Does your dog give you a sloppy wet kiss when you come home from work? Or do they give your face lots of little licks when it’s time for their meal? A dog’s motivation to lick faces varies in different situations. It also depends on your reaction to the lick, and whether or not your dog desires that outcome.
1. To ask for food.
Wolves, as well as some dogs, will regurgitate solid foods for their newborn puppies as they are weaning. The puppies will lick the corners of their parents’ faces to encourage them to regurgitate. This habit seems to carry through to adulthood. Your dog does not actually lick your face in hopes that you will puke up a meal, licking is merely a sign that your dog wants to be fed.
2. Because you smell good.
Though dogs have an excellent sense of smell, their sense of taste is one-sixth as powerful as a human’s. If your face smells good to your dog, they’ll think you might taste pretty good too. Your dog may lick your face after you have eaten, or to taste some of the sugar and salts contained in the sweat on the surface of your skin.
Your dog may also lick water droplets from your skin when you come out of a shower. Those drops of water, mixed with the flavours of your skin, surely make a tasty treat for your dog.
3. To detect illness.
There have been some cases of dogs licking their owners when their amazing sense of smell picks up the scent of cancerous cells, pregnancy or low blood sugar. If your dog is fixated on a specific area of your body, you might want to schedule a checkup with your doctor, just in case.
4. To please you.
When your dog licks you, how do you react? Do you laugh and pet them, or do you turn away and ignore them? Dogs are excellent at picking up on human emotions, so if you react favorably, chances are they will be inclined to lick you more often. Your dog may lick you when you’re not paying attention to them, or when you’re happily snuggling in bed.
5. To say “go away.”
A lick is not always a kiss. Sometimes, dogs lick people and other dogs because they need space. More gentle than a growl or a nip, excessive licking creates the outcome the dog wants – usually, the recipient will move away – without the risk of escalating to a physical altercation. If you put your face close to your dog’s, they will typically lick you, and this may actually be because you are too close for comfort.
Is It OK To Let Your Dog Lick Your Face?
A dog’s mouth can carry viruses and bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, which causes MRSA. Also, if they have worms, they could actually transmit worm eggs to you by licking their anus, then your face. Yuck!
However, it’s typically harmless for your dog to lick you if they are healthy. It’s not very common for people to contract illnesses from their own dogs. Make sure to keep your mouth closed and keep your chin up when your dog licks you to prevent direct contact with your mouth, nose and eyes. You should also wash your hands and face afterwards, especially before preparing food. Those with a compromised immune system, including people undergoing chemotherapy, should take extra care when interacting with animals.
Children should be taught boundaries when it comes to putting their face near a dog’s. They will not realize that the dog may be licking them to say “go away,” not out of affection, and the dog may feel forced to escalate to a bite if the child does not move away.