Love it or hate it but the fact is dogs lick, some a lot. My dog is very much the licker, so much so I’m tempted to rename him Sir Lickalot!
So why do dogs lick themselves? As their olfactory system is key to a dog knowing what is happening in the world, they recognize that keeping their nose wet is the most effective way of inhaling odours.
Furthermore, they will lick parts of their anatomy that may be sore or injured to help the healing process. Dog saliva has enzymes that kill off bacteria, and when a dog licks himself, it helps to get rid of dead tissue and clean dirt from wounds.
Stating the somewhat obvious, dogs lick themselves to keep clean. It’s a shame they can’t lick behind their ears after they’ve rolled in goat poop at the off leash area, but I guess we can’t have everything.
Licking humans is a totally different discussion. Without wanting to totally burst your bubble, the fact is dogs lick humans for more reasons than simply showing you affection. Going back to basics, if a dog doesn’t like you, it won’t come near you. So the fact that a dog wants to be near you to the point of wanting to lick you shows some form of emotional attachment. However, as with most things canine, the nose plays a big part in a dog’s decision to lick you or not. As we perspire, we secrete an odour. However, depending on why we are perspiring will determine the type of odour that results. We have all experienced that person who is nervous and secretes an obnoxious odour crying out for antiperspirant! But the odour caused by heat is different from the odour caused by being excited which is different from the odour caused by eating, say, spicy food which is different from the odour caused by being anxious. More to the point, with the amazing olfactory sense that dogs have, they can distinguish between the various odours and will respond accordingly. Case in point is the daily ritual that happens in our home every morning. Having spent 8-9 hours in bed, as with many people, I perspire, which is a great source of salt for my dog. He relishes the opportunity to lick my face, neck and hands and, although I recognize he is glad to be with me, having slept all of ten feet away in his crate all night, I do not fool myself into believing it is all about affection!
Another reason why dogs lick us dates back to their predecessors, the wolf. Licking members of the pack showed recognition of status and hierarchy in the pack, whereby pack leaders would be licked by those wolves lower in the hierarchy.
And let’s not forget that, when dogs sense a medical condition in us humans, again through smell, they will lick that area to indicate that something is amiss, whether it be an open wound or something lurking beneath the skin.
Of course, licking may just be part of a dog’s plan to get treats: the last time I licked this person I received a reward so let’s try it again philosophy.
As with most things dog, there is more to it than meets the eye and licking is no exception.