Why Does My Dog Clean Me All The Time?

dog cleaning humans face

There are several reasons your dog cleans you. They could be showing affection, comforting themselves, seeking attention, or like the way you taste. Cleaning other members of the pack is something dogs learn from their mother. Since you are a member of their pack, your dog will clean you every once in a while.

Most dog owners have come to terms with the fact that dogs have many strange and sometimes nasty habits. One of those habits is your dog cleaning you. If you’ve had your dog for several months, their tongue is no stranger to you by now.

But why do dogs clean their human owners? And is there any way to put an end to this behavior? Those are the two questions we will address below.

Six Reasons Dogs Clean Their Owners

They Want to Keep You Healthy

Dogs, like other animals, lick as a method of grooming. Since you are the center of your dog’s universe, they will seek to lick you clean of the dust and grime you have built up during your day. They want to keep you as healthy as you keep them.

They Learned It From Their Mother

The first behavior a dog learns from their mother is licking. As soon as your pup was born, their mother communicated to them through licking.

She stimulated their first breath by swiping her tongue against their newborn skin. She cleaned the fluids from them with her tongue shortly after birth. Licking was important to your dog’s survival.

In fact, your dog licked around their mother’s mouth so she would regurgitate food. Your dog may continue to do this with you as a sign of submission, or to catch any crumbs you may have on your face from a previous meal.

Affection

The most common reason your dog licks you is affection. They want to show you the love they feel for you. Sometimes, they assault your face with a tongue bath when you come home because they want you to feel just how excited they are about your return from work, school, or wherever you may have been. They have missed your presence and your scent, so they want to express their love for you.

Your dog does not have lips to kiss you, so licking becomes their way to mimic the love you show them.

But how do we know dogs “feel the love” when they lick us? Studies show that it releases endorphins which give your dog feelings of love and comfort.

When your dog’s ancestors greeted members of the pack who had returned from hunting, licking was a way to get the returning dogs to share food. This ritual has translated into the affectionate habit of greeting you when you walk in the door.

Your dog loves you, and licking is their way of showing you that love. This form of showing affection has been learned from their mothers and passed on as an instinctual behavior descended from the genes of their ancestors.

Comfort

Since your dog’s licking began as a way to secure food from their mother, it provides a degree of comfort for them in times of anxiety.

When your pup goes for your face as you walk in the door, it is not only affection at play. Your dog is relieved by your return, as they have been waiting for you all day.

Licking releases endorphins that comfort your dog. They may have been temporarily stressed because of a lack of food, water, or some other immediately resolvable issue.

Feeling your skin on their tongue calms them in much the same way as licking their mother during their first few weeks of life.

Licking you brings them back to a state of ease, soothing and quieting their mental disturbance.

Attention

Licking may be a way for your dog to get your attention. If you give them attention when they lick, you teach them this is a way to get your attention.

If your pup feels neglected, even temporarily, licking you may be a way of directing your gaze back towards them.

Dogs are inherently social animals, so they need attention and companionship to stay healthy. Licking you may simply be a way of asking for you to pet them.

Since licking was once a way to solicit food from the mother dog or other pack members, this attention-seeking behavior may be your dog asking for food or water.

Check their food or water bowl to see if they need a refill (provided they are asking on schedule). They may be looking for you to invite them to dine.

Exploration

Your dog’s eyesight isn’t all that great compared to yours. To compensate, they explore the world through their sense of smell and taste. When they lick you, they may be tasting the new lotion you have on. Or, they may be looking for a few crumbs left over from your last meal. If you have been sweating, they may enjoy the salt that has formed on your skin.

It’s possible that your dog smells a change in your scent and wants to taste what it could be. You have been walking around the world without them, and they do not want to be completely left out of the experience. Their licking of your face, hands, neck, and other exposed areas of skin may be a way to share in your world.

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Cleaning You

You may not like your dog licking you all the time, especially in the face. No one likes unwanted germs invading their space.

If you have an open wound, your dog’s licking could cause a bacterial infection. Or you may have an aversion to your dog’s tongue after watching them eat something disgusting.

Here a few ways to teach your dog to stop cleaning you:

Firmly Say “NO!”

Often, dogs continue to lick because they feel the behavior is rewarded. Telling them no is an excellent way to reverse this association.

Remove Yourself From the Room

If you tell your dog no, but they continue to lick, stand up and go to another room with the door closed behind you.

This will show your pup you do not want to be licked. Eventually, they will dissociate licking with being rewarded because they associate licking with you leaving the room.

Substitute The Behavior.

Find an interactive game for them to play that does not involve licking. Reward them with a treat as you train them to perform a trick that can be substituted for licking.

Cleaning is Normal Behavior

Licking can mean many things for your pup, from affection to grooming to communication. This can be an appropriate behavior, but do not be afraid to substitute it for something else. Show your pup the same love it displays towards you.

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