Why do dogs lick?
It is a question every dog owner has asked themselves at some point. The reasons for licking can vary from one action to another and with each species. Many people think that it is a sign of love or affection while others think it is more so a sign of submission. In some cases, licking may indicate a health problem. There are many reasons as to why your dog licks you and below we will explore some of those.
Dog Licking is Natural
It is a natural instinct for dogs to lick. If you look at the behavior of wild animals, especially carnivores such as wolves and coyotes, licking young or even other adults is a common practice. It can be seen as a mother tending to her young or as an intermediate step of communication. You may have even heard of the phrase "licking their wounds".
Wolves are predators, but they are also prey animals. This means that they are often hunted by other animals such as lions and bears, so licking their wounds is a way for them to heal without being detected. In this case, licking is much the same as when a cat licks its own wounds.
In domesticated dogs, licking can take on different meanings. For example, in less dominant or younger dogs you may see them lick their owner out of affection and submission.
In older animals, it can be seen as a sign of respect and an indication to lower yourself slightly in order to show your appreciation. Even with all these differences though, there are some universal truths about why dogs lick humans that we will explore below.
Dogs Lick to Communicate
Licking is a way for a dog to communicate certain things to other animals including humans. One study from 2009 conducted by Péter Pongrácz at the Family Dog Project found when presented with two objects both containing a treat, dogs would spend significantly more time licking the one they found most desirable.
This is evidence for them believing that licking can be used as a way to show affection and to indicate their desire for something such as food or attention.
Another study from 2012 by Kawalilak Applja and Brian Hare at Duke University also concluded similar things with dogs and object preference.
They found that when given multiple objects each containing a piece of food, dogs chose to eat from those which were closest to them and licked those furthest away from the most (indicating an indirect preference).
As we can see, this research has shown how licking is indeed seen as a form of communication between animals including humans. It can be used within social hierarchies and relationships to show need, desire, and affection.
Whether it be a young pup licking its mother or an older dog licking an owner, the actions remain surprisingly similar.
What does this mean for other dogs? Well, dogs recognize each other's scents through their pheromones which are secreted from their saliva, urine, and feces. As such dogs can tell whether another animal is a friend or foe and use this information accordingly (such as marking over an enemy's scent).
For dogs living in social groups though they may also look at how much time another dog spends around them and if they lick them regularly, this tells them that the other individual is either higher up on the hierarchy or less threatening - meaning it should be fine to approach without any kind of aggression.
In this sense, licking on its own doesn't mean too much apart from trying to gain the other individual's trust or at least show them that you are not a threat. Therefore, it is important for owners to be more aware of these actions and read into them accordingly.
There may also be some medical reasons as to why your dog licks you so regularly. A 2013 study led by James R. Jugan investigated the causes of excessive licking in dogs and found that of the 991 canine cases studied, 25% suffered from anxiety while 20% had pruritus (itching). CBD Oil for dogs with anxiety could be beneficial to help alleviate those symptoms.
This itching could have been caused by allergies, infections or parasites such as fleas and mites which would explain their constant need to lick the affected area.
Another study conducted in 2016 by Sarah E. Radford and Christine Mallis investigated the influence of saliva on wound healing in dogs.
The veterinary professionals recruited 18 dogs with lacerations of various sizes, some were bathed three times a day with a saline solution while others had their wounds bathed in dog saliva three times a day.
After four weeks, the team concluded that there was no a significant difference between the two groups so licking alone cannot speed up an animal's recovery time - not unless combined with other treatments such as Medihoney is antibacterial and has been clinically proven to promote faster healing or tea tree oil which can also have similar effects.
However, if your pet ever needs any treatment or surgery then it may be required for them not to lick the affected area.
As seen in an article by Merriam-Webster, dogs are one of few animals (other than humans) with lips over their teeth which can make it difficult for vets to carry out certain procedures like surgery which would require them to be put under anesthesia or sedation.
Therefore, tying a bandage around your pet's head maybe helpful as they cannot then reach the wound and this also prevents any dirt from entering too.
By now you should have some idea as to why your four-legged friend licks you so regularly and the importance behind these actions.
Whether it is due to stress or happiness, this action has been observed across multiple species including humans, and does indeed bear significance within a dog's daily routine. Check out some Dog Treats with CBD if you're looking to help calm your pup.
Therefore, it is worth trying to understand the context behind these actions and how they should be interpreted in order to best care for your pet.