Why Your Dog Licks Your Hand & Tips for Taming the Slobber

Whether you love or loathe the licks, understanding why your dog licks your hand gives you some interesting insight into your dog's mind.

Published December 11, 2023
Dog licking hand

While getting a slobbery lick on your hand from your dog might feel a bit icky at times, knowing the reasons behind this behavior can make it a lot more endearing. Dogs communicate in many ways, and licking is one of their most expressive gestures. It's not just about them being affectionate—there's a whole world of meaning in those wet licks.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Hand?

Licking is a very natural behavior for dogs, used as a form of social communication and bonding, and there are often specific meanings your dog's trying to convey when they lick you like this.

1. They're Petting You Back

When your dog was a puppy, their mother licked them not only to help them stay clean but also to soothe them and show affection. These habits can encourage your dog to lick you, even if they aren't puppies anymore. When your dog licks you to show affection, their brain releases chemicals called dopamine and endorphins. They're the 'feel good' chemicals in the brain. We release these chemicals when we pet our dogs, too. Licking is basically their version of petting. 

This makes licking a way for dogs to strengthen their bond with their humans, showing it's more than just a leftover habit from puppyhood. It's a complex form of communication and affection. 

Fast Fact

One of my favorite topics to teach and learn about involves the health benefits that dogs offer us just by being a part of our life. Did you know they can completely transform your well-being? 

2. They're Calming and Soothing You

Dog licking owners hand

Dogs often lick your hand due to instincts related to grooming and social interaction. In the wilderness, dogs groom each other as a sign of affection and bonding, and they extend this behavior to humans. When your dog licks your hand, it's not just a simple act; it's a part of their social behavior and communication.

3. They're Being Nosy

Licking allows dogs to gather information about their surroundings and who is or was in that particular area through taste and smell. Dogs have a keen sense of taste and smell, and by licking your hand, they can pick up information about you, like where you've been or what you've touched. It's more than just a simple lick — it's part of their language and how they understand and respond to their world and the people in it.

4. They're Telling You Something

This brings us to communication. Your dog is communicating to you that they care about your well-being and you as a whole. But there may be a deeper meaning as well. For example, when your dog licks your hand, they could be saying:

  • I care and feel close to you.
  • I want your attention, like when they want cuddles.
  • I need something, perhaps when they're feeling playful, bored, or hungry.

Is Hand-Licking Okay?

Whether you find your dog's hand-licking acceptable mostly hinges on your personal preferences and comfort level. Some people might find this sign of affection endearing and a sweet part of their bond with their pet. Others might consider it less pleasant due to hygiene concerns or simply not enjoying the sensation. It's important to remember that dogs use licking as a natural form of communication and bonding.

If you're uncomfortable with it, there are gentle ways to discourage the behavior without causing stress to your dog. On the flip side, if you don't mind the licks, it can be a lovely way to strengthen your connection with your furry best friend.

Getting Your Dog to Stop Licking Your Hand

If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the slobber your hand is collecting, don't feel bad. Here are some ways to reduce and redirect the behavior.

Distract Your Dog

If your dog comes up and licks your hand, distract them with a puzzle toy to keep them busy. Don't use treats unless you want to reinforce the licking. 

Move Away

If you move away without reacting, your dog may notice hand-licking doesn't get your attention and try something else (it's going to take more than one time, though). 

Add Exercise to Your Day

Sometimes licking is all about pent-up energy — kind of like their way of asking for some play time. Keeping them busy and making sure they have enough exercise can help. 

Try Regular Brushing Sessions

Grooming is part of the licking equation. Brushing your dog regularly may decrease the licking.

Add Some Training

Consider teaching your dog to sit or perform other tricks. Whenever they start to lick you, ask them to do one of these tricks instead, and then reward them with a treat. This technique can help your dog associate receiving treats with performing a trick rather than licking your hand.

Quick Tip

Never scold your dog, as this could damage your bond — use positive reinforcement during all training exercises. 

Consult an Expert for Excessive Licking

If your dog is licking excessively, check out our article about compulsive licking and talk to your veterinarian. Licking can be a sign of an underlying health issue or anxiety.

Your Dog Loves You

Now that you understand why your dog licks your hand, you've taken a big step in understanding their way of thinking and showing love. This insight helps strengthen the bond with your furry friend, as you learn to appreciate and empathize with their actions. Realizing that each lick is a sign of affection, a way of talking, or asking for attention, you can improve your relationship by responding in a way that honors their feelings. Way to go!

Why Your Dog Licks Your Hand & Tips for Taming the Slobber