You may have noticed your dog likes to lick you when you cuddle. You might enjoy it; perhaps it grosses you out. Either way, why do dogs do this? Should you stop your dog when he wants to lick you, and if so, how can you do it? Well, here’s everything you’ll want to know.
So, why does my dog want to lick me when we cuddle? Your dog will usually lick you when you cuddle to show you how much he loves you. Mothers will lovingly lick their puppies, so it’s only natural for your dog to show his love for you in the same way. Although, it could also be your dog wants something from you; whether food, water, attention or a need to be let out.
For dogs, there’s no such thing as too much licking. It’s your dog’s way of giving you “kisses.”
That’s the most likely reason behind this interesting behavior.
But there are other potential reasons too. As I have quickly alluded to.
So, let’s now delve into each reason before turning to what you should, and potentially can do about them!
Reasons Why A Dog Licks You When You Cuddle
There are multiple reasons your dog could be licking you while you cuddle. The most common reason is to show you affection, but other reasons include showing empathy, respecting your status, wanting something from you, or simply enjoying the taste of your skin.
He Wants to Show You Affection
The most common reason for dogs licking their owners is to show affection. From the time your dog was a puppy, his mom licked him as a demonstration of her love.
When your dog licks you, he gets a release of dopamine and other endorphins that helps him feel calm, happy, and relaxed.
Think of how relaxing it is for us to stroke a dog. Dogs find it relaxing to lick the human beings they love or other dogs.
Some dogs will lick their owners more than others, depending on their personalities and what they learned from their siblings and their mother. For dogs, licking is a way of bonding and greeting, too.
When we greet a dog, we tend to stroke him as we want to use our hands to touch his fur. We explore the world with our hands, and dogs do the same with their mouths and tongues.
If your dog licks you while you cuddle and you snuggle him or praise him in return, he’ll want to lick you more. Your dog wants to make you happy, so he’ll figure licking you more is one way to do that.
He Is Showing Empathy
Your dog may lick you when you cuddle as a way of showing you empathy. If you are upset, your dog may lick you to help you feel better.
One study asked owners to pretend to cry: they discovered their dogs were more likely to lick and snuggle them when their owners appeared to be upset.
Many would say that dogs appear to understand and empathize with our feelings to some extent.
He Is Respecting Your Status
This may sound surprising, but in a pack of dogs, the lower-status dogs lick the higher-status dogs.
When your dog licks you, he might be showing you not only affection, but respect for your place in his world.
He Wants Something From You
In the wild, dogs (and wolves) will lick around their mother’s mouth as a way of requesting food.
The mother will regurgitate partially-digested food for her pups to eat when they are too little to eat raw meat fresh from a kill.
This type of licking is instinctive, so if your dog is very hungry and is licking you when you cuddle, he might want more food.
Sometimes dogs will lick you in an effort to show you their love so that you reciprocate.
Your dog may revel in your cuddles and simply want more!
Wanting To Go Out
Dogs will lick you if they need something that only you can provide.
For instance, maybe your dog needs to go to the toilet, so he needs you to open the door. Or maybe he really wants to go out and play.
Your dog could be licking you while you cuddle him because he needs more water.
In this situation, licking you is his way of getting your attention.
He Likes The Taste Of Your Skin
Sometimes dogs will lick their owners to enjoy the taste of their skin. You may have noticed your dog licking your arms, legs, or other exposed parts of skin. For many dogs, our skin is tasty.
We have tiny particles on our skin that dogs can smell. If your dog licks you while cuddling when you’re hot and sweaty, he’s likely enjoying the taste of salt on your skin.
Our sweat releases salt and other chemicals that many dogs find tasty.
Other times your dog might lick your face and hands because he can smell bits of something you’ve eaten or a tempting-smelling lotion or cream.
Should You Stop Your Dog Licking You When You Cuddle?
You usually won’t need to stop your dog from licking you when you cuddle. If you enjoy it, there’s no reason to stop it, particularly as it’s an instinctual behavior. The only circumstances where you would want to prevent your dog from licking you while you cuddle is if he’s licking an open wound or if you are using a lotion or cream that is poisonous to dogs.
You don’t need to stop your dog licking you when you cuddle unless it really bothers you, you’re using a cream or lotion that is potentially poisonous to dogs, or your dog is licking an open wound.
Read more: Why Does My Dog Lick My Wounds?
Given that licking can soothe dogs and help them feel more relaxed, calm, and happy, you can actually help your dog feel secure and peaceful by letting him lick you when you cuddle.
When your dog licks you, he’s getting a whiff of pheromones which are powerful allies to help calm dogs.
Most of the time, your dog is showing you he loves you. Imagine if you show your love for your dog and he doesn’t want it – you might feel rejected. If you don’t mind the licking, let him do it – you can always get up after a while if it gets too much (see below).
Note: Some people worry about their dog licking their face. If your dog does this and you don’t mind, you usually aren’t at risk of illness. If you do have concerns, wash your face afterward to avoid any possible contamination. After all, you don’t know what they may have eaten when they’ve discovered something tasty on the ground during their walk!
When It’s Particularly Beneficial For Your Dog To Lick You When Cuddling
There are times when licking you while cuddling can be very beneficial for your dog, such as:
- If your dog is stressed or anxious (for instance, if you’ve just moved)
- If your dog is feeling lonely
- If your dog is missing another family member (or is upset for another reason)
- If your dog has missed you while you’ve been away for the day
Licking people and animals they love can release feel-good chemicals like dopamine, so your dog sees to his needs by licking you.
Note: If you suspect your dog is licking you too much (out of anxiety, for instance), you could consult an animal behaviorist, try to discourage too much licking (see below), or speak to your vet. Sometimes too much licking is a sign of OCD or other medical issues. Excessive licking can lead to sores on your dog’s tongue or other problems.
When You Might Want To Discourage Licking While Cuddling
If You Have An Open Wound
If you have an open wound or sore and your dog licks it, you will want to get him to stop (or lick you somewhere else).
Your dog’s tongue is full of natural bacteria, which could cause an infection if it gets into an open wound.
Likewise, your dog’s saliva could contain parasites, which could also cause problems.
If You’re Using a Certain Type of Cream or Lotion
If you’re using a medicated cream such as a psoriasis cream, you won’t want your dog to lick those particular areas of your skin.
Some medicated creams and lotions can be highly poisonous to dogs, so never let your dog lick those parts of your skin if you’ve applied these creams.
Keep all of these creams in a safe place where your dog can’t get at them. When you apply the cream, wear gloves or wash your hands afterward.
Don’t let your dog lick your skin or even fabrics that the cream may have touched.
Some examples of medicated creams that are highly toxic to dogs (and other animals) include:
- Topical hormone creams
- Psoriasis creams
- Skin cancer treatment creams
- Wrinkle remedies
- Hair loss treatment creams
- Zinc oxide creams (often used to treat baby rash)
- Local anesthetics and pain relievers (e.g., anti-inflammatories)
- Corticosteroid creams (for various skin conditions)
If you use any of these types of creams, you may want to have a full list of details about these medications and emergency helpline numbers.
How To Stop Your Dog Licking You When Cuddling
Although it’s natural and beneficial for your dog to lick you while cuddling, sometimes it can be too much. You can’t expect your dog never to lick you again (and you wouldn’t want to expect this, as it’s a sign of affection, after all), but you can certainly reduce the licking.
Note: Whatever you choose to do to reduce your dog’s licking, be consistent. If you give your dog mixed messages about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, you’ll confuse him. He may then get more stressed or anxious and lick you even more. Your dog will learn as long as you are clear about what you want and what you don’t. After all, he wants to please you more than anything.
Nevertheless, here are some ideas to reduce the amount of slobbery kisses you get from your dog:
Distract Your Dog
Give your dog something different to focus on, such as a food puzzle or a dog chew
Give Your Dog Plenty Of Exercise
You can help your dog release his pent-up energy so that he’s tired out and wants to have a restful cuddle rather than a saliva-filled one.
Exercise is also excellent for reducing stress, so there’s a double benefit to your dog.
If your dog is licking your hand or foot, try moving that part of your body away while remaining neutral.
Don’t look at your dog or give him any other kind of attention (positive or negative). Simply move that part of the body away and see if he stops.
If he just starts licking you elsewhere, try leaving the room.
Over time, your dog will get the message that he needs to show you affection in other ways.
Reinforce The Behavior You Want
Rather than punishing your dog when he does something you don’t want (which never works), try showering him with praise and attention when he does what you want him to do.
Take A Shower
If your dog loves licking you when you’re sweaty, try jumping in the shower before settling down with your dog for a cuddle.
Less salt on your skin might mean less temptation to lick it.
Teach Your Dog Tricks
Train your dog to give you affection in other ways, such as placing their paw on you, leaning on you, or lying on your lap.
Your dog licking you when you cuddle is generally a good sign.
And for the most part, this is something you can, and perhaps should allow. Within reason of course.
But if it’s not something you like, or they tend to lick you in places they shouldn’t, thankfully there are ways to stop it. Or at least reduce it.
- Why Does My Dog Lick Me After Eating?
- Why Does My Dog Lick Blankets?
- Why Does My Dog Lick My Bed?
- Why Does My Puppy Lick My Feet?
- Why Does My Dog Talk Back To Me?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.