Why do dogs lick people?

Dogs love to lick people, but we might not always know why. Here are some explanations for what your dog might be trying to communicate...

Why is it that all dogs seem to LOVE licking people? Whether a greeting or an apology – it seems to be one of the main ways they communicate.


Dogs lick people to communicate but not all licks mean the same thing!

Licking can be a sign of greeting. A lick upon your return may be a way of saying, “Hello, I’m super happy you are home!” or “Hey, check out the new hole I’ve chewed in your slippers!”

Whether they are around other dogs or people, dogs also lick those to whom they would show respect and submission and acknowledge a hierarchy - a few licks could be your dog letting you know they are pledging continued loyalty to you.

Dinner time!

When young pups reach that clumsy age – weaned but still not quite ready for biscuits – they lick their mother’s mouth to let her know that they are hungry. At this stage, puppies are not unlike baby birds. In the wild, mum will likely have to leave the pups to find food. When puppies lick her mouth, she will regurgitate whatever she’s eaten and offer it to her young – not the nicest thing to think about we know! When dog’s lick people, particularly about the mouth, what we may think of as a kiss may actually be a request for food.


Canines use their tongue to acquaint themselves with their surroundings or perhaps just a new ‘thing’. It is just another way they experience and explore the world. This exploration may be environmental or checking out new people or animals. We’ve all met dogs for the first time, offered a hand for them to sniff and found our hands licked in return.

Even if you’ve had a dog for years, you may have touched or brought home some new thing or smell that makes your dog curious – which tends to mean you get the “customs inspection” when you get home!


Anyone who is licked by a dog for the first time can find it a ticklish or amusing experience. If a dog figures that licking people brings them pleasure and earns them a scratch behind the ears, he may link the two.

So when you’re sitting at home catching up on your favourite TV show one thing you’re not doing is playing with your furry friend - dogs can lick people to remind them of these oversights.


For as long as we can remember, in human and dog history, wise folk and healers noticed that dogs licked their own wounds as well as those of people. From the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome all the way through to the Middle Ages in Europe, dogs were trained to lick wounds as a mode of healing.

Fortunately these days we have antibiotics but it is still common for a minor graze to receive your dog's attention!

Affection… or approval?

Canine “kisses” likely signal things other than love. Dogs lick people during ‘bonding’ activities to show that they like them. An example would be during a good scratch – you’ll know you found the desired spot because they may lick your arm or hand signaling satisfaction!

So, is your dog a licker? Head on over to our Facebook page and share your dog licking stories with us!