As a dog parent, you are probably familiar with your dog licking your face; some people actually love it. But why does a dog lick your face? Should you let your dog do it?
Why Does My Dog Constantly Lick My Face?
Licking a human’s face is normal social behavior. However, licking can be a gesture that signals a dog’s social docility. It can also be a signal to request food, attention, or a sign of affection.
When your dog cannot reach your face, he may start licking the closest body part (your hand, arm, or leg). In some instances, this licking behavior can be construed as a sign of affection.
There may be cases where dogs try to lick strangers’ faces. When that happens, it may be to appease the stranger so that he/she does not attempt anything harmful or threatening to the dog. To put it simply, it’s their way of making peace with a potential enemy. On the other hand, when dogs lick children’s faces, it can be a sign of affection or commonly the act of picking food scraps off their faces.
Is Dog Face Licking Dangerous To My Health?
For healthy people, dog saliva is not a health risk. However, you should never allow your dog to lick an open wound anywhere on your body. Their saliva may keep the injury moist, allowing bacteria to flourish, leading to a potential infection.
Last year, 12 cases were reported to the CDC. People have gotten sick from bacteria carried in the dog’s saliva. In those cases, the bacteria Capnocytophaga canimorsus was the culprit—a harmless bacteria found in both dogs and cats.
Typically, the dog has to carry a high concentration of that bacteria, and their saliva has to come into contact with the wound. Therefore, it is best practice to wash your hands after petting any dog.
Should I Allow My Dog To Lick Me?
For most healthy people, a dog licking faces or other body parts should pose minimal health risk. If you are concerned, then do not let dogs lick your mouth or anywhere near an open skin wound.
I sometimes offer dogs the underside of my chin to lick. Then I immediately wash my face or apply antibacterial sanitizing spray or gel to that area of my face. Alternatively, I may allow them to lick my hand, and then I wash my hands afterwards or use an antibacterial spray or gel on my hands.
Not a Fan of All That Face Licking?
While dogs licking your face is entirely harmless, some people don’t like that one bit. So first, keep in mind how you might be reinforcing this behavior. For example, if your dog licks your face and gives him the attention he seeks, he is more likely to repeat the licking behavior. Moreover, if your pup licks your face or mouth when eating and you give him a piece of it, you’re reinforcing the behavior to continue.
If you’re not a fan of your dog licking your face, you can always redirect them to display affection and ask for attention more acceptably to you and be sure not to encourage further licking.
What Can You Do About Problem Licking?
If your dog has started licking your face excessively lately, and you can’t seem to pinpoint the cause for the licking, start by having your veterinarian check them out. That way, the vet can address any medical problems or discomfort. Once you’ve ruled out medical explanations, you can turn to behavioral solutions.
“One idea is to redirect your dog,” states Dr. Burch. “When they lick, switch up the activity. A good option is to choose a behavior that is incompatible with licking, such as using an interactive puzzle to get a treat. You can also have the dog engage in other behaviors such as ball play or trick training.”
Trick training is an excellent way to turn a recurring unwanted behavior into an opportunity for positive reinforcement. Start by simply commanding the dog to sit. If the licking stops, then reward the behavior with a treat.
Next, harness your dog’s affection by training them to give you a hug instead of licking your face. Other tricks to practice could involve sitting up, leg weaving or army crawling. If your dog grows fond of trick training, consider looking into Trick Dog trials.
Whether or not you decide to give trick training a shot, always make sure that your loyal dog gets plenty of love, attention, and exercise. Excess energy can lead to over-licking and other more unfavorable behaviors.
So, to answer your question, should you let your dog lick your face, it’s safe, but it’s up to you! Some people love it, some people don’t. Licking is a natural behavior that dogs use to interact with humans and other dogs. When your dog constantly licks your face, he could be asking you for some pets, display his unyielding love for you, keep you clean, or he may simply be really into licking.