Why Does My Dog Lick My Hand So Much?
[Our detailed guide]

Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: January 17, 2022

Dog owners often wonder why their dogs like to like their hands so much. There are some dog behaviors that many dog owners are confused by, and hand licking is one of those things.

Some people do not like having their dog lick their hands, while others think it is sweet and don’t mind it. It can be tough to enjoy being licked by a dog with a very wet mouth or a dog that is a bit excessive with their attentions. Either way, owners are often not sure why their dog likes to lick their hands.

Dogs lick hands for a variety of reasons, most of them related to pack behavior. Many dogs lick their owner’s hands because they like the taste, they are looking for attention, or they are trying to groom you. Dogs can also lick their owner’s hands because they have learned that they get a reward for doing so.

Why Do Dogs Lick Each Other?

Puppies experience a lot of things around them by licking things. This behavior is part of discovery behavior, and older dogs will also lick things to get information about the item through its taste. Dogs are very interested in the smells of things, and taste is closely related to smell.

Dogs do sometimes lick one another for the sake of affection, but it is not as common as you might think. Many people view dog licking as a part of natural dog behavior in the wild, but this is not actually the case. Dog licking is a behavior that is mostly linked to human interaction.

What Are the Reasons Your Dog is Licking Your Hands?

Not every dog licks hands. Some dogs prefer to lick bare feet or any skin on the legs of the humans that they are near. However, many dogs do focus on licking human hands. There are some reasons that this is the case.

  • Seeking Reward

Humans train dogs to do all kinds of activities, and they often provide reinforcement for those activities via treats. Treats are usually given by hand, so your dog will soon associate your hands with the source of the treats they are given when they are learning tricks or skills.

Some dogs are quite smart about this, and they will attempt to offer tricks that were not requested and then lick your hands to try and make you give them what they want. This obsession with food can lead to other behavioral issues, and you should not encourage this kind of reward-seeking behavior.

  • Showing Affection

Many dogs are affectionate by nature, and they have learned that humans will give them affection back when they lick human hands. Because they are motivated to seek pack togetherness, seeking reassuring touches from the humans in their life is important to them. If they know that licking hands will lead to a soft pat or touch, they will show their affection in this way.

  • Grooming

One of the only instinctual instances of dog licking is to groom the coat. They might lick their own coat or feet, or they could lick their pack mates’ feet and coat if your dog thinks of you as part of its pack. It is common for them to be licking your hands to help groom you as they would another dog.

  • Excitement

Some dogs communicate excitement by jumping up and down, while others will run in circles or bark. Some dogs also convey excitement by licking human hands. These dogs will have learned to connect licking behavior with positive reinforcement, and they will show you that they are joyful and excited in this way because they would also like to be assured that you are feeling these emotions as well.

  • Taste

Your hands can taste salty to dogs, and some dogs just like the way that human skin tastes when they lick it. This is not as common, and it can be a sign that your dog is not getting enough mineral content through its food. If you have concerns about this, take your dog to your veterinarian to make sure that they do not need a new diet.

Is it an Issue if Your Dog Licks Your Hands?

Dog licking is not really an issue unless it is bothering you or leading to other behavioral issues. Many dogs do not demonstrate this behavior all the time, and you can typically control the behavior quite easily by telling your dog no.

Dog licking becomes an issue when it is done despite you telling your dog no. It is also an issue if it leads to other aggressive behaviors like nipping or jumping up on people. For some dogs, licking can be like permission for them to display other behaviors that you do not enjoy and do not want them to engage in.

How to Stop A Dog From Licking Your Hands

If you want to work on training your dog not to lick your hands, there are some very easy ways to train your dog to stop licking your hands. These tricks will work if your dog is licking your eyes or if you are tired of being woken up by your dog licking you.

  • Stand up and turn away when your dog licks you. This will discourage this behavior through the use of physical cues that another dog might use to tell them to stop doing a certain behavior. It is always best to tap into pack behavior and social displays to attend to this kind of training.
  • Turn away and stop touching your dog if it is licking you, but then go ahead and pet them when they are not. You will have to make absolutely sure that you stop and look away when they lick you so that they understand that you really mean that you are not going to touch them if they lick you.
  • Do not reward any behavior that includes licking. If your dog does something that you asked for but then also licks your hand, you should not reward either behavior. If your dog does what you asked without licking you, you can reward the behavior.
  • Consider stopping using treats for training purposes. Some dogs are so food motivated that you will have to stop using treats to train them. If your dog is deeply invested in food, they might not be learning new skills so much as seeking snacks.

Dog Licking is Often a Learned Behavior

While wild dogs do show licking behaviors, most of the licking behavior that humans think of when they are talking about this topic is learned behavior. We, as dog owners, unconsciously teach our dogs to display licking behavior in order to gain our approval. If you do not want your dog to lick your hands, you can simply train them to stop.

If your dog is licking your hands, there is usually no reason to be concerned. This is just a sign of their loving and devoted bond to you as their human friend and trainer.