9 Reasons Dogs Lick You So Much (& How to Stop Them)

Dogs use licking as a way to express several different emotions, including boredom, anxiety, and affection.

Published March 15, 2023
Young woman playing with her dog while it licks her face

If you find yourself constantly covered in dog slobber, you might wonder why your dog licks you all the time. Dogs lick their owners for a wide variety of reasons. Identify the root cause of why your dog is licking you, then take steps to stop this behavior. With the right approach, you can resolve it lickety-split.

Why Does My Dog Lick Me?

Dogs lick their people for many reasons, but there are generally nine emotions behind the behavior of licking.

  1. Affection: They're showing you love
  2. Empathy: They think you need some support
  3. Attention: You're not noticing them, and they want you to
  4. Anxiety: They're feeling stressed and need an outlet
  5. Boredom: Your pup is just looking for some fun
  6. Grooming: They think you need it
  7. Taste: You're giving off a flavor they like
  8. Curiosity: They're just trying to check you out
  9. Submission: They want to show you they're gentle

The only way to tell why your dog is licking you is to watch them and try to figure out what's motivating them. Look for the subtle signs for each type of licking, and you should be able to figure out what's motivating the behavior.

1. Affection

In many cases, a dog licking you is their way of giving you a kiss. Dogs can lick each other's faces and mouths to show each other affection and love, so they can do the same with you. Usually, this type of licking comes when your dog is calm, when you're snuggling together, and they appear to be happy.

2. Empathy

Do you wonder why your dog licks you when you cry? It could be their way of consoling you. Studies show dogs can read their owners' facial expressions to give them insight into what you're feeling. Canines use licking to calm themselves down, so they might think that licking you can provide you with comfort.

3. Attention

Just like a bark or a paw on your leg, licking could be a way for your dog to get your attention. It's possible you've responded positively to their licking in the past (giving them pets, a treat, etc.), so they've learned to perform this behavior when they want something. If your dog is acting frisky or high-energy, they might be licking you to get you to respond.

Dog licking the face of his owner

4. Anxiety

Dogs use licking as a self-soothing technique. They may lick you in times of stress or high anxiety in order to calm themselves. This type of licking might be a little more aggressive or insistent. You can usually tell they're licking you out of anxiety if they seem nervous, they're shaking, or their licking almost seems urgent.

Fast Fact

Research suggests that the act of licking releases endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones, in a dog's brain.

5. Boredom

Just like humans, dogs can become bored. A dog who isn't mentally or physically stimulated enough might turn to licking as an outlet for their excess energy. They're basically saying, "Hey, let's do someting!" When licking comes out of nowhere and your dog seems restless, this is probably the cause.

6. Grooming

Mother dogs lick their puppies as a way to groom them, which dogs can carry over into adulthood. They will lick their housemates to clean them off and might do the same for you. In these cases, you can take your dog licking you as them saying, "You need a bath." If your dog puts a paw on you and licks in a systematic way, trying to cover a lot of spots, they might be trying to groom you.

7. Taste

Your dog might lick you simply because they think you taste good. Sweat contains salt and other minerals, which your dog might find yummy. If they wait for you to lie down so they can lick your legs or feet, or they come up to you and start licking the back of your legs when you aren't paying attention, this could be the cause. Usually, dogs looking for flavor are more interested in licking and aren't paying attention to you as much.

8. Curiosity

Taste and smell are senses dogs use to investigate objects. They can tell where you've been and who you've been with by licking your skin. They might lick you after an outing out of curiosity. Most of the time, curiosity licking is more common with new dogs, or if you've been away a while.

9. Submission

Licking can be a sign of submission in canine behavior. In the wild, dogs will lick dominant pack members to show that they defer to them. Your dog may use appeasement licking as a way to tell you they know you're the boss. Signs your dog is submission licking include timid looks, down-turned muzzle and eyes, and a deferential demeanor.

Fast Fact

Your dog may lick you as a way to give you a "dog kiss."

How to Stop Your Dog From Licking You

Even though a lick can be a sign of love, it can be frustrating to deal with your dog always licking you. Try to identify the root cause of why they're licking by being mindful of when they do it. Are they licking you because they need to go out? Do they start licking as soon as a thunderstorm begins? These clues can give you insight into why they're performing the behavior so you can address the root cause. In the meantime, you can use these techniques to curb your dog's licking:

  • Keep your skin clean to discourage them from licking your sweat or scents you've picked up from outside.
  • Get up and ignore your dog whenever they lick you, but don't reprimand them.
  • Do not reward your dog with a treat or attention when they lick you.
  • Redirect your dog with a tactile toy they can lick.
  • Give your dog plenty of exercise and mental enrichment every day.

When Dog Licking Becomes Problematic

Occasional licking isn't usually a problem, but it can easily get out of hand. If your dog licks everyone they meet, you should work on training your dog out of this behavior. Positive reinforcement training can be effective by rewarding your dog when they do not lick. Compulsive licking can also suggest a problem like anxiety, which you need to address to help your dog live comfortably.

9 Reasons Dogs Lick You So Much (& How to Stop Them)