The 6 Reasons Dogs Lick Your Hands So Much

Written by Cedric Jackson
Published: May 16, 2022
Image Credit BONDART PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock.com
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A happy dog will always try to lick you. Your hands are the first licking targets. There are many reasons for this canine behavior. Understanding the reason behind this behavior will allow you to love and appreciate your dog more.

So, why does your dog lick your hands 100% of the time? Let us analyze these questions and see why this behavior is a good way to set a stronger bond between you and your furry companion.

1. Is Licking Your Hand a Way of Communicating With You?

Dogs cannot speak with words, but they do with actions. Licking is an easy and quick way to let you know how your dog feels or thinks. The intensity and manner of licking vary. Your dog might be trying to tell you something positive or negative.

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A Form of Greeting

Greeting you when you wake up or come home is a common occasion for your dog to lick your hands. This happens to let you know how happy he is that you arrived safely. Your dog misses you when you leave. Slobbering on your hand when you arrive is a love greeting. Licking a person’s hand is a form of greeting from other friendly dogs as well. It is much like a hug or a social kiss on the cheek among humans.

Puppy licking owner's hand
Licking your hand can be your dog’s way of welcoming you home.

chernobrovin/Shutterstock.com

A Way to See What Your Mood Is

Dogs have a keen sense of taste and smell. Studies show that dogs can sense a person’s energy. They can read you if you are hostile, calm, happy, or even anxious. Your dog will lick your hand to see how you are doing. Dogs remember when a person is unkind or violent. They can smell the chemical changes in your pheromones. The fluctuations read by the Jacobson’s organ can tell dogs that a person has bad intentions.

A Form of Submission

Wolves lick the alpha male of the pack whenever he arrives. They lick his mouth as an expression of companionship, obedience, and submission. This applies to other canine species, including dogs. You are the alpha in your pack at home. As a descendant of wolves, your dog licks your hand as a form of welcome. Licking your hand shows you that your dog submits to you. It soothes your dog’s anxiety from being separated from you for a while.

2. Does This Action Express Your Dog’s Feelings?

Animal behaviorists say that licking your hands is a way for your dog to show love. Dogs release endorphins to calm themselves down when they do this. In a way, licks from your dog are kisses. Your dog licks your hand as a response to your affections. As long as you reciprocate your dog’s affections, he will continue to lick your hands.

Your dog can practice empathy as well. Licking your hands can be a way to show some empathy when you are upset or stressed. Research shows that dogs are capable of empathizing with their humans. After all, they do this with each other and other people. That is why dogs are ideal emotional support or therapy animals.

A yellow lab licking its owners hands
The most obvious reason dogs lick your hands is to express their love for you.

Tina Rencelj/Shutterstock.com

3. Could Licking Your Hands Be a Reminder of Your Dog’s Nature?

Dogs will always have their own origins and nature, even if their pet parents try to humanize them. Going back to their basic behaviors is a form of sanctuary. Licking is a natural dog behavior. Licking your hands may be a reminder of your dog’s nature.

Puppyhood

Mother dogs constantly lick their puppies. This behavior nurtures and grooms the puppies. Believe it or not, dogs are capable of experiencing nostalgia. Dogs recall the happiness of their puppyhood. They reminisce by licking your hands. Your dog may recall the security of having littermates and the mother dog.

Pack Behavior

After hunting, the adult wolves return to the pack. The puppies and weak pack members lick the mouth of the returning wolves. This stimulates the hunting wolves to regurgitate meat. In the same way, your dog licks your hands. This behavior is part of your dog’s DNA. You are the pack leader. That is why your dog licks your hand when you arrive.

Grooming Behavior

Close pack members show affection and strengthen their bond by licking each other. The adult wolves groom the younger ones and the other adults as well. Your dog practices an attempt to groom you by licking your hands. It is your dog’s way of showing you that he cares for you and is ready to protect you.

4. Is This Behavior a Possible Attempt to Taste Your Hands?

Dogs have neophilia, which is the attraction to interesting and new smells. When you come from the kitchen or take home some food, your dog can start to lick your hands. The smells from your hands are intense to a dog, even if you have wiped your hands with a wet towel. They lick your hands to have a taste of what you are eating or just ate.

If Licking Is Excessive, Train Your Dog

Some pet parents find hand-licking okay. Others may find it a little excessive. If this is the case, you can train your dog to greet you in more positive ways. Using food or toys can help you accomplish this.

Training a dog
You can train your dog not to lick your hand excessively.

Christian Mueller/Shutterstock.com

5. Does Licking Tell You That Your Dog Needs Attention?

Your dog may want your attention. Licking your hands is an easy way to tell you to respond with love and attention. This encourages your dog to lick you more. Your dog may also lick your hand to tell you to give him some food or treats. This behavior is a version of a wolf puppy licking the mother’s mouth after a good hunt. The licking triggers the regurgitation of food.

6. Can Licking Be Caused by a Medical Reason?

There could be an underlying issue to licking. This can lead to excessive licking. It could have symptoms similar to behavioral licking. Possible medical causes of excessive hand-licking are:

  • Allergies
  • Infections
  • Parasites
  • Injury
  • Arthritis
  • Gastrointestinal issues

Licking may not be exclusive to the hands. It may extend to the different surfaces as well. This behavior triggers the release of endorphins. It relieves pain and discomfort. You may compare it to gentle rubbing when there is something sore.

If Licking Is a Problem, Ask Your Vet for Help

Licking is generally harmless. It may remain a form of expression and not a form of domination. It is, in fact, a sign of submission, according to animal behaviorists. Licking is a behavior of submissive pack members.

Even so, there are situations when your dog may exceed the normal degree of licking for some pet parents. Some people do not like to feel the sensation of licking from their own pets. A person who has mysophobia or fear of germs tends to cringe whenever a dog approaches. If this is the case, you can redirect your dog’s licking behavior to another positive greeting. Excessive licking may be a form of self-stimulation. Your dog may be bored or in need of veterinary care.

Your vet can check your dog to detect and treat any medical problem. Behavioral treatments can start if your vet rules out medical issues. Changing activities is an option. Instead of licking, you can encourage your dog to solve a puzzle or have a walk with you. Teaching your dog tricks is also an option.

Consistency and repetition are important in redirecting your dog’s behavior. Some dogs may take some time to learn the alternative behaviors to licking. Others may change in a few training sessions. Remember, your dog wants nothing else than to be with you. As long as the activity involves your company, you can redirect your dog’s behavior with ease.

Stopping excessive licking is important for your dog’s general health. This behavior can irritate the skin and result in hair loss or hot spots. Scolding your dog is never helpful in training him. Positive reinforcement is key. You can stop excessive licking by rewarding your dog after exhibiting good behavior. One effective way to do this is to give a treat when the licking stops.

A brown chihuahua being examined by a vet
Your veterinarian can rule out any medical issue that may be causing excessive hand licking.

OLESYA BOLTENKOVA/Shutterstock.com

Products That Can Help You Appreciate or Redirect Your Dog’s Hand-licking

Your dog will always lick your hand at every opportunity. You can reward your dog with dog jerky treats. Get a good dog toy basket containing the best durable dog toys you can find. Taking your dog out for a run or a hike is also a form of reward. Using the best hands-free dog pet leash can make your adventure easier. If you think your dog’s hand-licking is getting too much, you can divert your dog’s attention with the best dog calming treats available on the market.

Conclusion

Hand-licking is a form of greeting, interest, and empathy. If you think it is too much, you can divert your dog’s licking energy to another positive energy. There are products that can help you do this. Consulting your vet can also help. Otherwise, you can just enjoy your dog’s affections and strengthen your bond with each other more.

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