We used to call our late Cavalier, Darcy, “the quicker licker-upper.” From puppyhood on, she loved to give kisses — the bigger and wetter, the better. No amount of trying to train her out of it worked, mainly because other people encouraged it.
“Oh, I don’t mind. She can kiss me all she wants,” they’d say.
Why Dogs Lick
Puppies love to lick us, and it’s easy to see why. Our salty skin probably tastes delicious. Sometimes we wear good-smelling lotions and creams that make it taste even better. We give puppies positive attention when they lick us by laughing. Even if we respond negatively — “Ooh, yuck!” — we’re still talking to them, and that’s all puppies really care about.
And licking is an instinctive behavior. In the wild, canid pups lick their mother’s face and lips to encourage her to regurgitate food for them. Domestic and wild mother dogs lick puppies to groom them. It’s no wonder that our puppies and even adult dogs have a strong desire to lick us since we deliver their food and keep them clean.
But as sweet as puppy kisses are, there are good reasons to discourage the practice. A study in Japan found that bacteria that cause gum disease are transferrable between dogs and humans — going both ways. Your dog may also be kissing you immediately after gulping down garbage, snacking on poop from the cat’s litter box or licking his own behind. The latter is a good — or not-so-good — way to accidentally ingest parasite eggs or larvae hitching a ride in your dog’s saliva.
Less gross but equally important, the habit of licking people is a no-no for would-be therapy dogs, particularly those who visit people with health issues. “Infection control is a primary concern in facilities, especially hospitals, and your animal needs to be protected,” says Pam Becker, a Pet Partners evaluator for the Animal Health Foundation in Lake Forest, California. “Not only do most people prefer an animal not lick them anywhere, but also your animal is at risk should there be body fluids present on skin or clothing.”