READERS QUESTIONS: “Why does my dog lick my hand?”
READERS QUESTIONS: "Why does my dog lick my hand?"
This is one of the most asked questions from dog owners, so we thought we'd publish the opinions of some of the leaders in canine psychology and try to get to the bottom of it!
Firstly, it's generally agreed that unless the licking is obsessive, or your dog is licking themselves in one place continually, then it's usually quite normal behaviour.
Secondly, almost everyone agrees that a principle reason our dogs lick our hands is... because they like the taste!
Pretty obvious when you think about it!
After all, dog's use their mouths the way we use our hands - they explore their surroundings via feedback from their mouths.
"But why do they lick or eat things that don't taste good?"
Despite their mouths being their primary source of tactile feedback, they actually don't have a very sophisticated sense of taste.
Whilst we have about 8,900 tastebuds, dogs have fewer than 1,700 - that explains why they don't mind licking the bin from time to time!
OK, let's see what our 8 experts have to say about licking:
1) VICTORIA STILLWELL
Internationally Renowned Dog Trainer, & Host of "It's Me or the Dog"
"Right from birth, that is how the mother communicates with her new puppies...
This is how she stimulates them to start breathing and how she cleans them when they are born, so it's very important to the survival of puppies.
In the wild and in domestic dogs, you'll find they will lick around the mother's mouth as newborns and puppies still retain that instinct.
It's also sort of a submissive gesture — the more subordinate members of a pack will lick the more dominant members and that's important in maintaining pack harmony."
EDITOR'S NOTE: We know the 'submissive theory' is controversial - this is just Victoria's opinion.
2) Dr. Kathryn Primm
Vet, owner of Applebrook Animal Hospital & author & professional speaker
"In the non-verbal animal kingdom, mutual grooming is a sign of affection that strengthens family and pack bonds.
It's mainly about social bonding. It's an act shared between parents, offspring and other family members.
The act of licking and being licked stimulates a release of positive hormones for dogs. Studies have shown that for many species, social grooming stimulates oxytocin (a hormone associated with bonding and emotional attachment).
So your dog might be saying, “I love and need you.
3) CESAR MILLAN
Dog Psychologist, & Host of "Cesar to the Rescue"
"Dog saliva has enzymes that kill off bacteria, and when a dog licks himself, it helps to get rid of dead tissue and clean dirt from wounds...
Some dogs, however, just can’t stop themselves and may actually reopen wounds or cause other kinds of harm through excessive licking.
If you notice that your dog is licking the same object or area over and over or that they seem to be doing so whenever they are scared or nervous, it might be time to seek medical help.
While licking can be a healthy stress reliever, obsessive licking merely reinforces anxiety and makes the problem worse."
4) Dr Patty Khuly
Practising Vet in Miami, blogger and pet journalist
"Licking may be a way of playing...
Licking may actually be a way of playing.
Many dogs who’s owners report as engaging in excessive licking behavior may be substituting their tongue for their teeth in the reserved dog’s version of a raucous play-fight."
So it's a way of interacting with another dog, without the risk of injury.
5) CUREJOY MAGAZINE
Respected health magazine
"Just as how dogs identify you by your distinctive odor, they can also clearly recognize you through the taste of your skin.
Based on the taste of the salts released from the pores of your skin when you sweat, they are able to recognize and recall who you are. Once they lick and register those taste markers for different people in their minds, they can accurately identify who each one is and reassert their memories with every fresh bout of licking. Some dogs also lick because they like the salty taste of your skin."
6) DAVID DILMORE
Medial Director, Banfield Pet Hospital
"Dogs have 5 different taste receptors on their tongue; these include both a salt taste receptor and an acid taste receptor...
Hence it is likely that the dog is tasting and responding to either or both the sodium and/or the acid sensation of sweat.
This is clearly a pleasurable reaction for the dog, just as tasting something sweet like candy is a pleasurable reaction for most humans. It is not an indication of something lacking in the dog food."
7) Lukasz Gielczynski
Dog Trainer, expert, & writer
"When is the last time you corrected any dog for licking? The answer that nearly all owners have is never!
Due to a obvious language barrier, dogs learn through experiences.
When teaching animals, we use treats to compliment the desired behavior. They don’t quit understand the word “sit” but they know a treat is right around the corner if they actually “sit”.
Humans are flabbergasted when their fluffy best friends express their love for us. We smile, giggle, give treats, and express clean signs of thank you.
This is an invitation to licking because in the dogs mind, licking has never been a negative thing. Over time this can turn into an excessive and undesirable behavior that can be tricky to tame."
8) ANIMAL FRIENDS TEAM
Resident Dog Expert
"They may just be using their tongue to get your attention...
Dogs are intelligent animals and they may just be using their tongue to get your attention.
If you’re noticing that your pet turns to lick you when they’re hungry or want to play, it could be because you’ve unintentionally taught them that licking is a good way to get your undivided attention."
Don't get carried away though...
After all this, it might seem that a dog-lick is actually good for you.
After all, haven't you heard that a dog's saliva is antibacterial? So next time you cut yourself, should you go see your dog instead of a doctor?
Tori Holmes, from Barkpost.com, doesn't think that's such a good idea.
"Although both dog and human mouths have antibacterial properties that can aid in the healing of cuts and sores, don’t get any ideas about having your dog lick your wounds.
"When a dog licks a human wound, there is a chance that bacteria called Pasteurella can be spread. Pasteurella can be treated with antibiotics, which is great, but it can also open the door to other more serious infections to develop."
Yuk! Maybe a plaster and some Savlon is the right idea after all.