This Is What It Means When A Dog Licks Your Hand
This Is What It Means When A Dog Licks Your Hand
Alex Vicente • Updated on March 22, 2023
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- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
If you have ever spent time around dogs, you might have experienced them licking your hand.
Depending on your feelings about dogs, this might either be cute or gross.
Have you ever wondered why dogs lick your hand?
When a dog licks your hand, it is most likely trying to show you affection and communicate with you.
By licking your hand, your dog is learning more about you and showing its love for you.
This act can help to strengthen the bond between you and your pup.
There are a few other reasons that a dog might lick your hand as well.
Maybe your hand smells like the food you recently ate, or they are hungry and asking for food.
Keep reading to learn about all of the reasons that your dog might lick your hand.
Table of Contents
Reasons For Licking
There are many reasons that your dog may lick your hand. If you spend a lot of time around a particular dog, they may have licked your hand for multiple reasons. We are going to go through some of the most common reasons that a dog may lick your hand.
You should know that all dogs do this, regardless of breed or age. In almost all cases, this is completely normal and fine for your dog to do. Later in the article, we will go over some warning signs to look out for in cases where excessive licking could be a warning sign of something bad.
Communication and Greeting
The most common reason that a dog might lick your hand is to communicate with you. Since dogs don’t communicate with each other using a spoken language, they have to resort to other means of communication. Your dog has likely tried to communicate with you in each of these ways. This communication comes in the form of:
- Sniffing each other
- Growls, barks, or other noises
- Body posture
- Sniffing areas where other dogs have been or have left excrements
When a dog licks you, they are most likely trying to tell you something. They may even do this to show respect and tell you that they are your subordinate. They could also simply be begging and asking for food or a treat. The more time that you spend with your dog, you may find that you can tell what your dog wants by the way they lick your hand.
If you wanted to communicate back with your dog, they might understand your spoken language from your words and tone. Otherwise, you can pet them and spend time close to them to greet and communicate with them. As long as the timing and occasion are appropriate, you should also let your dog lick your hand. This is one of the only ways that they have to communicate with you, so you shouldn’t punish them for it or not let them do it just because you see it as gross.
Your Dog Wants to Show Affection
Another reason that your dog might lick your hand is to show affection. This is something that your dog learned when it was a puppy. Puppies often lick their mothers to let them know that they are hungry. Even though they licked their mothers to ask for food, this brings them closer together and strengthens their relationship.
Your dog is trying to build that relationship with you now. Licking your hand is another form of communication and shows that the dog loves and respects you and sees you as their parent.
There are, of course, other ways that dogs can show affection as well. Dogs have plenty of non-verbal ways of communicating and showing you that they love you.
You can know that your dog cares for you if they do any of these in addition to licking your hand:
- Wag their tail
- Follow you around
- Sleep near you
- Play with you
Licking is usually a true sign of a dog’s affection and trust in its human. When licking your hand, your dog needs to be physically close to you. This licking is also usually done while you are cuddling with your dog. If your dog licks your hand in this type of situation, you can feel confident that your dog trusts you and is comfortable with you.
Your Pup May Be Cleaning and Grooming
Your dog may also be licking your hand to help you groom yourself. Whether you have some remnants of your last meal on your hand or not, dogs are known to lick their humans for cleaning and grooming purposes. As you go through your day, you pick up scents and touch a lot of surfaces with your hands. Your dog can smell all of this and will want to help you get clean by licking you.
Your dog may be especially interested in helping you clean your hands if you have a lot of food on them. Remember that certain foods and spices are not good for dogs, so be careful about what you let your dog lick off of your hands.
If you have spent any time around a dog, you might have noticed that they tend to lick themselves a lot. This is one of the ways that dogs keep themselves clean throughout the day. Dogs lick us for the same purposes.
This is a fairly intimate thing for your dog to do, though. You should know that if your dog licks your hand to help you clean and groom yourself, that they truly trust you and love you. They don’t mind being close to you and enjoy taking care of you.
Your Dog is Trying to Heal Wounds
Apart from cleaning themselves and their humans, dogs also lick to heal and clean wounds. This is an instinct that dogs innately have, as their saliva has antibacterial properties that help speed up the healing process. This is a great trait, as dogs can usually be trusted to heal small cuts and scrapes on their own through grooming themselves.
If you notice that your dog has a large open wound, though, it is best not to let them lick it excessively. This can prevent the wound from closing completely. While the dog is keeping the area clean by doing this, it will not heal unless it is left alone. If there is a large open wound, you should take your dog to the vet and follow their guidelines regarding how to help it heal.
While dogs primarily lick their own wounds to heal them, they might also try to do the same to you if they notice a cut on you; like on your hand. While it is an instinct born out of love for your dog to lick your wounds, it is not advisable to let them get their saliva in your open wound.
Dog saliva may have antibacterial properties to help heal their own wounds, but this is not likely to transfer to human wounds without also transferring over harmful bacteria that could cause an infection.
Lastly, your dog could simply be compulsively licking. There are many reasons that your dog may compulsively lick you and other objects in your home, most of which are perfectly normal and harmless. Some of the reasons that dogs compulsively lick you, and other objects include:
- Your dog is nervous. This could happen if the house is busy and the dog feels unsettled.
- Your dog is scared. This might happen during a thunderstorm or if there are fireworks.
- Your dog is bored. They may come to you to lick your hand or other objects if they have nothing else to do.
If you feel that your dog is compulsively licking, try to find out if it is because of any of these reasons. You can try to calm them down or spend time with them. If they stop, then they have likely calmed down enough to stop the compulsive licking.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from anxiety or excessive fear, try to eliminate the cause of fear from their environment. For example, if your dog shows fear from thunderstorms and fireworks, you can set up a safe space in a closet for them to go during these times. Use comfy pillows and blankets and play soft music to drown out the noise.
Later on in the article, we will go over some warning signs of anxiety and other medical issues. If you think your dog’s condition isn’t helped much by environmental changes, then you should talk to your vet about medication to help your dog.
What it Means When a Dog Licks Various Body Parts
There is a lot of significance associated with a dog licking your hand. Dogs recognize that our hands are our “front paws” and can communicate a lot of affection and information through them. This is a learned trait from genetics and puppyhood. Dog experts have studied this behavior and feel confident that dogs lick their humans’ hands for one of the reasons listed above.
However, dogs are also known to lick other body parts on their humans. The reason for licking these body parts may similarly be to communicate affection or for any of the other reasons that we’ve mentioned in this article. Below, we will go over the potential reasons that dogs may lick these other body parts.
When Dogs Lick Your Feet
It may seem kind of gross, but oftentimes dogs will lick their owner’s feet. They may be doing this for a variety of reasons that we have already discussed. However, experts have ruled out that dogs do this to beg for food or treats. If they are hungry, they are much more likely to lick your hands or to beg in other ways.
One reason that dogs may do this is because you might have some interesting smells on your feet. Especially if you have been wearing open-toed shoes, you are likely to have all kinds of smells and substances on your feet that are tasty for dogs. You also sweat and release pheromones from your feet, so your dog can learn a lot about you through this behavior.
This can seem gross and unsanitary, but it is not really harmful to you or your dog. This is simply another way that your dog is communicating with you and growing closer to you.
When Dogs Lick Your Face
Licking our faces is another trait that our dogs learned through their ancestry and practiced when they were a puppy. If you have ever seen a group of puppies, whether, in real life or a video, you might have noticed that they tend to get in each other’s faces. This is a method of communication as well as a method of play.
Your dog might be licking your face to communicate with you, show affection, and even indicate that they want to play with you. These are not the only reasons that a dog may lick your face, though.
With all of the food that passes through and near our faces, it is no wonder that dogs like to lick them. It is completely possible that a dog might lick your face just to get a taste of your most recent meal or because they just want to know what you have been eating.
When Dogs Lick Other Body Parts
While the hands, feet, and face are the most common human body parts that dogs like to lick, they have been known to lick other body parts as well, like:
There is not as much of an explanation as to why the dogs may lick these areas on the human body. If your dog licks anywhere else on your body besides the three main parts that we have discussed, it is likely just because you taste or smell good.
As we go through our day, we pick up random scents from our environment and produce sweat. Our dogs like to know where we have been and the salty taste of our sweat, as gross as that sounds. They may also like the taste of a lotion you are wearing. In general, though, if your dog is licking a random body part on you, it is probably just because you taste good.
Is Licking Ever a Bad Sign?
There are many harmless reasons that a dog may lick you on your hands or other body parts as we have discussed. It is also usually completely fine for them to lick themselves. In fact, it is good for them. However, if the licking indicates a medical issue, there are some things you should watch.
If your dog is licking you and other objects in your home excessively, this could be a sign of anxiety or that they are scared. We have already mentioned that this could be an issue. If you notice that your dog’s licking habits have increased dramatically or they are showing other signs of anxiety or fear, you should talk to your vet. You can also try to comfort your dog and shelter them from loud noises or other things that may cause fear to see if the licking slows down.
Excessive licking could also be a sign of pain or other medical issues in your dog. This will be shown through them licking themselves more than licking your hand or other body parts. If you notice your dog licking themselves a lot more than usual, it could be a sign of:
- Itchy skin from allergies
- Infections from a bacteria or fungus
- Pain caused by arthritis
If your dog is suffering from any of these conditions, they will usually have other signs as well. They may:
- Itch and scratch themselves excessively
- Have rashes or other marks on their skin
- Vocalize pain when moving joints
If you notice any of these habits or other warning signs in addition to them licking themselves a lot, you should talk to your vet. Even if you suspect that your dog is perfectly healthy, you should keep track of their licking habits. This will help you recognize if their licking increases so you can be aware of potential medical issues.
Wrapping Things Up
At the end of the day, your dog is probably licking your hand to show affection and communicate its love for you. It could also be helping you by “cleaning” your hand or tasting something yummy on your skin.
Your dog may also lick other parts of your body to communicate with you or learn more about where you have gone and what you have eaten in the day. There are a few reasons to keep track of your dog’s licking habits, as they may be a sign of anxiety or another medical issue.
Ultimately, though, dogs communicate nonverbally with each other and with their humans. One of these nonverbal methods is licking. Your dog is trying to communicate with you and get closer to you as their human when they lick you. You might think it is gross, but when your dog licks your hand, it is the ultimate sign of their love for you.
The American Kennel Club