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A Pooch's Point of View: Why Do Dogs Lick?

Written by Adaptil, published on 16 March 2021

Licking just comes naturally to me - it’s one of the first doggy ‘languages’ we use, and it tells us a lot!

My canine Mummy used to lick me and my doggie siblings to clean us when we were first born. It was really comforting! Mummy dogs also lick their pups to help us know when to go to the toilet; it’s something that my brothers, sisters and I all experienced when we were very small in the litter! I don’t need help any more though - I know how to do it now!

I also remember licking my doggie Mummy’s mouth when I was little - she used to regurgitate food so that it was easy for me to eat and that way I learned to eat food as well as drink her milk. I think I heard it called ‘weaning’ in human talk!

Me and my siblings used to lick each other too; it was very comforting at the time and made me feel much closer to them. 

Why do I still lick?

Doggie tongues are very sensitive, but not as sensitive as cats’ tongues - they can clean themselves much more efficiently than we can, but my nose is better at smelling than theirs!

I use my tongue for a number of good reasons:

  • To clean my coat: Sometimes when I’ve been on a walk and rolled in a muddy puddle, my owner does clean me down when we get home, but they don’t always get everything, so I use my tongue to get to the bits they have missed, like between my toes.
  • To explore: Along with my nose, I use my tongue to find out information about my surroundings and I do sometimes lick another dog’s urine! I know human’s think it’s gross, but I can tell a lot from another dog’s urine - whether it’s a boy dog, or a girl dog and even if it has been neutered or not. I can even tell if they are nervous or friendly - that’s why when I’m in the park I have a good lick and sniff around where  another dog has been, and then I can decide whether I want to find them to play together or not!
  • To soothe a wound: If I have a sore on my leg, licking the wound helps to comfort me, but it won’t make it better. My human parents won’t let me lick it too long and, particularly if it is not healing, they will take me to the vet to have it checked out.
  • To say hello!: When I was a puppy, I used to lick my littermates - it helped us bond, and I remember we often licked each other before a fun time playing rough and tumble together - sometimes things got a little carried away and instead of soft mouthing, one of my siblings would accidentally nip me! 

I quite often like to greet people with a good lick, too - whenever I do this my family laugh and smile so I think they like it. I also find it can be a good way to check out visitors - I can let them know that I would like to be friends and it is a chance to get close and check out all the smells on them, and most importantly, whether they have a canine friend I can meet! 

When I meet a strange dog in the park, we often lick each other around the muzzle - it’s our way of saying ‘hello’. If our tails are wagging, you’ll know that we’re quite happy, but if we’re not so certain, we’ll quite often try and hide behind our humans.

  • To show affection: I can remember licking my canine Mummy and that was nice, so I reckon that if I lick my human’s face, they will know how much I love them. Just like licking my canine Mummy, a quick sloppy kiss to my human’s nose or chin will let them know that I love being around them and I am very relaxed.

Sometimes, they are not so keen as they say my breath is not nice - maybe it was that fox’s poo that I had a sniff at when we were in the park! They will turn away if they don’t want to be licked, so I get the message and won’t try again, but if they stroke me while I’m licking them and talk to me, I think they must like it, so I’ll do it again to please them!

 

  • Humans can be tasty!: If my human has been out for a run, I sometimes lick their skin because they are all sweaty and salty (tasty!) and quite often their hands may still have some of their lunch hanging around and I like to help them to clean it all off!

But sometimes, I lick for other, not-so-good reasons:

  • I’m feeling nauseous: Sometimes I lick, drool and smack my lips if I’m feeling nauseous. So if you see me acting like this, I prefer to be outside - I don’t want to have an accident in my bed or on our carpet! It’s also probably a good idea to take me to the vets if you think I’m ill, as they may be able to find out what’s wrong!
  • I’m uncertain: If I feel uncomfortable about a situation, I will often keep licking or yawning - best to give me some space and alone time. My humans are great at this, and have even bought an ADAPTIL collar to help me stay calm and relaxed wherever I am!

  • I’m anxious or stressed: Licking myself is one of the signs to show that I’m anxious or stressed. When I’m feeling anxious, licking helps me to soothe myself - apparently it releases endorphins which help to calm me down. But I suggest you humans keep an eye out for all the other signs that make us nervous or anxious too - and always take us to a vet if we suddenly start to act differently. 


However, my human has plugged an ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser into the room where I spend most of my time. It reminds me of being with my canine Mummy as it sends out ‘comforting messages’ that only dogs can perceive and it really reassures me if I’m feeling anxious. They also try to limit any major changes to my routine, to avoid any unnecessary stress - they really do know how to keep me a happy pooch!

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