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Why Does My Dog Lick My Face? 3 Reasons & What to Do

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By Nicole Cosgrove

terrier licking woman

I know from personal experience just how often dogs may try to lick your face. I have a Pitbull Terrier named Cletus who constantly wants to lick my face. Although I’d much rather a dog try to lick my face then be aggressive, the behavior is incredibly annoying, and I know I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Face licking is a really common behavior in dogs. It goes back to your dog’s innate nature. Although it doesn’t come with normal health risks, it certainly is annoying and is a behavior you may want to discourage.

To find out the exact reasons why your dog licks your face, read on. In this article, I tell you the 3 most likely reasons your dog is licking your face and what you can do about it to discourage the behavior. Let’s get started.

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Top 3 Reasons Your Dog Is Licking Your Face:

Although it is impossible to know exactly why your dog is licking your face, experts have determined 3 most likely reasons for this behavior. These 3 reasons were determined by studying how dogs interact with one another.

1. To Get Food

Dogs first start licking one another’s faces as puppies. Wolf puppies specifically lick adult dogs’ mouths to try to prompt regurgitation. Although this may sound rather nasty, it is how wolf puppies transition from mother’s milk to solid food.

How it works is that the puppies will lick the adult wolf’s mouth to incite regurgitation. When this happens, the dog will regurgitate partially digested food. This food is more solid than the mother’s milk, but it isn’t completely solid yet.

Most likely, your dog is not licking your face for this reason, but it is possible. As we mentioned, this is only a behavior for wolf puppies. Full grown dogs are not very likely to do this. However, puppies may still do this to you, though adult dogs may do it on occasion too.

2. Appeasement Gesture

The most likely reason that your dog is licking your face is as an appeasement gesture. For dogs, licking a face is a common social behavior. They typically do this to other dogs and humans to show social deference.

Dogs may want to show social deference for a number of reasons. For example, they may do it to solicit food, gain social information, show affection, or solicit attention. In the case of house dogs, they are likely either soliciting food, showing affection, or soliciting attention.

If your dog licks a stranger’s face, it is often due to these reasons as well. Dogs will lick strangers’ faces as a sign of affection or appeasement to help prevent the stranger from doing anything harmful or threatening.

dog licking boy
Image Credit: Sergey Lavrentev, Shutterstock

3. Grooming

Finally, the third reason why dogs like to lick your face is to groom you. As you likely know, dogs groom themselves and others by licking. Because dogs groom one another, your dog simply may be licking you in order to help your grooming, just as your dog would do to other dogs.

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Should You Let Your Dog Lick Your Face?

In most cases, there is nothing dangerous about your dog licking your face. If you are a healthy adult, your dog’s saliva likely does not have any sort of bacteria that could cause infection or other health risks. The same goes for children.

With that being said, you should not allow your dog to lick any open wounds. Whenever your dog licks a wound, it can moisten it, allowing the wound to open back up and not fight against bacteria as it should. This can lead to skin infections.

Additionally, people with compromised immune systems should not allow dogs to lick them, especially if they have an open wound.

Something else to think about is how other people will react when your dog licks their face. If you allow your dog to lick your face, they are more likely to do it to strangers and visitors. Although you may be OK with your dog licking your face, certain visitors may become scared, especially if the dog looks aggressive.

All around, people of normal health shouldn’t have any adverse reactions to a dog licking them. However, you might want to discourage facial licking so as not to spread bacteria to open wounds or to those with immune deficiencies. It’s also a great idea to discourage that behavior so your dog does not accidentally frighten visitors and guests.

staffordshire licking woman
Image Credit: Liukov, Shutterstock

Top 3 Ways to Stop Your Dog From Licking Your Face:

If you want to stop your dog from licking your face, you need to train them from doing so, just as you train them from going to the bathroom in your house or barking uncontrollably at other dogs. This requires a lot of patience and skill, but your dog will eventually learn. Here’s how to teach your dog to stop licking your face:

1. Determine Why They Are Licking Your Face

The first step to stopping this behavior is to learn exactly why your dog is licking your face. When you know why your dog licks your face, you can respond in a way that deters the behavior. In other words, determine why they are licking to ensure you aren’t encouraging the behavior.

2. Redirect Attention

Once you know why your dog is licking your face, you can learn how to redirect their attention or affections. For example, you can redirect your dog’s desire to lick your face by giving them more play time and attention from the get-go. This will discourage the behavior by giving them what they want before they feel they have to beg for it.

You can also redirect their attention by teaching them other ways to express their desire for attention or affection.

miniature schnauzer playing tug with dog toy
Image Credit: Natalia Bostan, Shutterstock

3. Discourage Bad Behavior and Be Patient

As you are redirecting their attention, there will be a learning curve. Expect your dog to continue licking your face in the beginning. Be patient with them but discourage the bad behavior. Discourage the bad behavior simply by not giving them what they want.

From there, continue to be patient. Do not hit or do anything that could scare or harm your dog to discourage the behavior. Simply recognize that there is a learning curve and that they will start to listen once they understand the behavior is unwanted.

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Even though a dog licking your face is annoying, view it as a compliment more than anything else. Your dog is either trying to get food, show social deference, or groom you. In all three of these scenarios, it shows that your dog trusts, respects, and loves you.

Although healthy people don’t have anything to worry about from their dog licking them, you certainly can train your dog to stop this behavior. Remember to be patient and never use abusive tactics to train your dog. After all, this is a natural instinct that they have, and they shouldn’t be abusively punished for it.

Featured Image Credit: DavideAngelini, Shutterstock

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