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Why does my dog... lick me?

CLAIRE CORLEY Why does my dog… lick me?

What's better than a big slobbery kiss welcoming you home after a tough day at work? Dogs giving human hands, faces (and anywhere within easy reach!) a thorough inspection with their big, wet tongues is an age old love story, but why exactly do they do this?

There are several thoughts on the matter from animal behaviour experts around the world. Alexandra Horowitz (Author of 'Inside Of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.') tells us: “Researchers of wild canids — wolves, coyotes, foxes, and other wild dogs — report that puppies lick the face and muzzle of their mother when she returns from a hunt to her den — in order to get her to regurgitate for them.”

Are our pooches simply hungry and trying to get us to regurgitate a Michelin-starred meal, or is there a deeper meaning behind the puppy kisses?

Certified applied animal behaviourist Dr. Mary Burch brings up the point that dogs may lick us simply because we taste nice! Have we just been eating a packet of cheese puffs and have bright orange deliciousness all over our hands, or after that rush around the busy supermarket are we mouthwateringly sweaty and salty?

One thing that can be agreed upon, wherever licking originated from, all the experts agree that it is now used as a sign of affection between dogs and in dog to human relationships. Mother dogs lick their puppies to clean and reassure them and licking has been observed in wild dog communities as a form of ritualised greeting. It's a doggy way of saying “hey, nice to meet you, lets be friends!”

When licking becomes a problem.

Although licking is a completely normal form of communications, there are times when it can become obsessive or inappropriate. If this is the case, the first thing is to rule out a medical cause: Things such as Gastrointestinal problems, allergies and general anxiety are strongly linked with compulsive licking.

If a medical cause is ruled out and it's simply a case of an over-exuberant greeting then you can help your dog by teaching them a more appropriate way to say hello, such as bringing you their favourite toy or leaning their shoulder against you instead.


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