Dogs, those loyal companions that bring endless joy and laughter to our homes, sometimes baffle us with their quirky behaviors. Among the most endearing (and sometimes puzzling) of these is the act of a dog licking our hands and feet. While it might seem like just another of their many peculiar habits, there are numerous reasons behind this behavior. Let’s dive deep into the canine psyche to decode this age-old mystery.
1. Affection, Pure and Simple
At the very core of this behavior is a basic expression of love. Dogs and wolves, in the wild, lick each other’s faces as an expression of affection or submission. This behavior can be seen in puppies as they nuzzle and lick their mother’s face. When your dog licks your hands or feet, it might simply be their way of saying, “I love you.”
2. Taste Sensation
We secrete tiny amounts of sweat, oils, and even dead skin cells. While this might not sound appetizing to us, for dogs, these unique scents and tastes offer a whole world of information. The salts and other minerals present in our sweat might be delightful for their taste buds. It’s not uncommon for dogs to be drawn to the taste, especially after you’ve had a long day or have just applied lotion.
3. Comfort and Soothing Mechanism
For some dogs, the act of licking can be self-soothing. Much like how some people find solace in repetitive actions like tapping or humming, dogs might find the rhythmic act of licking comforting. If your canine companion is an anxious one or has been through a traumatic experience, you might find them licking more frequently as a mechanism to cope.
4. Seeking Attention
A dog quickly learns that certain behaviors elicit responses from their human counterparts. If every time your dog licks your hand, you respond by petting them or giving them attention, they’re likely to repeat the action. It becomes their not-so-subtle way of saying, “Hey, look at me!”
5. Instinctual Behavior
Historically, wild canids would lick the mouths of their pack members, especially when they returned from hunting. This was an instinctual way to inquire about food or to show submission to the dominant member of the pack. Licking your feet and hands could just be a deeply ingrained instinctual behavior passed down through generations.
6. Health Concerns
While occasional licking is normal and even endearing, obsessive licking can sometimes indicate underlying health issues. Conditions like gastrointestinal problems can cause dogs to lick excessively. If the behavior seems out of the ordinary, it might be worth consulting with your veterinarian.
Should You Discourage the Licking?
While most instances of dogs licking hands and feet are harmless, there are situations where it might be best to curb this behavior. If the licking becomes obsessive, it could lead to sore spots on their tongue or even cause harm to your skin. Additionally, if you’re someone with sensitive skin or allergies, this repeated action might cause irritation.
To discourage this behavior, it’s essential to redirect their attention when they start licking. Offering them a toy or engaging them in a play session can break the cycle. However, it’s crucial to approach this with patience and love. Scolding or punishing a dog might cause them to associate negative emotions with what was once a sign of affection.
The act of a dog licking your hands and feet is multifaceted, with reasons ranging from pure affection to deeply ingrained instinctual behavior. While it’s generally a harmless action, it’s essential to monitor the frequency and ensure it doesn’t become obsessive. Dogs, with their myriad ways of communicating, often leave us in wonder. Understanding their behavior only serves to deepen the bond we share with these incredible creatures.