Picture of a dog licking a face - why do they do it?

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face? (The Answer May Surprise You)

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Dog owners are used to their furry friends slobbering them with kisses as soon as they walk through the door. Dogs tend to lick everything: their food, their environment, their private parts, and our faces. Why do dogs lick your face, and what does it mean? 

Why Do Dogs Lick Faces

Here are a few reasons your dog might lick your face. 

To Show Affection

Our pups love us as much as we love them. One of the ways they express their love is by licking our faces. While we like to think of it as the equivalent of a kiss, a dog lick is more of a submissive affection.  

Why Does My Dog Lick My Face When I Cry?

They could be showing empathy. Dogs are attuned to their owner’s emotional state, and studies have shown they are more likely to kiss and nuzzle you when you are upset. 

Instinctive Behavior

Dogs evolved from wolves, and wolf puppies lick their mothers’ mouths for regurgitated food. When your dog licks your face it could be an instinctive genetic behavior to get some food!

Our Faces Smell and Taste Good

The human face has many scents and tastes that dogs enjoy. Our faces have sweat glands on the forehead and cheeks that produce salt. We also have food residue around our mouths. When dogs lick our faces they are experiencing these different tastes.

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face When You Sleep?

Researchers aren’t sure why dogs lick our faces while we sleep. It could be because our skin secretes sweat and oils while we sleep and they like the taste. It could be a sign of affection. And it also could be your dog looking for attention. 

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face To Wake You Up in the Morning?

Similar to when we sleep, your dog might be enjoying the scent and taste of your sweat and oils. It could also be that they are excited to see you!

Appeasement

Sometimes dogs lick faces as a gesture of submission. When your dog licks your face, it may be a sign of social deference. Your dog is expressing that it harbors no aggression toward you. Dogs may lick strangers’ faces to show appeasement. 

Learned Behavior

Many dog owners respond positively to dogs licking their faces, whether smiling, laughing, or petting the dog in return. This is positive reinforcement that encourages that behavior. Dogs learn that humans like it when they lick faces, so they keep doing it for attention and praise. 

To Relax

Licking releases endorphins in dogs’ brains. Endorphins are hormones that cause a calming and happy effect. When dogs lick your faces it might help them relax. 

Should I Let My Dog Lick My Face? Is It a Problem?

While dog saliva does have a lot of bacteria, it shouldn’t be a problem for most healthy people with good immune systems. If you don’t have open wounds on your face, it is safe for your dog to lick you. 

How Can I Keep My Dog From Licking Faces?

Some dog owners may want to discourage the behavior. It can be problematic if your dog compulsively licks the faces of strangers, children, or the elderly. Owners can use training techniques to stop their dogs from licking faces. 

Tips from Our Vets

Dogs make excellent companions and bring so much joy to our lives. Unfortunately, however, they cannot speak to us.

If your pet exhibits odd behavior, it can be worrisome and difficult to know if the behavior is normal or a reason for concern.

Not sure why your dog is exhibiting a specific behavior?

  • Some behaviors can seem very odd but may be completely normal.
  • Others could signal illness or injury.
  • Due to the lack of ability for a dog to communicate with us verbally, it is imperative to pay close attention to what the dog is telling us through their behavioral changes.

The most important takeaway is that if you are ever concerned about a behavior that your dog is displaying, your best resource for information is your veterinarian.

In general, a new behavior that is not typical for your dog should be investigated. Examples would be:

  • Not eating
  • Suddenly sleeping more than usual
  • Being reluctant to go on walks or to play
  • Becoming aggressive or grumpy when interacting with other people or pets

These behavior changes most commonly indicate that something is wrong, and your pet needs to see their veterinarian as soon as possible. It is much easier and more likely to be successful, to treat an illness early in its course as opposed to waiting until the dog is very sick.

Other odd behaviors include:

  • Eating feces
  • Chasing their tail
  • Sudden bursts of activity (known as the “zoomies”)

These may be completely normal. However, if you notice a drastic change in your dog, for example, they never exhibited one of these behaviors, and now they suddenly are, it is prudent to have them examined by their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Even if the behavior is normal, it may lead to unintended issues.

For example, young dogs consuming their feces or the feces of other dogs can be a normal behavior but can lead to gastrointestinal upset as well as intestinal parasitism.

Parasites from your dog can cause serious health complications, not only for your dog, but also for you and your family, as many are transmissible to humans.

Licking of the feet or scratching may seem like normal dog behavior but typically indicates a health issue such as allergies, fleas, or skin infection.

Left untreated, these issues will worsen and cause additional discomfort for your dog.

Remember that your best source of reliable health information for your dog is your veterinarian. Because dogs cannot verbally communicate with us, it is essential to be proactive with any possible health concerns.

Working with a trusted veterinarian as your partner will ensure many happy and healthy years for both you and your dog.

Final Thoughts: Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face?

The common reasons why dogs lick your face are:

  1. To show affection
  2. Genetic programming
  3. Our faces taste good
  4. Appeasement
  5. Learned behavior
  6. To relax

If you’re looking for answers to explain your dog’s behaviors, you can check out our series of guides on why dogs do what they do:

Pet News Daily Staff
Pet News Daily writers are experts in pet care, health and behavior. We are members of Society for Professional Journalists and practice ethical journalism.