Why Do Dogs Lick? Are Dog Licks Really Kisses?

(Last Updated On: June 7, 2019)

Why Do Dogs Lick?

If you have a pet dog, it probably licks you. In fact, your good boy or girl probably licks you a lot. Especially when you come back from work (or from something else that kept you out of the house all day). But have you ever stopped to think about why dogs lick? Are they trying to kiss you? Get your attention? Or something else entirely?

Here’s a quick list of possible reasons for why dogs lick.

  • Dogs lick each other to groom
  • Dogs may lick to say they are subordinate
  • You reinforce it
  • They think you taste interesting
  • Dog saliva sterilizes their wounds
  • Your dog has OCD

We’ll go through each more in-depth below.

Why Do Dogs Lick?

Grooming & Subordination

Well first off, dogs lick more than just their owner/other people. But if you have a dog, you probably knew that. Dogs also (what a concept) lick each other. It’s not uncommon to see a mother lick her pups as a grooming technique, and puppies will sometimes lick their mothers as a sign of subordination. So on a psychological level, dogs instinctively associate licking with maternal care, as well as being a symbol of subordination. Given that you hopefully care for and feed your dog, you’re probably their parental figure.


Even outside the scope of other dogs, there’s also you to think about. What’s the first thing you do when your dog licks you? You probably do something, because you’re not going to ignore your favorite furball. What that amounts to is positive reinforcement. You’re doing something in reaction to your pet’s behavior of licking. So if your dog likes how you react to his or her licking you, they’ll keep doing it. Which means they probably want you to acknowledge them in some way.

Taste Yourself

If nobody’s looking or you have no shame, go ahead and lick your hand. It might be salty from a little sweat or something. Regardless, your skin probably doesn’t taste like nothing. If your dog is putting their tongue on you, they’re probably interested in how you taste. Maybe you taste good? Nothing to be concerned about. Unless you wake up and your lab has your finger in their mouth, in which case you might want to make some phone calls.

Wounds & OCD

Dog saliva has some sterilizing properties too, so if your pet is licking their wounds, that’s why. Don’t take this as a signal to rub dog spit into your paper-cuts though. That’s an exceptionally bad idea.

Sometimes, the answer isn’t so fun though. Dogs may compulsively lick themselves or other objects, to the point where it impedes their quality of life. It becomes like obsessive-compulsive disorder as you’d see in humans. Yes, dogs are susceptible to mental illness too. The author of this post has a dog that needed dog-Xanax after he was adopted. If this is the case, you might want to see someone who knows more about dogs than you or we do. An expert, maybe.

So are dog licks kisses? Not really, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t think you’re pretty great!

Know your dog breeds? Test yourself and look at cute puppies here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.