Why Do Dogs Lick Your Mouth and Nose?

You’ve probably noticed this peculiar behavior from our canine friends. You come home from a long day and your furry companion starts giving you a hearty face wash. But why do dogs lick your mouth and nose specifically?

The Significance of Licking

In the world of our canine companions, licking is far from a random or meaningless action. It’s a deeply ingrained behavior that’s rich in symbolism, serving as a form of communication between dogs and their owners.

From their puppyhood, dogs learn to use licking as one of their primary ways to interact with the world around them. When they’re just newborns, their mother licks them to stimulate breathing, to clean them, and to express care and love. This maternal interaction lays the foundation for licking behaviors in later life.

As dogs grow older, they continue to use licking as a means of expressing their feelings. Affection is a big part of it – when your dog licks your face or hands, they could be saying, “I love you.” However, it’s not always about affection. Licking can also serve as a sign of submission in a pack hierarchy. By licking another dog’s mouth, a dog communicates that they accept their lower status.

It’s not just other dogs they lick, though. Ever notice how dogs are compelled to lick just about everything they come across? That’s part of their exploratory behavior. By licking, dogs can gather a lot of information about their environment. The act is also comforting and calming to many dogs, much like how some humans might bite their nails when they’re nervous.

Therefore, when we delve into the question, “why do dogs lick your mouth and nose,” we must appreciate the diverse motivations behind this instinctive behavior, which are rooted in communication, submission, exploration, and comfort.


Canine Communication

Canine communication is a symphony of signals that goes beyond the vocal. It’s a complex system involving body language, facial expressions, and yes, licking. Each lick, wag, or stare has a meaning in dog language, and understanding it can enhance our relationship with our pets.

When your dog licks your mouth and nose, they’re communicating with you in a language that dates back to their ancestral days. In a wild pack, subordinate dogs show their respect and acknowledge the leader’s higher status by licking their face, specifically the mouth. It’s a kind of canine diplomacy, if you will.

Moreover, your dog also perceives your unique scent and taste when they lick you. For them, this act reinforces your bond, marking you as a member of their pack, their family.

So, when deciphering the question, “why do dogs lick your mouth and nose,” remember that your dog is engaging in a profound form of communication, connecting with you on a deep, instinctual level.

The Science Behind Dog Licks

A Dog’s Sense of Taste

Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t have a refined sense of taste like humans do. With just about 1,700 taste buds compared to our 9,000, dogs aren’t as discerning with flavors. However, what dogs lack in taste, they make up for with their keen sense of smell.

When dogs lick, their super-sensitive noses come into play. They use their wet, spongy tongue to capture scent particles, which then get transferred to the roof of their mouth where the vomeronasal organ is located. This organ allows dogs to “taste” the air, picking up pheromones and other chemical information that we humans are oblivious to.

So, when your dog licks your mouth and nose, they’re not just showering you with love. They’re getting a taste (quite literally) of your diet, health, and even your mood, given that dogs can sense changes in our pheromones.

Licking as a Survival Instinct

Licking also has deep roots in canine survival instincts. In the wild, wolf pups lick the faces and mouths of their mother to stimulate regurgitation of partially digested food. This face-licking behavior is an essential survival mechanism, a crucial part of the weaning process that enables pups to transition from their mother’s milk to solid food.

This instinctive behavior has been passed down to our domestic dogs. While they no longer depend on regurgitated meals for survival, the instinct to lick faces – specifically the mouth and nose area – remains ingrained.

So, the next time you’re greeted with a slobbery lick, remember that your dog is not just communicating or exploring with their licks. They’re also echoing the survival behaviors of their ancestors, acting on instincts that have been coded into their genes over thousands of years.

Dog Licking and Human Health

Is it Safe?

We often hear the saying that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. While it’s true that dogs and humans have different types of bacteria in their mouths, it doesn’t necessarily mean one is cleaner than the other.

Dogs’ mouths are host to numerous bacteria, some of which can be transferred to humans through licking. While most of these bacteria are harmless to us, some can potentially cause issues, especially if you have a weakened immune system.

Generally, being licked by a dog is safe, especially if it’s your own pet who’s well-cared for, up-to-date with their vaccinations, and dewormed regularly. It’s a natural part of dog-human interactions and, for the most part, is a healthy expression of affection from your dog.

Health Risks

Despite the general safety of dog licks, there are potential health risks. The bacteria in a dog’s mouth, if transferred to humans, can cause infections. This is especially risky if the dog licks an open wound or a person with a weakened immune system.

Dogs can also pick up harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from the environment, like the leptospira bacteria, which can cause leptospirosis in humans, or the rabies virus, which is fatal if not promptly treated.

Moreover, dog saliva can trigger allergic reactions in some people. It’s not common, but some individuals might experience rashes or other allergic reactions when licked by a dog.

When it comes to answering “is it safe if a dog licks your mouth and nose,” the answer is largely yes, with a few caveats. Ensure your dog is healthy, discourage them from licking your face if you have wounds or allergies, and maintain good hygiene, like washing your face after a doggie “kiss”.

Why Dogs Specifically Lick the Mouth and Nose

Pack Behavior

Dogs, as descendants of wolves, are inherently pack animals. This ancestry informs many of their behaviors, including their tendency to lick the mouth and nose. In the wild, wolves use this behavior as a way to strengthen social bonds within the pack and to establish hierarchical structures.

When a lower-ranking wolf licks the mouth of a higher-ranking wolf, it’s a gesture of submission and respect. This behavior is still prevalent in our domestic dogs. They see their human families as their pack and often display these ancestral behaviors to show respect and reinforce bonds. Hence, when your dog licks your mouth and nose, they’re expressing their submissive role and acknowledging you as the pack leader.

Appetite for Smells

Dogs have a remarkable sense of smell, far superior to ours. Their noses can detect scents that are completely undetectable to humans. The mouth and nose area in humans is a hot spot for scents because it’s where we exhale and often eat, making it a buffet of interesting smells for your dog.

When dogs lick your mouth and nose, they’re exploring these intriguing smells and tasting you in the process. The smells of what you’ve recently eaten or drank, the scent of your skin, the subtle changes in your breath – all of these can be fascinating for your dog. Plus, your unique smell reinforces your bond with your dog and their recognition of you as a member of their pack.

So, while it might seem strange to us, when we ask “why do dogs lick your mouth and nose,” it makes perfect sense from their perspective. It’s all about communication, taste exploration, reinforcing bonds, and respecting the pack hierarchy.

How to Discourage Excessive Licking

Training Techniques

If your dog’s licking becomes excessive or problematic, training can help manage this behavior. Start by setting clear boundaries. If your dog starts to lick your mouth or nose, gently but firmly say “no” or “stop,” then move away from them. Consistency is key, so ensure all family members follow the same rules.

Positive reinforcement is another effective training technique. Reward your dog when they stop licking upon command. The reward can be a treat, praise, or a favorite toy. Over time, your dog will associate not licking with receiving something good and will be more inclined to stop the behavior.

It’s also essential to understand why your dog is licking excessively. If it’s due to anxiety or stress, training should include measures to address these underlying issues, such as providing a safe space for your dog or using calming techniques.

Other Helpful Solutions

In addition to training, there are other ways to discourage excessive licking. Providing alternative activities, like chew toys or puzzle feeders, can give your dog something else to focus on.

Regular exercise and mental stimulation can also reduce excessive licking. A tired dog is a happy dog, and they’re less likely to engage in stress-related behaviors when they’re well-exercised and mentally satisfied.

Lastly, in cases where excessive licking is due to a medical issue, a visit to the vet is necessary. They can diagnose the problem and recommend appropriate treatment, whether that’s medication, a special diet, or a change in your dog’s environment.

Remember, while it’s normal for dogs to lick, it’s important to maintain a balance. If your dog’s licking is causing discomfort or health concerns, these strategies can help curb the behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Answers
1. Why do dogs lick your mouth and nose? Dogs lick our mouth and nose as a form of communication, to explore tastes and smells, to show submission, and to reinforce bonds.
2. Is it safe for a dog to lick your face? Generally, it is safe if the dog is healthy and well-cared for. However, dogs can transmit some bacteria that can cause infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems or open wounds.
3. How can I stop my dog from licking my face excessively? You can discourage excessive licking through training techniques like setting boundaries, using positive reinforcement, and addressing underlying stress or anxiety. Providing alternative activities and ensuring your dog gets enough exercise can also help.
4. Why does my dog lick my face more than other people’s? Your dog might lick your face more than others’ because they have a stronger bond with you. They recognize your unique scent and taste and licking you reaffirms their connection to you.
5. Can a dog’s lick cause allergies? While not common, some people can have allergic reactions to dog saliva. Symptoms can include skin rash or itching after being licked.
6. Why does my dog lick my face first thing in the morning? Dogs often lick their owners’ faces in the morning as a form of greeting or to signal that they want attention or food.
7. Can a dog licking my face cause acne? In some cases, a dog’s lick might contribute to skin issues like acne, especially in people with sensitive skin, due to the bacteria in a dog’s mouth.
8. Do dogs lick to taste our skin? Yes, when dogs lick us, they do get a taste of our skin. They can also pick up information about our health and mood from the “taste” of our skin.
9. Do all dogs lick faces? Not all dogs lick faces. The behavior can vary depending on the dog’s individual personality, breed, and upbringing.
10. Can dogs pick up diseases from licking human faces? While it’s rare, dogs can pick up certain diseases from licking human faces, particularly if the person is ill and the dog has a cut or wound in their mouth.

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