Dogs are wonderful creatures. In fact, they are the only other animal that we know of, apart from ourselves, that can read and interpret human body language. Many people take this interspecies communication for granted, but the truth is that it’s quite a rarity on our planet.
One thing that dogs do often is lick people. Why do they do this and why do they seem to lick people more in the morning?
Where Does the Licking Come From?
To understand the licking behavior, it’s important to understand where it comes from. Your dog, and indeed every dog, communicates in very specific ways. They don’t have hands like us and they don’t talk like us. To communicate with each other, they will often lick.
When dogs are puppies, their mother licks them clean. It’s one of the first things that she does after they are born, and so the behavior is set in motion.
Licking puppies vigorously after birth also stimulates them to breathe their first breath. In this context, licking behavior is centrally important in a dog’s psyche.
There are also other reasons for licking behavior in dog packs and in human and dog pack families:
1 – Communication and Bonding
Like us, dogs are very social creatures. This is one reason that we have bonded with them so closely over thousands of years of evolution.
We think of dogs as part of our families because they integrate so closely and are so social with us. This is also because dogs think of their human families as their social pack.
For a dog, the pack is everything. It provides them with social opportunities, play, and security. Because dogs are so social, they also need to communicate, just like we do.
Licking another dog is a big part of this communication, and they can also communicate with us in the same way.
2 – Submissive Behavior
Dogs are also hierarchical. That is, their whole psychology is based around followers and leaders. In any dog pack, there will be an alpha dog, which can be male or female.
The other dogs will generally be submissive types by nature who will follow an alpha. This makes it easy for dog packs to form and for there to be a structured social order and microcommunity.
Submissive dogs will also use licking to show submissive behavior toward a dog that is higher in the social order. This behavior creates harmony within the dog pack and promotes better social interactions.
In this context, it’s expected that submissive dogs will show their leaders submissive behavior to reinforce the pack hierarchy.
Your dog will also behave like this in their human pack. Because this hierarchical thinking is such a central part of dog psychology, they will sometimes lick to show their submissiveness toward you. This can happen at any time.
3 – Reconciliation
Though we still don’t know everything there is to know about dogs and their behavior, recent studies conclude that dogs definitely enforce a type of moral code in their own dog packs. This can be witnessed during playful interactions.
There are certain rules to dog play, including no biting or hurting. If this happens and one dog doesn’t follow the rules, there are consequences, including temporary exclusion from play.
One way that a dog shows that they are sorry is to lick. They reconcile social relationships by licking other dogs.
When it comes to dogs and humans, we will often interpret this as the dog saying that they are sorry for a certain behavior. We might shout at a dog, and the dog may try to reconcile with us by performing licking behaviors.
What About Morning Licking?
While dog licking can happen at any time, and there are evolutionary reasons behind this behavior, what about excessive licking in the morning?
Lots of dog owners find that their dog likes to lick them a lot on the face in the morning. For some people, this can be rather annoying, but it’s important to remember that to a dog this is perfectly normal and natural behavior. They are just doing what their own canine nature tells them to do.
There are a few different reasons why your dog might enjoy licking your face in the morning, including:
- Greeting you with affection
- Getting your undivided attention
- Tasting your skin
- Reacting to reinforcement behavior
Does Your Skin Taste Good to Dogs?
It might seem like an odd reason for licking, but dogs live by their sense of smell. They like to smell and taste their world, and your face might be tasty to them because of overnight sweat, perfumes, skin creams, and secreted oils.
It might sound gross, but in reality your dog is just enjoying a salty taste or something else on your skin.
Reinforcing Their Behavior
One of the biggest reasons your dog is licking your face is because they get a reaction from you. If you enjoy their licking each morning and give them affection when they do it, your dog will keep on doing it. They will associate a positive reward with their licking behavior and you’ll experience it in the morning and at other times too.
Even if you react negatively, you might still be encouraging your dog to lick your face in the morning. After all, they’re getting your attention, so they’ll keep on doing it just to make you interact with them.
To a dog, licking behavior is perfectly normal. It plays a central part in how they think, feel, and interact with the world around them.
But if you dislike it, the best way to stop it is to ignore it. Don’t give them any attention for the behavior. It might be tough to do, but it can be helpful, especially if it’s a large dog that can physically hurt someone.
Excessive kissing can also be socially unwanted by visitors to a home. If ignoring them is not working, it might be time to consider proper dog training sessions.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard.