Is your dog licking you excessively? Vet reveals 5 reasons why and how to stop them

Dog licking owner in a field
(Image credit: Uwe Krejci/Getty Images)

As a pup parent, you might want to learn how to stop your dog licking you (especially if they do it excessively). Whilst some of us love this gesture of affection, not everyone appreciates a slobbery kiss from their pooch.

There are lots of reasons why your dog might lick you and it’s not always to do with affection (we were surprised too!) It could also mean that your dog is feeling stressed or is requesting the best dog food from you. 

If you’re curious as to why your dog keeps licking you (or other things around your home), then Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, an expert vet, has the answers for you. She’s also suggested three ways to stop them from doing it so much.

Why your dog keeps licking you

1. You taste good!

Your dog might be licking you because you taste great! Whether you’ve been chopping food and your hands are covered in microscopic food particles, or whether you just put on that coconut body lotion, it’s possible your dog is licking you because your skin tastes delicious.

It might even be your natural body oils and sweat that your dog enjoys so much – that salty flavour is a canine favourite!

Be aware that some ingredients in body lotion may be toxic to dogs, so they should be discouraged from licking you after applying moisturiser. 

2. Stress, boredom, anxiety

Unfortunately, our dogs are prone to stress, and this can sometimes manifest in obsessive behaviors. Repetitive licking of people, objects, and themselves can be a sign of stress, dog boredom, or anxiety in our canine friends. You might notice your dog only licks you when they’re anxious (for instance, during a thunderstorm or firework show), or it may be that your dog licks anytime you’re near them.

Licking is naturally comforting for dogs – it’s a grooming behavior they undertake when calm and relaxed. In fact, it could even be seen as the canine equivalent of taking a deep breath in and out to calm down. 

For these cases, providing more entertainment is useful, as it can resolve boredom and reduce stress. The best dog puzzle toys are useful for dogs suffering from boredom, anxiety, and stress. They also allow dogs to redirect the repetitive licking behavior onto an appropriate toy. Lickimats and stuffed toys are great. Playing games with your dog can also relieve boredom, as can adding in some new training regimes.

If your dog’s anxiety is severe, you are likely to see other symptoms – at this point it’s worth discussing with your vet. 

Australian Shepherd licking nose

(Image credit: Lysandra Cook/Getty Images)
LickiMat Slow Feeder for Dogs 

LickiMat Slow Feeder for Dogs 

Apply wet food or a little dog-safe spread to these lick mats and let your dog lick it back off. This can entertain them for hours!

3. Canine dementia

In canine dementia (properly called ‘canine cognitive dysfunction’ or CCD), your dog can gain new repetitive behaviors, including licking you. If your dog is elderly and seems to be licking your foot or hand more than they used to, it’s possible canine cognitive dysfunction is to blame.

Other symptoms of CCD include changes in sleep-wake pattern, forgetfulness, toileting accidents, and anxiety. Luckily, treatment can resolve many of these symptoms, including licking! 

Dog licking its owner in the park

(Image credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images)

4. You've accidentally trained them to do it!

Dogs are fast learners, and they’ll take just about anything as a reward. So, it’s possible you’ve actually trained your dog to lick you by inadvertently ‘rewarding’ his behaviour. For instance when your dog licks you, you move his head away and absentmindedly stroke him – that’s positive reinforcement. They’ll quickly learn that licking you gets a stroke! 

Even telling him off can work as reinforcement – for many dogs, all attention is good attention, even if you’re asking them to stop. If your dog licking you gets you to give them attention, then they’ll carry on doing it. 

So how can you stop it? Try to ignore your dog completely if they start licking, and silently move away. Your dog will soon realize that licking causes you to ignore him and leave the room, and he’ll quickly stop. Don’t forget to praise him when he’s sitting near you without licking you, too!

5. They're asking for food or information

Dogs lick other dog’s faces to communicate. Generally, it’s something a puppy does to an adult dog. To his mother, this might mean ‘feed me’, but to other adults in the pack, licking the face can be a submissive behavior asking for approval. Socially, licking an adult dog’s face is saying ‘I’m just a puppy, you take the lead and tell me how to behave.'

Vets and researchers aren’t quite sure whether dogs lick human’s faces for the same reason. But, if your dog is still young, there’s a possibility they’re looking for guidance… or for food!

Dog licking owner

(Image credit: PhotoAlto/Katarina Sundelin/Getty Images)

How to stop a dog from excessively licking

Although some dog licking is normal, it can be annoying if your dog licks excessively, whether it's you or your home furnishings. It's important to remember that how you act when your dog is licking can have a tangible impact on their future behavior.

1. Use positive reinforcement

If your dog approaches and licks your hand, it's almost a reflex to stroke their head, but this could easily cause them to associate licking you with getting a fuss. Similarly, if they're licking the sofa and you want them to stop, you might approach them and give them fuss as you lead them away, or even give them a reward like a chew to keep them occupied.

2. Keep them occupied

Frustratingly though, the opposite behavior might also cause your dog to lick since even if you tell them off, you're still acknowledging them and giving them attention. The best way to discourage excessive licking altogether is to ignore the behavior and provide plenty of activities to give your pooch plenty of alternatives to keep them busy.

3. Visit your vet for a check-up

Remember, though, that excessive licking can sometimes indicate a medical problem, like anxiety, for instance. Dementia is common in older dogs, and this can also cause some odd behaviors, like licking. It's also possible that your dog is licking as a form of pica, where a nutrient deficiency causes them to eat or lick inedible things. So, if you can't seem to get your dog's excessive licking under control, it's worth taking them to the vet clinic for a general health check.

These are five possible reasons your dog might be licking you, but getting to the bottom of the problem can be tricky. Whilst licking isn’t necessarily harmful, dog’s mouths are dirty places and there is a risk they can pass on germs to family members. So, it’s best to stop your dog from licking people wherever possible.

You might also be questioning, ‘Why do dogs lick their paws?' and 'Why is my dog panting so much?'

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

After graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She quickly developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition - anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. Jo started writing about pet health in 2017, realising that it meant she could help even more pet parents. Since then, she has written for countless online and print publications and is a regular contributor for Edition Dog Magazine. Jo now lives in the Channel Islands with her husband Ian and terrier Pixie, and they are expecting their first child very soon.