What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks Your Hand?

What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks Your Hand?

Dogs use different means to communicate with their human friends. Licking is the most common method of them all. You might have seen dogs running toward you and licking your hands and faces multiple times if you have dogs at home. If you thought that your dogs were showing their affection towards you through their licking, you are partly right.

However, you might be surprised to know that dogs don't lick only to show their affection. While licking, they use their sense of smell to get closer to you for many reasons. In this article, we will explain some of the most common reasons why your dog licks your hand.

Reasons Why a Dog May Lick Your Hand

Natural Instinct

As you already know, dogs stay with their pack in the wild. After every hunting trip, they returned to their habitats to chew back the food they had swallowed. Small pups, which were physically undeveloped for hunting, used to get their share of food by licking their mother's mouths. So, licking has been a natural habit for dogs since time immemorial. Many years after they have been domesticated, they still lick your hands or faces due to their natural instinct.


If you thought only humans experienced feelings, emotions, and nostalgia, you are mistaken! Dogs have their share of nostalgic moments, too. According to canine experts, dogs lick your hands sometimes because they remember being licked by their mothers when they were young. They feel secure when they revisit their childhood and try to mimic their parent's actions with you.

Get Ready to Be Groomed

In the wild, dogs used to lick each other in their pack to groom them. The mother dog licked her young ones to pamper them and give them the much-needed safety. Though dogs are domesticated, they consider you one among their pack today. Sometimes, they try to lick your hands to groom and nurture you. Consider yourself lucky when you get a grooming session from your dog.

Sign of Affection

This is the most common reason that most of you are most likely already aware of. When you are back home after a long trip or after a long day at work, you will find your dog running toward you and continuously licking your hands and face. In this case, you can be pleased knowing that your canine friend is showing your affection for you. It has missed you immensely, trying to exhibit this feeling in the only mode of communication it knows – licking.

Warning Sign

Not all reasons why your dog licks your hand can be for positive reasons, so watch your dog's behavior closely. Does it lick your hands very often? Does it lick other surfaces or objects from time to time? Does it also lick itself ferociously? If you have answered "yes" to at least one of these questions, it is time to take your dog to the vet.

More often than not, frequent or obsessive licking is linked to insecurity. If your dog has been ill-treated in the past, if t has trouble settling in your home, or has been brought home from a rescue shelter, it might feel very insecure and lick you continuously to express the same. In this case, it is time for your dog to get a quick medical intervention.

Love for Human Smell

Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell; hence, they try to lick your hands frequently if they like the smell of them. Sometimes, it loves the smell of food on your hands, and it keeps running toward you to lick them. Your dog has a very playful expression when it comes to licking the "slightly salty" human smell of your hands, and you cannot help but admire the innocent look on its face.

Accepts You as the Leader

Many years ago, when dogs lived in the wild with packs of wolves, they used to lick the hands and faces of their leader as a sign of their obedience and respect. Similarly, when living with you, a dog licks your hand to show its acceptance of your leadership. Licking can be seen as a sign of submission, obedience, respect, loyalty, and friendship. When you are away from your dog for a long time, it gets very anxious. It starts licking you a lot when you return because it has missed you. The action of licking can help dogs get rid of their separation anxiety.

To Provide Emotional Support

If you are going through a challenging phase in life, dogs lick your hands to provide you with emotional support and comfort. When you feel upset, a dog understands your body language perfectly and offers to lick your hand or face as a form of support. This is one of the main reasons why dogs are used in therapy and support sessions for people with high stress, differently-abled patients, autistic children, etc. A study conducted a few years ago proved that dogs offered emotional support by nuzzling and licking to upset people while their actions were controlled by people who weren't.

Testing the Waters

Did you know that dogs are incredibly clever animals and lick your hands only after testing if you are safe or not? Don't be scared when your friend's dog gives you a hesitant lick on your hands. It is only trying to understand how you smell. Humans' sweat contains pheromones, and dogs use these pheromones to understand your mood better. If the dog feels good about your mood and vibes, it starts licking you with more intensity.

Is It Alright for Dogs to Lick Your Hands?

You might enjoy it for a while when your dog licks your hand to show its affection or other emotions. However, when the licking gets too much, you start getting uncomfortable. What do you do, in that case? Before knowing what to do to make your dog lick you less, you must understand what not to do. Never punish a dog if it licks you too much, as it can cause undue stress for the animal. 

  • Train your dog on some other actions to show emotions or feelings. High-fives, paw shakes, etc. are good actions that can distract your dog effectively. When a dog starts doing these actions, its licking action will become quite rare.
  • More often than not, dogs lick you to get attention and love. When you pamper them with these things, you encourage your dog to lick you frequently. On the other hand, a good technique to make your dog lick you less is to ignore it when it licks you. When you ignore your dog a few times your pet will understand that it cannot try that trick on you anymore.
  • Dogs are very good at understanding your instructions. You can tell a loud and clear "No" when your dog licks you or anyone else. Whenever your dog starts to lick you, you must clearly shout the instruction. After a few times, your dog will understand that you have prohibited it from licking you or anyone else.
  • Today, you will find plenty of chew toys in the market for dogs. You can use some of these to divert your dog's licking. You can also give your pet treats  if it refrains from licking your hands.
  • If your dog doesn't respond to any of these tricks and continues to lick you continuously, you have to consult the veterinarian immediately.

Bottom Line

It is a great feeling when your dog showers affection on you in the form of licking. Dogs, by nature, have licking as one of the main characteristics in their DNA. So, it is only natural for them to keep licking your hands and face. While you love all the attention and love you get, it can get quite uncomfortable and embarrassing if your dog licks everybody that comes home. It is important to draw the line somewhere, and we are sure that the simple tricks we mentioned above will help divert your dog's mind away from licking.

While giving treats to dogs to divert their attention, be wary of the contents of the goodies, as some of them can cause choking in pets. Always consult with a vet, and understand your dog's behavior well before making any drastic changes in your training schedule. This will help your dog stay healthy and happy always.

Things may not be straightforward sometimes, though. In some rare cases, your dog can never stop licking your hands, despite all your efforts to divert its attention. When you observe that your dog just cannot keep to itself and seeks you out frequently, you have to take it to the vet immediately. It could be underlying stress or anxiety issue that needs to be corrected quickly before it assumes alarming proportions.

About the Author

Kirsten Heggarty
Website | + posts

Kirsten created The Pet Handbook with the aim of sharing her knowledge about pets, pet food, healthy habits, and more. All of her advice is based on years of her own experience with her pets, and feedback that she has received from grateful readers about her tips. If you want to know more please read the About Me page.