Whenever I give my dog a scratch or belly rubs, his typical response will be to give my arm a lick. But why do dogs do this, and is there a problem when a dog licks your arm so much?
I decided to find out as it’s intrigued me for a while. Here’s the short reason why your dog licked your arm, followed by in-depth analysis.
Why does my dog lick my arm? Your dog will lick your arm for reasons including showing affection, to groom you, or even as submissive behavior. Licking is perfectly normal, but constant licking or your arm all the time could point to a health issue.
Comments by animal behaviorists I’ve read also say that dogs lick their owners’ arms as a bid for extra attention… or could even be an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you want to find out why your dog licks your arm all the time, read on.
Why did my dog lick my arm when I pet her?
Licking is normal behavior for dogs. It starts as soon as they are born. You will see how dog mothers spend a lot of time licking their puppies to clean up any mess as well as being a way of nurturing them.
Puppies will then lick their mothers’ mouths in return for food and also lick their bodies for warmth. These long hours of slow licks between a mother and pup are an important bonding experience, and this behavior stays with them as they get older.
When your dog becomes an adult, arm licking can be a way of communicating with you, they do this with other dogs. For example, when a dog licks the snout of a dog, they consider dangerous or dominant, it is a sign of deference and submission.
So, we know it’s learned behavior when dogs lick other dogs. But what does it mean when they do it to a human aside from the obvious communication signal it has to be?
1. Arm licking for affection
Most people think of long, slobbery dog licks as their way of giving kisses, and in many ways, that’s correct. This is their way to show you love, and that they’ve missed you, and they want to know where you’ve been.
When my dog licks my arm, I think it’s his way of expressing affection. So of course, my natural response is to shower him with more love – I rub his stomach more vigorously and loudly praise him using silly baby talk.
This is why your dog licks you when you pet him or her.
In return, he licks any body part of mine he can reach, and the cycle of affection continues. I guess my dog thinks that by licking my arm constantly, he’s paying me back with love.
After a few rounds of this, I realized I’ve inadvertently trained him into licking my arm all the time he wants belly rubs.
2. Arm licking for attention
Take note of the timing of your dog’s arm licking behavior. If they only do it after a string of hours without your attention or if you’ve been away, it is their way of asking you for some playtime.
When I’m sitting on the kitchen floor and watching over what I just put in the oven, my dog sometimes comes over and gives my arm a lick.
I always assume it’s to say hi, and I always give him a little cuddle while we both sit.
3. Arm licking to groom you
Mothers lick their puppies to groom them, and dogs lick themselves to groom. If your dog licks you on the arm a lot for what seems like no reason, it might be because of learned behavior that they’re trying to use on you.
Long, noisy licks may mean they’re trying to groom you, too.
You will often see a dog licking an owner’s arm before the dog goes to sleep. It’s possibly stemming from puppyhood and being in the litter.
4. Arm licking because you taste good
Dogs explore their world through licking and sniffing. Puppies will lick everything they come into contact with, including human arms and faces. As dogs get older, this instinct remains.
Small, pointed licks on your arm denote a more exploratory purpose. The salt in your natural sweat might taste good to your dog. When they lick your mouth instead, it’s likely they are trying to get at the food you’ve recently eaten.
Handy Hint: Dog saliva can be harmful as I describe in this post about them trying to lick babies and toddlers. Avoid getting dog licks anywhere near your mouth.
5. Arm licking for empathy
Studies and many owner anecdotes show that some dogs sniff and lick their owners when they’re upset or crying. Licking your arm is another way of attempting to gauge your change in mood, and perhaps their way of expressing sympathy and affection.
When someone is visibly stressed or agitated, licking might be the dog’s way to reduce that stress and provide comfort, especially if they know that this behavior will be welcomed.
6. Arm licking to be submissive
In wild wolf packs, the leader is graced with licks to their snout as a sign of deference. It’s generally seen as a sign of submission and obedience. And when one wolf has been away from the pack, they are always greeted with licks to welcome them back into the fold.
When your dog licks your hand, it may be a sign of their subservience to you. They’re welcoming you back into your little pack, and this is their way of saying that they’ve missed you.
Should you let your dog lick you?
A dog licking your arm isn’t really harmful to humans, especially if their favorite licking spots are just your arms and hands and not near a mouth or eye.
However, you should wash off thoroughly after handling your dog in any situation – after they’ve licked you, after you’ve given them a long and indulgent belly rub, after you give them a bath.
That’s something you should already be doing.
Make sure to keep any open wounds away from a dog’s mouth and tongue, as bacteria can easily cause infection. The old adage that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s is completely untrue. You might also smell something fishy after the dog licks you, that should also be addressed – find out more here.
Kissing on the mouth is another story. Generally, doctors and veterinarians alike advise against letting your dog lick your mouth. Immunocompromised people are especially at risk for the possible transfer of pathogens from animals.
If your dog is sick, you should keep their tongue away from any part of your body, and that should also include eye licking behavior.
It’s best to keep this kind of contact limited, and again, you’ll need to make sure to always wash off thoroughly afterward.
Is excessive licking a problem with dogs?
Dogs easily get very excited, and arm licking is one way they can express their affection to their owners.
But if you or someone in your household or even a visitor doesn’t like it, you can redirect the dog’s behavior by denying them attention, or fully walking away from them when they lick you. Instead, reward them when they stop licking you.
It’s always important to observe all your dog’s behavior. If your dog is licking excessively – objects, the floor, themselves, or you – it may be a sign of anxiety, pain, or allergies.
Excessive licking of their paws, for example, may be because of itchiness due to parasites or fungal infections. Licking releases endorphins, so dogs may lick sore muscles or joints for relief and to soothe the pain.
Dogs that lick floors constantly is also a sign of problems, possibly mental, not just health issues. Here is what you need to know about floor licking.
If they lick themselves to the point of hair loss or aggravating their skin, it’s best to take them to the veterinarian for a thorough physical. It may be difficult to determine what the threshold of “excessive” licking is, but just observe them closely and look out for other signs of sickness.
First and foremost, when a dog licks your arm a lot, it’s more of a behavioral response. It isn’t usually a sign of a serious health condition.
Generally, dogs lick humans on the face or arm because it is behavior that gets rewarded. If they lick you and you give them a treat or a belly rub, they will do it over and over again.
The bottom line is, licking is a learned and inherited behavior in dogs, and it’s generally a sign of great affection and obedience.
You can reward or punish this habit depending on your tolerance – if you’re fine with being loved-up in this way (I sure am!), then it’s good for you both to indulge in a loop of showering each other with lots of attention.
If not, you can turn away from their licks and instead reward them when they stop licking.
When dogs lick your arms and hands, make sure to wash their saliva off thoroughly. Don’t let them lick your open wounds or your mouth.
Our dogs just want to express their affection, and it’s up to us to react to it responsibly and safely.
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Dogs do the funniest of things, so you might also enjoy these recent reads:
- Why my dog likes to lick up inside my nose
- Why my dog is petrified of farts
- Why my dog is howling and whining when I get home
Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/dog-licks-master-pet-good-cute-2465850/