Why Do Dogs Lick Each Other? Understanding This Social Behavior

We have all seen dogs lick other dogs. But what does this behavior mean? Is it our dog’s way of saying hello or showing affection? Or is it something else?

Dogs lick each other because they enjoy the salty taste of the skin. Others do it as part of a grooming ritual, to help remove dirt and debris from their coats. Still, others seem to lick simply for the sake of social bonding.

When dogs lick each other, they can transfer bacteria and other germs between their mouths and bodies. This can lead to illness, especially if one of the dogs has a weaker immune system. Dogs with open wounds or sores are especially vulnerable to infection.

If you notice your dog licking another dog excessively, it’s best to separate the dogs and consult a vet.

What Does It Mean When A Dog Licks Another Dog?

Image from Pet Plate

Dog licking behaviors can be interpreted in several ways as to how a puppy learned about social behaviors through its interaction with other dogs.

But let’s first understand how this licking behavior comes about. The minute a mother delivers her pups, its first instinct is to lick clean the placenta and amniotic sac enveloping her offspring.

This is the first taste a puppy would get from its mother regarding social licking behavior. As it matures, the dynamics of social behavior would be ingrained in the brain of the pup as it interacts with its littermates and other dogs.

Now that we know why dogs lick, here are the different interpretations of why dogs lick each other.

1. “I’m Hungry!”

When they were just puppies, dogs learned to ask for food by licking their mother’s mouth. This is because pups transitioning from milk to solid foods were usually fed by their weaning mothers by regurgitating the food they just ate.

The semi-digested food of their mother makes it easier for puppies to swallow since their teeth are not fully developed. Plus, it helps to break down the food easily in their young stomachs.

This is normal behavior for puppies and is no concern for worries.

2. “You’re Dirty!”

As puppies get older, it is normal for them to start grooming themselves and their fellow pack mates. This is the time when they get to be self-aware and a sign of their growing independence from their mothers.

This social licking behavior often starts with their fellow littermates or siblings. It is their way of creating a bond and showing an emotional connection with the other dogs.

When a dog finishes grooming itself, you might notice that it would start by helping to groom its mates. It is “Dog Affection 101”, and it is a sign of trust and good rapport between the dogs.

Licking also lessens tensions or anxiety within the group since endorphin is released in the brains of the licker and the one being licked.

3. “Hey, There!”

While we humans say “hello” by kissing, hugging, or shaking hands, dogs do it by sniffing and licking each other on their faces. It is their way of welcoming someone back to their pack or simply greeting a newfound friend.

And, don’t be surprised if you see dogs licking each other’s private parts. It’s their way of familiarizing themselves with the scent of the other dogs.

This is very noticeable among dogs who live in one domicile, especially if the other one just returned from the outside or had just been given a bath. This social behavior also increases the bond among the pack mates and marks the identity of their mates.

4. “Let’s Play!”

Dogs also lick each other when they are being playful or want to initiate a play with the other dog. A “play bow” may be accompanied with licking where the initiator would lower its head and stretch its front legs out front with its butt sticking into the air.

This is not an aggressive behavior, especially when you see the dog wagging its tail and showing a happy and playful demeanor. A dog owner would also notice this behavior every time his pet dog wants to play.

5. “I’m The Alpha!”

Another explanation for dogs licking each other is showing deference to the other dog and establishing social status. Subordinate or shy dogs would usually approach a more dominant dog with a submissive body posture to signify that they are not a threat.

Submissive dogs would usually lick the underside of the chin of the alpha dog, and they do this if they feel vulnerable to the other dog’s presence.

If the more dominant dog accepts the gesture, it would reciprocate by licking the submissive dog. But if it seemed to be still aggressive, the dog owner should try to separate the two dogs to prevent any untoward incident.

6. “Peace Be With You!”

Fights might break out occasionally between friendly dogs because one gets hurt if their playing had become rowdy.

One way of appeasing the situation is by licking the other dog. It is the canine’s way of saying, “Pardon me for hurting you. I didn’t mean it.”

Image from PetHonesty

Licking other dogs is considered normal behavior. But sometimes, it can get to be excessive to the point of becoming an obsession.

A simple, quick lick is all that it takes to greet another dog. However, if the licking continues for longer than usual, then it may be a sign that something is not right.

Other dogs may consider excessive licking okay if they have the right temperament, but others may not take kindly to the behavior and can snap at the other dog.

A brewing health issue could be the reason why dogs lick each other such as…

7. Ear Infection

One possible reason for excessive licking is that the other dog has some sickness or disease. Dogs have a powerful olfactory sense, and they can detect the slightest signs of infection.

An ear infection is one reason why dogs lick each other excessively.

Some of the causes of ear infections are due to fungus, allergies, parasites, and hormonal imbalance. But, the common denominator is the foul smell that dogs find attractive and irresistible to lick.

If you notice the behavior as being a new development, then the dog could have detected something is amiss with the other dog. A trip to the veterinarian would quickly solve the situation.

8. Anal Gland Infection

Dogs with an impacted or infected anal gland may receive the attention of other dogs wanting to lick their butts. Anal glands or scent glands are located on each side of their rectum, which releases fluids every time they defecate.

The anal gland is also said to release or express pheromones that allow a dog to mark its territory with its own unique signature.

Sometimes when there is a health issue involved with the anal glands, they can release some foul-smelling fluid that your dog or other dogs may lick. Problems with obesity, hypothyroidism, chronic skin infections, or allergies are usually the culprit.

If dog owners notice their dog scooting on the floor a lot or licking its butt frequently, then it could be that the anal gland is secreting too much fluid or hurting.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Licking My Other Dog?

If your dog likes to lick other dogs a lot, observe the behavior of the other dog and see how they react. If you find them getting uncomfortable, then it is time to step in and separate the dogs. 

Try to redirect your dog’s attention away from licking by focusing on other activities such as walking, running, or playing with a frisbee. It is important not to scold your dog since this might lead to negative behaviors.

Alternatively, your dog’s favorite dog treats and toys can also be used to distract it from excessive licking.

Image from Pet Plate

Problems Resulting Due To Excessive Licking

When a dog licks or grooms another dog in an excessive manner, it can create health issues for the other dog.

The friction created with the constant tongue movement and excessive moisture from the saliva over a certain area could break down the skin and create microscopic abrasions.

Bacteria and other harmful organisms can enter through the broken skin and cause infections. If a dog is suffering from skin diseases, such as dermatitis and allergies, the constant licking could aggravate the situation even more.

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Pete Decker