4 Reasons Your Dog Licks Your Hand

by Sonya | Last Updated:   March 10, 2021

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Dogs are friendly and affectionate animals and this can express itself in a wide range of different ways. One of the most common is licking. Almost all dogs will have a propensity for licking.

This means, as a dog owner, you should get used to the idea of your face and hands being licked on a regular basis by your pup.

Dogs aren’t able to communicate in the same way as humans, but they still need a way to express their feelings and emotions, so touch and taste are a big part of how they get their needs, wants, and moods across.

Licking you can actually provide your dog with a lot of information about you, which may come as a surprise to many dog owners. But why do dogs lick hands so often?

Let’s take a look at four of the most common reasons a dog will lick your hands.

Dog licks  hand of person close up

Related Reading: Why Do Dogs Lick Lotion? (6 Reasons)

1. Communication

As we noted earlier, dogs cannot communicate in the same way as humans can and they use touch and taste as a means to get their moods and needs across. If the dog is calmly licking, chances are they are just showing affection to you.

This is their way of saying “I love you” and as much as you might not like being covered in doggy slobber, you should take it as a sign of love and affection and nothing more.

If, however, the dog is licking you frantically, they may be excited about something, worried, or trying to show you something. In the case of frantic licking, take cues from other body language that might tell you more about what the dog is feeling.

Is the tail wagging? If so, they might just be happy or excited.

But say the dog is crying while frantically licking your hand or has their tail tucked between their legs. This is an indication that they are scared or stressed.

Learning to understand these behavioral cues can help you develop a better and stronger bond with your dog and help you meet their needs with more ease.

2. Grooming

Even if we give our dogs baths, they are still social creatures. This often starts as puppies, as a puppy’s mother will groom the puppies to keep them clean.

This is a behavior that often sticks around into adulthood and the dog may still groom themselves, but more likely, they will transfer those maternal or puppyhood feelings to you by grooming you.

This is a way that they bond with you and while it may not be fun to be the recipient of a dog bath, they are just trying to show their love and affection for you.

3. Something Tasty

Sometimes the reason your dog will lick your hand is not rocket science. It could be that they can smell or taste something on your hand that they like.

If, for example, you just finished making a meal or eating and your dog licks your hands, they might just be trying to get a taste of whatever it is you were handling.

It should be noted that not everything we touch is safe for dogs and even though it may not be good for them doesn’t mean they won’t still try to lick your hands.

You need to be careful around dogs after handling certain substances that may be harmful to them if they ingest it.

If you are working with something harmful, keep the dog away from the area or make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before petting them and letting them lick you to make sure your hands are free of anything potentially dangerous.

4. Affection

As we mentioned earlier, oftentimes licking is something that is a holdover from being a puppy. It is a way they get comfort and show affection.

If your dog seems to be licking your hands or face for no reason and isn’t giving any signs of distress or excitement, chances are, they are just showing your love.

A small beautiful young Dachshund dog lies on a wooden textured table and licks a ripe red apple. Studio, black background

Is It Wrong to Encourage Licking?

The short answer is yes. Encouraging your dog to lick your hand will help you to form a better bond with them, and it is a great way for your dog to communicate their feelings, wants, and needs to you.

First, there are far worse and more destructive habits that a dog can have and secondly, this is an important emotional outlet for your dog that you don’t want to stifle.

Even if you do not like being licked by your dog, it isn’t recommended that you punish them for licking your hands. It is a natural behavior that is used to communicate a wide range of feelings or emotions and is an important part of their social life. You don’t want the dog to have negative associations with trying to communicate or be affectionate with you.

This does not mean that licking can’t become an issue. Some dogs get a little excessive with it and this can necessitate our need to do something to at least reduce the amount the dog is licking. One of the best ways to reduce licking is to train them to do something else.

Say, for example, your dog has a bad habit of licking any guests that come to your home. Rather than punishing their affection and excitement, teach them to do something else with a command, such as to go sit politely in front of the guest to await a pet.

This still allows the dog to affectionately greet guests, but in a way that is a little less, well, gross. This does not necessarily always work and there are some dogs that, no matter what you do, will lick guests incessantly.

In this instance, the only thing you can really do is put the dog in another room while the guests are over if they are opposed to being licked.

You do not want to punish the animal for displaying a natural and often positive behaviour that allows them to show you affection and to communicate needs and desires with you.

Understanding and learning about your dog’s behavior will better help you bond with them and evaluate their moods.

Related Reading: Why Do Dogs Lick Guinea Pigs? (Is It Safe?)

In Closing

Pretty much all dogs lick, this is just a fact of dog ownership. Licking may have a range of different causes, but most often, when a dog licks your hand, they are being affectionate or trying to communicate something to you.

Since dogs cannot speak to humans to tell them what they need or how they are feeling, they will use non-verbal communication such as licking to get love or emotions across.

The dog may lick to tell you they want something. Since they are groomed by their mothers as puppies, licking is often a holdover from puppyhood that will be transferred on to you. Sometimes when they lick, they are just grooming you as their mothers would.

It may also be that you have something tasty or interesting on your hands that they want to get a taste of. Or, perhaps, they are just trying to show you some affection to say they love you.

There are many reasons a dog will lick hands, most of which are harmless and even helpful. They can help you better understand your dog and give you a great way to bond with the animal.

It is an important part of their social lives, so you do not want to punish them for licking. If the behavior gets out of control, consider training or keeping the animal from people they incessantly lick.

Sonya is a software engineer by day and recently earned her MBA degree, but she also loves spending her free time writing about her favourite passion, dogs! Click here to read more.
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