All dog owners have been licked by their beloved pets at some stage. It’s an accepted part of owning a pooch, isn’t it?
Even so, if you’re reading an article entitled Why does my dog lick my hands? you must be wondering about it, so we’ll dive into the world of dog behavior to find out the reasons.
There’s no quick or simple answer, and it opens up some issues that will divide opinions. Nevertheless, rather than shying away from these, we need to talk about them because it concerns our health, and in some cases, our survival.
Does this sound too dramatic? Do you think we’re going overboard? Then read on to discover the truth! We’ll cover all the most common reasons why dogs like licking hands.
Why Does My Dog Keep Licking My Hands?
Let’s kick off by acknowledging that licking comes naturally to dogs. If you watch any pack of wild dogs, they will greet each other with whines, growls, panting, and a lot of licking. So, part of the reason your dog licks your hand is that you are part of the pack!
From a human perspective, we see the dog as family members. We tend to treat them as if they are human. However, they are still animals and will display animal behavior.
But why do dogs like licking humans?
Their paws are not as versatile as human arms and hands, so their mouths play a much greater role in understanding the world around them. We also have the advantage of speech, which they do not. So, once again, they use body language, as well as their tongues, to communicate with us.
What’s the first thing most people do when they meet a dog for the first time? They extend a hand for the dog to sniff. It signals our intention that we are harmless and gives the dog time to take in our scent and make a judgment as to whether it trusts us or not. You usually know if the dog has accepted you because it starts to lick your hand.
It’s a universally accepted sign of the extraordinary bond between humans and dogs, a relationship that stretches back for thousands of years.
Why does my dog lick my hands? It’s a greeting and a sign of submission.
Why Does My Dog Lick My Hands So Much?
Note the subtle change here? The addition of ‘so much‘ suggests that this could be a sign of excessive licking! Compulsive licking, whether it’s aimed at you or the dog is licking itself all the time, is a sign that your doggie friend is unhappy.
The usual culprits are stress, fear, or pain, so you need to take some time to figure out what is bothering your pet. When they lick and scratch at a particular spot on their body, it may indicate that they have a wound, infection, a flea bite, or an allergic reaction. It could be any or all of these, as one often leads to another!
However, this is unlikely to make them lick your hands obsessively. Your pooch is either trying to tell you that they are scared or in pain, or it may even be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
OCD in canines is rare but is almost always associated with prolonged periods of stress and anxiety. In many cases, separation anxiety is the root cause, as dogs are social animals who enjoy spending time with their pack members, which is you and your family.
Obsessive licking could be your dog’s way of telling you that they missed you. If this licking behavior is severe and has become a problem, then you would be advised to seek help from an animal behaviorist.
Either way, you need to take time to discover what’s really bothering your pooch. It could be fear or anxiety, it may be pain, or it might even be that they have been lonely.
Why does my dog lick my hands? Because it misses you, it’s in pain, or it’s afraid!
Why Do Dogs Lick Your Hand when You Pet Them?
Most dogs love being petted. They love the physical feeling and the attention you are paying them. You can see this from their expression, the wagging tail, and sometimes that back leg twitching like crazy!
Dogs love being loved. And most breeds have a great capacity for affection. When you pet them, you use your hand, which is the thing they are most familiar with about you apart from your face. Think about it: you feed them with your hands, toss them a treat, groom them, brush their teeth, clean their ears, bathe them, and throw their favorite toy, all with your hands. And then you use those same hands to stroke and pet them. Of course they’re going to lick them!
Also, when they lick you, it is thought to release endorphins, like dopamine. These hormones help the dog to feel calm and happy, so it’s no great surprise that they like to do this.
Why does my dog lick my hands? It’s a sign of affection, and it makes them feel good!
Why Does My Dog Lick My Face And Hands?
It could be a learned habit. We’ve mentioned that submissive dogs will lick those higher in the pecking order, especially the pack leader, but a lot of licking happens during puppyhood that’s more to do with the mother interacting with her litter.
When they are born, she will lick them clean, which also stimulates the blood flow and the urge to urinate and defecate. Licking also strengthens the bond between the mother and her pups, as well as comforting them when they are distressed.
This close connection with the mom is essential for the pup’s successful development, which is why pups should never leave the litter before they are eight weeks old. All reputable breeders keep their pups at least until this stage and often hang onto them until they are ten or twelve weeks old, just to be certain that this natural process is fully completed.
When we observe packs of wild dogs, we see that pups lick at the mother’s mouth when she returns with food once the youngsters are weaned onto solid food. This causes a reflex action that makes the mother regurgitate the food she has gathered for her brood.
Your pooch frequently sees you pushing food into your face, so they might lick you because they want some. Yes, it’s gross, but your dog could be mimicking puppy behavior to get you to throw up some yummy morsels of food. Yuck.
Of course, it could be that you have traces of food around your chops, and your dog is simply getting a taste. Likewise, with your hands, perhaps you’ve been eating chips or snacks and have residue on your fingers. Even if you haven’t been snacking, you may have slightly salty skin, particularly if it’s hot outside or you’ve been exercising.
Alternatively, this licking behavior could serve no real purpose but is just a way of showing that you have replaced its mom.
Why does my dog lick my hands? It’s just being a puppy, and you have taken over as mom. Or maybe because you taste salty.
Why Does My Dog Lick Lotion Off My Hands?
Because it has an interesting taste, and it smells good!
A dog’s sense of smell is truly amazing, between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than our own. So, when you smother your hands and body in a lotion made from all kinds of exotic fruits, herbs, minerals, and perfumes, your dog has a sensory overload.
That stuff all over your hands smells so inviting that they can’t resist it, and they’ll want to have a taste.
Now, we know that however delicious these lotions and creams smell, they’re probably going to taste pretty nasty. Dogs don’t realize this, but their taste buds aren’t as well-developed as ours, despite their wonderful sense of smell!
The best advice here is to try to avoid letting them lick your hands after you apply lotion. For one thing, you’ll need to wash your hands (more on this below), which will remove some of the lotion and stop it from doing its work. Second, many of these cosmetics contain substances that could make your dog sick.
Humectants and emollients, used for moisturizing the skin, become oily liquids when heated by your dog’s insides, sometimes resulting in vomiting and diarrhea.
Other hidden dangers include:
We could go into the hazards of all these chemicals, but that would make for a lengthy and dull article. Needless to say, some of these chemicals will make your dog sick, while others (especially the final two on the list) can be fatal, even in small amounts, as they can cause heart and kidney failure.
These are just a few examples of what is hidden inside lotions that we rub into our hands. It’s in your dog’s best interest to stop them from licking your hands once you’ve applied them!
Why does my dog lick my hands? Because they smell good!
Why Does My Dog Lick My Hands When I Cry?
Most dogs are sensitive to our moods and emotions, some breeds more than others. They can usually detect even subtle changes and will react accordingly. When you blow a fuse and start stomping around the house yelling because the dishwasher flooded the kitchen (again), your dog will most likely head for its bed or a dark corner.
When you’re enjoying a fun-filled evening with friends or family, and there’s laughter and smiles, you might notice your dog wandering around, tail wagging happily as he joins in the merriment.
But if your furry friend notices that you are unhappy, they want to comfort you. As they can’t very well come up and say, ‘Hey, why are you so sad? Everything will be fine!’ they will do what they do best, and that’s to snuggle up by your side and lick your hands or your face.
Whatever the cause of your tears, this will surely make you feel better on some level. Even if it does make the tears flow faster!
Why does my dog lick my hands? Because it wants to make you happy.
Should I Let My Dog Lick My Hands?
In short, it’s not a good idea. In reality, they’re going to anyway!
Let’s look at this in more detail.
Many dog owners know that their beloved pooch can be a disgusting creature at times. How many of us have witnessed them eating poop, whether their own or that belonging to any number of beasts? They are also well-known for drinking from the toilet bowl.
And if you’re not aware of exactly how they clean themselves, then you’ve not been paying attention!
Pups can also pick up intestinal worms from the mother while in utero or through her milk when nursing. All reputable breeders will do their best to get rid of these, but it’s up to you to continue the treatment.
Opinions vary as to how likely it is that these parasites will be passed on to you or your family, but there is a definite risk.
But, I’ve seen on the Web that dogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans!
This is most emphatically not true and should be ignored.
Likewise, the absurd notion that dog saliva has healing properties. It doesn’t.
In fairness, our own mouths harbor many types of bacteria, but we’re used to these. Dogs have the added danger of carrying parasites, as well as some very nasty bacteria that can make us seriously ill.
Here are some of the bacteria that your dog may pass on to you when it licks you:
This list might seem alarming, but don’t panic! The likelihood of actually getting sick through these is very low. However, anyone with a weak or compromised immune system has a significantly increased risk. It’s also never a good idea to allow your dog to lick any open wounds.
So, if you are healthy and have a good immune system, then it’s relatively safe for your dog to lick your hand. It is never a good idea to allow them to lick your face, especially around the mouth.
Although rare, there have been cases where pet owners have become severely ill after being licked (or bitten) by their dogs. Since 1976, there have been around 200 cases of Capnocytophaga canimorsus. This bacteria is present in dogs but can be absorbed by humans through cuts, pimples, or the mucus membrane. It particularly affects people who have had their spleen removed, those with a compromised immune system, or anyone who has a history of alcohol abuse. However, in one of the most recent cases, the victim wasn’t in any of these categories. He suffered multi-organ failure, gangrene in the extremities, and blood supply to the brain and spleen was compromised. He died 16 days after being treated with powerful antibiotics that did nothing to stop the infection.
Children and young babies are especially at risk of picking up bacteria from dog licks, and the suggestion that allowing dogs to lick their hands and faces strengthens their immune system is ridiculous. Babies as young as two weeks old have ended up on life-support in ICU and have tragically died of salmonella or other avoidable diseases simply because parents allowed dogs to lick them.
We could stretch the point further and say that dogs and kids should never share food, whether it’s a burger or an ice cream cone. There will be people who scoff at this, but it’s a gamble nevertheless, and one that responsible parents who value their kid’s health would not be prepared to make.
When your dog does lick you, it is always best to wash your hands thoroughly soon afterward and try to avoid touching your face or mouth.
How Do I Stop My Dog Licking Me?
You probably don’t want to stop this behavior completely, but it’s always good to have things under control if licking has become a nuisance. The best way to do this is through training using positive reinforcement. Never get cross with your pet dog for licking, whatever is driving them to act this way.
If it’s a simple sign of submission or affection, then shouting or using harsh words will confuse and upset them. And if your dog is suffering from anxiety or is in pain, your anger will only add to the issue. It’s always better to try and discover why your dog is doing this. As we saw, excessive licking could be a sign of health problems.
Once you have ruled out the possibility of OCD, sickness, injury, or anxiety, you need to tackle the problem.
If you want your dog to stop licking you, here are a few things to try:
•Teach them a new greeting – train your dog to give their paw instead of licking.
•Ignore your dog when they lick you – a difficult one, admittedly, but licking usually provokes a reaction from you, so you pay attention to the dog. They will soon learn that licking doesn’t cause a reaction and will gradually stop. If they lick you, say ‘no’ firmly but softly and walk away.
•Divert their attention – when they start licking you, place a toy in their mouth to distract them.
•Teach them to sit or lay down before you pet them – while it may not necessarily stop them from licking straight away, it puts you in control of the situation and creates boundaries. Your dog will learn that you won’t pet them unless they are sitting or laying down and that you will stop petting them if they lick.
•Take them out for some exercise – it could be that they just want some attention because they are bored. A good long walk or a run or even energetic playtime in the yard will burn off some of that excess energy and stimulate their mind.
As a very last resort, you could try putting a non-toxic bitter spray on your hand. It might seem a bit cruel, but it is completely harmless and should do the trick.
What To Take Away
Many pet parents are fine with a bit of slobber when their beloved pooch gives them a kiss, especially if it’s a few licks on the hand. Some are okay with kisses on the face or even on the lips.
We’ve looked at the reasons dogs like to lick our hands, as well as our faces, and most seem reasonable enough. And we’ve highlighted the risks, which, though small, can result in serious health problems or even death.
To be on the safe side, anyone that falls into these categories needs to be particularly careful:
•Anyone recovering from serious illness
•Anyone with open sores, pimples, or cuts and grazes on their face or hands
Babies are particularly at risk as their immune system is not fully developed. Experts agree that you should never let a dog lick a baby, whether it’s on the hands or the face!
In the end, it’s up to you, of course. But now you know the facts. For the majority of people, dog licking is no big deal, and that’s fine. Most people won’t get sick, as their immune system can cope with the six hundred or so different types of bacteria in dog saliva.
Even so, a bit of extra care and hygiene won’t hurt. Washing your hands soon after being licked will reduce any risk to zero. If licking does become a problem, you now have a few ideas as to how you should deal with it.
The main thing is to make sure your dog is happy and healthy. If it’s not a problem for either of you, and you take sensible precautions when vulnerable people are concerned, then a few licks here and there won’t hurt.