What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks Your Hand?

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Nothing feels better than coming home from a tiring day at work and getting a kiss from your dog. You may consider this as a form of affection from them.

Some dogs lick you on the face, while others do it on your hands. Dogs love to express their love to you with a loving lick on the hands. 

Their message can depend on the intensity and the length of the lick. Sometimes, you might even mistake it for aggression or hunger.

So, what does it mean when a dog licks your hand?

We share with you what your dog is trying to communicate when they lick you and whether this behavior is an expression of dominance.

We also share some of the dangers of dog saliva and what you can do when your dog licks your hand all the time.

dog licks hands

What It Means When a Dog Licks Your Hand

Dogs’ behavior is based on their senses. While their sense of smell is the strongest and most useful for survival, they also enjoy using touch and taste to communicate.

One way they express this is by licking your hands. Here’s what it means when your dog licks your hand.

They Are Showing Affection

So, you’re lounging on the couch, and your dog approaches and sits beside you only to give your hand some kisses. 

They might be saying, “Hey! Want to play?” or simply an “I love you!” Either way, licking your hand is a dog’s way to greet and show affection to you. 

Sometimes, dogs will lick your hand as an apology after they do something you don’t like. Like peeing inside. 

If this happens often, solve the root cause by house training your dog or correcting the bad behavior.

This is easy if they already know how to stop when you command them!

They are Investigating

If they lick your hand when you just came home from somewhere, or after an hour of gardening, it’s because they want to know what you’ve been up to.

You may also mistake their damp nose for their tongue. Dogs use their sense of smell to understand where you went to and who you met with.

It’s normal for your dog to feel a little suspicious sometimes. It’s not because they’re jealous of other dogs you might be playing with, but because dogs are curious creatures!

Trying to get more information about you is also a sign of a respectful and submissive dog.  

You Taste Great

Maybe your dog likes licking your hands simply because they like the way they taste. 

Licking different places means different things, and this is the most common reason for dogs who lick hands.

You don’t have to overthink it. There’s probably just something about your salty flesh. 

Many sweat glands in our hands release water and salt, along with other secreted chemicals.

If you just ate a slice of pizza and there’s grease left on your fingers, expect your dog to want to clean it up for you!

If your dog likes the way your hand lotion tastes too often you can command them to stop so they don’t lick any harmful chemicals. 

Boredom and Anxiety

Licking may also be a sign of stress in dogs. If your dog urgently licks your hand when you get home from the store, it can be because of separation anxiety.

They do this to release feel-good endorphins that help relieve mental disturbances. 

Try to differentiate between licking as a form of greeting and licking because of anxiety. Check their body language. 

Do they seem happy licking your hand or worrisome? What is the intensity of the behavior? 

If you suspect them to have these emotional issues, learn how to help a fearful dog.

Is Licking a Form of Dominance?

No, especially when they do it on your hands.

Licking is a dog’s gentle way of communicating with you or investigating your whereabouts. 

Even if you experience excessive and frantic licking from your dog, it is still not considered aggression.

There is no dominance in dogs when they do this because naturally, it is their way to show obedience and trust. 

It may also mean that they see you as the leader of the pack.

Dogs’ licking behavior is also not a sign of dominance because they most likely learned it from their mothers.

Your dog would have been licked a lot by their mother to groom and nurture them. 

Whether they’re trying to do the same to you or just scraping the excess ketchup off your hands, licking is a wholesome activity among furry friends which you shouldn’t be worried about.

Let them take a trip down memory lane and experience that feeling of safety!

It’s how dogs bond with their mother and other members of the pack as licking serves as a sign of nurturing and protection. 

When You Should Not Let Your Dog Lick Your Hand

So, when does licking your hand become out of hand? Stop your dog from licking hands if you notice the following.

Frantic and Excessive Licking

If they intensely lick your hands, then there may be an underlying issue such as separation anxiety, or pain.

Remember that dogs tend to be as gentle as possible when they are trying to protect you or show affection. 

If you feel like something’s bothering your dog that has resulted in excessive licking, identify the other signs, and talk to your vet about it. 

When You Don’t Know Where that Mouth Has Been

Unless your dog is trained to eat clean food and bite on clean toys and objects, don’t let their mouth near you. 

Dogs eat and chew on stuff when you’re not looking. If they like foraging outside or going through your garbage, it’s probably best to stop them and express affection in other ways.

Dogs are equipped to handle a dirty environment, but not us!

And remember to wash your hands after petting your pup. Even if they haven’t licked you.

When They’re Doing it to Babies, Pregnant Women, and the Elderly

Babies, pregnant women, and elderly people can be overly sensitive to dog saliva and the bacteria it contains.

Despite the low risk of average people getting sick from our dogs licking their hands, babies, pregnant women, and seniors have a higher chance of contracting an illness.

These people are more prone to bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. Parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium may also hit them harder than the average person. 

Anyone with a compromised immune system should also avoid getting licked by dogs.  

This includes those who are undergoing chemotherapy, AIDS patients, diabetics, and individuals recovering from an illness.

dogs licking hands

The Dangers of Dog Saliva

Contrary to popular belief, our dog’s mouth is not cleaner than ours. In fact, they may carry bacteria that can cause sickness or even death.

Allergy

People who are allergic to dogs may experience rashes, hives, or watery eyes when exposed to dog saliva or dander.

Specific symptoms include:

  • skin rash
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • itchy, red, and watering eyes
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • tightness in the chest
  • shortness of breath.

Hypoallergenic breeds of dogs shed less than others so they may cause fewer allergic reactions, although their saliva can still put you at risk.

Also, studies show that homes with hypoallergenic breeds may still contain allergens.

E. Coli Infection

E. coli is a bacteria that lives normally in our intestines. But some types of these bacteria can cause infections and produce toxins. 

Those with weak immune systems, young children, and older adults are at a high risk of developing this complication.

It also affects people with low stomach acid levels. 

While E. coli is mostly caused by contaminated food or water, people with dogs and other animals are at an increased risk. 

Dogs like eating feces or licking their anus, which is home to the residual intestinal bacteria of pets.

When they lick you as well, they may transmit this bacteria to you easily. Gross, right? 

What’s more, about 5-10 percent of those infected develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition where red blood cells are damaged and kidney failure occurs. 

Symptoms of intestinal infection may include:

  • abdominal cramping
  • sudden and severe watery diarrhea
  • gas
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • fever.

Capnocytophaga Canimorus

In June 2018, a man from Wisconsin had both his hands and lower legs amputated after being infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus.

C. canimorsus is a bacteria found in the mouths of dogs and cats. While it does not make our pets sick, humans, especially those who have no spleen, can develop an illness.

These germs also cause infections in people who excessively drink alcohol and those with HIV infections or cancer.

The infections occur at the mouth and throat, specifically through periodontal disease, respiratory tract infections, and eye infections. 

When severe, C. canimorsus can cause blood infection or septicemia, inflammation of the lining of the heart, abscesses in body tissues, and inflammation of brain membranes. 

What to Do When Your Dog Licks Your Hand

Many people enjoy their “dog kisses,” especially when they don’t do it on your face. Your hands are good if you wash them thoroughly and sanitize them right after.

Understand that your dog’s affectionate licking of your hands is their way of showing love and respect to you.

In fact, it’s a positive behavior compared to biting, chewing your stuff, and being destructive. Licking is a gentle way of communicating.

It is only really an issue if you are sick, if they do it to children, or if it becomes obsessive behavior.

Make sure you and the people in your house wash their hands right away if your dog licked your hands after eating feces, or if they lick an open wound. 

If your dog excessively licks your hand, you can stop them by solving the root cause. 

For example, if they frequently perform this behavior when they get home, it could be because they are relieving themselves from separation anxiety.

You can help them overcome this by giving them lots of stimulation even when you’re not around. Let them have access to your yard and leave some dog toys and dog treats for them!

If your dog licked your hands and it has lotion or household cleaners on them, your dog is at a high risk of getting poisoned. 

Lotions, household cleaners, essential oils, and chocolate contain chemicals that are dangerous for them.

Rinse out their mouth immediately and call your vet in case of symptoms of poisoning. 

Next time, keep these toxic substances away and wash your hands before letting them approach you.

FAQ Dog Licking and Communicating

Is it Harmful When Dogs Lick Humans?

Although they mean well when they communicate by licking, dogs can cause harm to children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems when they lick them.

Their saliva may carry harmful bacteria that can cause infections to open wounds and other parts of your body.

If you want to avoid this, it is important to train your dog to know their boundaries. 

You don’t have to be aggressive toward your dog to assert yourself as the pack leader. You just have to be calm and efficient in your training method.

What Are Other Ways Dogs Communicate with Humans?

Aside from licking, dogs also communicate through barking. You may notice that dogs sometimes bark for the same reason they lick humans.

They greet us, show affection, feel bored or anxious, or they are curious about your whereabouts. 

However, unlike licking, dogs may also bark out of dominance. It is triggered by a person or an animal who comes in an area that your dog considers as theirs.

We have nine permanent solutions to stop your dog from barking

What Does it Mean When My Dog Licks Themself Excessively?

Dogs lick you to greet and show comfort to you. But when they do it to themselves excessively, it could be because they are trying to relieve themselves from pain.

For example, they lick their wounds because it is in their instinctive nature to do so and heal. 

If your dog licks themselves while yelping in pain, it’s a clear sign to take them to the vet.

Learn to Decipher Dog Licking!

Licking is your dog’s adorable way of greeting you or investigating you. You can respond to this with equal affection to keep them relaxed, happy, and connected with you. 

Make sure to deter this dog behavior for people with weak immune function, children, and the elderly.

You also want to stop your dog from licking your hand if the activity becomes frantic or compulsive.

Know the cause of licking to rule out underlying issues. If they are licking themselves, comfort them and consult your vet because your dog might be in pain.

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