. Animals in a herd tend to groom each other to establish a sense of community and emotional connection.
Dogs are no different. They will groom you as a way of bonding with you, or when they miss you when you leave for extended periods. For example, your dog will groom you more when you return from a vacation or even from a day at the office.
This is a way of communicating that they miss you and doubles as a greeting.
11. It’s a Natural Action
Dogs grooming their owners is a natural, learned behavior. That is how they communicate and show affection among each other and they are simply extending it to you. Grooming is as natural to a dog as purring is to cats.
12. To Help You Heal
Here’s a fun fact! Dog saliva contains antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. This is why dogs often lick their wounds. If you ever get a cut or have an open wound, your dog will likely try to groom the area in an attempt to help you heal.
Moreover, when your dog licks your wounds, they clean that area and remove dirt, hastening your healing process. Despite this fact, it is not recommended to allow your dog to lick your wounds to make them better. An antiseptic and a visit to the hospital are safer since dog saliva also contains bacteria, which would be introduced to your wound when they lick it.
It is normal for your dog to groom you. However, if the frequency increases, have a look around and find out what they are trying to communicate. Some grooming is normal, but obsessive grooming might indicate a deeper behavioral or physical problem.
Otherwise, be content in the knowledge that your dog loves you, and just enjoy the slurps!