Most people think our dog’s licks are just like our ‘kisses’, but there’s more to them. Read on to learn the meaning behind your dog’s licks.

It’s kind of gross, but somehow we treasure a kiss from our dog. Sure, it’s from the same mouth that eats mud and carries around your dirty socks he finds. It may be ripe with germs and stinky breath, but there’s one thing every pet parent knows: we’d miss the dog kiss. Whether it’s a sweet greeting or a gift of love, there’s meaning in every kiss.

Here are a few reasons why your pooch puckers up. 

Tongue & Chief

Puppies learn to lick to show respect to their pack leader soon after birth. By offering a greeting lick they exhibit a submissive social signal showing deference to dominant pack members. As puppies are weaned, they also may lick their mother’s mouth to request solid food, just as wolf pups licked their mother’s face to ask her to regurgitate food for them.

Just Lickin’

When a dog chronically licks himself, it can mean anything from boredom and anxiety to allergic reactions. It can even signal pain in the areas of the body. Pups that can’t seem to stop licking should definitely see a vet to rule out any allergies or infections. But if your dog only has licks for you, it may be learned behavior. By responding positively and with affection to your dog’s licks over time, he’s learned that it’s a good thing. He’ll offer you a lick for the joy of making you happy, for more attention – and for belly rubs.

Just for the Taste of It

Face it, dogs are suckers for taste and smell. Lotion, dinner crumbs, your hands and face are just too irresistible for the pooch. So the truth’s out. Those sweet smooches may have come from his stomach before his heart. But as long as they keep coming, we’re pretty sure you won’t mind.

The Scoop:

Will the lick make you sick? Find out from recent research covered in our past tip.

Originally published January 2011; reviewed and updated November 2016.