Why do dogs lick human's faces?

Written by vanessa knauf
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Why do dogs lick human's faces?
([JP] Correa Carvalho)

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Overview

Your dog loves to lick your face, and you often wonder why your furry friend has mistaken you for a lollipop. A combination of biology, instinct, and learnt behaviour drives your dog to lick your face, and while it's impossible to know the exact reason for your dog's behaviour, your reaction to your dog's "kisses" will either encourage or discourage licking.

Biology

While most humans rely on their sense of sight to understand and negotiate the world, dogs rely on their sense of smell. Millions of scent receptors located in a dog's nose and the front of its mouth help a dog to read a situation. When your dog licks your face, it's gleaning information about you from the pheromones excreted by the sweat glands in your skin.

Instinct

Very young puppies are unable to digest raw meat; accordingly, in the wild, the mother digests the meat for her pups and then regurgitates the digested food for the pups to eat. Puppies instinctively know to lick their mother's mouth to encourage this regurgitation. Your dog may instinctively lick your mouth when it's hungry, hoping you will provide food.

Learnt Behavior

Puppies learn to lick when they're very young. Bitches begin licking their puppies the moment they are born to help them breathe and to clean away the afterbirth. The mother will also lick her den clean, cleaning up any faeces or urine eliminated by the puppies. Maternal licking also helps the puppies bond with their mother. Similarly, your dog will lick your face in an effort to keep it clean or to strengthen the bond between you.

Submission

Licking is also a sign of submission. In the wild, one dog is dominant over the pack. The dominant dog, or alpha dog, expects the other members of the pack to show submission by licking its face. Your dog most likely views you as the pack leader and licks your face to confirm your dominance.

Affection Seeking

If you reward your dog when it licks your face, your dog will learn to repeat that behaviour when it wants your attention. To discourage the behaviour, try ignoring your dog whenever it begins licking, or offer your dog a toy to lick instead.

Misconceptions

Your dog is not trying to make out with you when it licks your face. While canine kisses might show affection, submission or curiosity, there is nothing sexual about the behaviour.

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