Some people are uncomfortable when a dog licks them off. They perceive this as unhygienic and quite often as a bad habit of the dog. Thereby licking off and licking are a proven means in the communication of the dog. It can have different meanings. Licking off is not only used for humans. Also other dogs or the own dog body are licked off.
1. Licking off as an expression of joy, affection and love
If the dog licks the human, then he expresses a certain mood with it. For example, if a dog comes running up to a human wagging its tail and starts licking its hand or leg, it simply means "I like you and I’m glad to see you" and is a polite way of saying hello. Many dog owners will also know situations in which they are together with their dog in peace, for example, lying on the couch and the dog uses this moment to lick his human intensively and devotedly. This is an expression of his deep affection and love. Dogs also show their affection for each other by licking each other. If the human strokes his dog, the dog will possibly return this by licking the hand. This signals that the driver enjoys the situation and wants to show affection for it. It’s a sign of trust and comfort.
2. Licking off as a gesture of submission
Dogs also use licking off as a gesture of submission. It is common to see young dogs, puppies or lower ranking dogs licking around another dog’s mouth. In conjunction with turning sideways or ducking, this is a submission and appeasement behavior. And the dog applies this also to humans. It signals to him "you are the boss".
3. Licking as a means of cleaning and coat care
Not only cats use their tongues and saliva to groom themselves extensively. Dogs also do this. They lick their bodies, thereby ridding the fur of dirt. Also among themselves dogs do not clean themselves so rarely. An affectionate, caring behavior, which is sometimes also applied to humans. Another reason why people occasionally enjoy having their arm or hand washed by the dog’s tongue.
4. Marking by licking
Dogs mark their territory primarily with urine. But also saliva is used to mark "property". For example, when dogs smell another dog’s saliva on a toy, they know whose toy it is. Bitches for example use saliva to mark their puppies. They lick her and thus they themselves but also other dogs can recognize that she is the mother of the puppies.
5. Healing wounds by licking
For dog owners it is often an alarm signal, if the dog licks permanently the same place or the paw. Most often, intense licking of a place means that the dog has sustained an injury here, feels pain or a foreign object bothers him. Instinctively, the dog tries to get relief by licking this spot. In fact, the dog’s saliva contains enzymes that can kill bacteria. Also dirt is transported out of the wound by licking. Instinctively, the dog will also try to lick wounds on his human to heal him. In itself a very nice behavior.
The previous points indicate that it is quite normal for the dog to lick a person. It is part of its natural communication and expresses different moods. It is a behavior that should in no case be punished or dismissed as a bad habit. Nevertheless, it is of course up to each person whether and how far he wants to allow his dog to lick him. Not every dog owner loves to get food from his dog bspw. to be licked in the face. Here the dog may well be offered an alternative like the hand.
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