Is it Safe to Let a Dog Lick You?

If you are a dog lover, then you probably love to give and receive canine kisses. After all, you love your dog with every fiber of your being, so why not show him the same affection you would show to a loved one? For one, your dog doesn’t show his love in the same way that humans do. While you may like to give your dog as much love as possible, just understand that canines show their affection in a variety of physical behaviors that all mean different things. 

Wagging his tail, spinning in circles, and rubbing against you are all ways your dog shows his affection. The love you share with your dog is powerful, and signs of affection are an important tool for building trust and love. However, when it comes to licking, you may not want to encourage this behavior. So, is it safe to let a dog lick you? This article is going to cover everything you need to know to make an informed decision.

The Sanitary Concerns

If you have ever heard that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s, you were misinformed. A dog’s mouth is full of germs that could be potentially harmful to humans. Here are some of the nasty bacteria you can expect to find in a dog’s mouth regularly:

  • Salmonella
  • E. Coli
  • Clostridia
  • Pasteurella
  • Bartonella

For the most part, these bacteria and microorganisms exist in small quantities that are not harmful to humans. However, if your dog has a canine bacterial infection that has gone undiagnosed, or if the level of bacteria is high enough, it could put you at risk for contracting an illness. While these bacteria are responsible for conditions that may have serious health repercussions, for the most part, there are treatments for these ailments.

Bad habits are hard to break

Some dogs lick more than others. Licking, in and of itself, is not a bad habit. However, if your dog licks whomever and whenever he pleases, then you may have a problem on your hands. Licking is a behavior that your dog uses to interact with the world around him. In puppies, licking is a way of showing submission. 

Often, the habit of licking is encouraged during a dog’s early development. As humans, we mistake the submissive dog behavior of licking as affection, and in turn, this develops an adult dog who lacks restraint when it comes to licking. While the habit of licking may be a nuisance, it can be easily broken with the correct training methods. Here are some tricks for helping to break your dog’s habit of licking:

  • Don’t reward licking with affection. Harsh though it may be, it is crucial that you physically separate yourself from your dog after he licks. 
  • Give good verbal cues. A firm and decisive “no” should be used every time your dog licks a person, followed by physical separation.
  • Introduce other physical touch practices. Pick a new way to demonstrate affection for your dog like a head scratch or a belly rub.

Those at Risk

While a dog licking your face may not be a concern for someone in good health, canine saliva can pose a much more significant threat to those with a compromised immune system. Typically, babies and small children are among those with the highest risk of contracting an illness due to a dog lick.

The elderly and those suffering from a disease, or treatment, that compromises immune function should also take extra precaution around dogs. Additionally, healthy individuals are at a much higher risk of developing a medical condition if dog saliva comes in contact with an open wound or sore. 

It goes both ways

It is not just your dog’s mouth that could pose a threat to your health and well being. A dog’s nose and surrounding facial area are much dirtier than we would like to believe. Your dog experiences the world around him through smell. As a result, he often ends up sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, or at least in places, we don’t like as owners. The germs your dog encounters when he sticks his nose into a dead bird, or a pile of trash, or fecal matter, stick around for longer than we realize. As a result, when you kiss your dog on the nose or close to his mouth, you are potentially exposing yourself to those germs

In short, it is not a good idea to let a dog lick your face. While there are products available for pet owners to clean the face and the mouth of your dog, typically a standard grooming regimen will do the trick. If you accidentally let it happen every once and a while, there is no need to be overly concerned. Licking is a natural part of canine behavior, but it is a behavior that can be tempered with proper training. Make sure to wash your hands after contact with dog saliva as sterilizing quells the spread of these potentially harmful viruses and bacteria. Give your dog all the affection he desires and deserves, but moving forward, try to keep it lick free!

 

Sources:

“Why Are Pets Health Hazards?” PetMD, 13 July 2018, https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/ktudor/2014/jan/are-dog-licks-unhealthy-for-people-31207.

“Is It OK to Let Your Dog Lick Your Face?” Dog Health, https://www.doghealth.com/care/dogs-and-their-people/2335-is-it-ok-to-let-your-dog-lick-your-face.

“Why Do Dogs Lick People?” American Kennel Club, 5 Jan. 2016, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-do-dogs-lick/.

DiLonardo, Mary Jo. “Should You Let Your Dog Lick Your Face?” Mother Nature Network, 15 Aug. 2018, https://www.mnn.com/family/pets/stories/should-you-let-your-dog-lick-your-face.

“How Safe Are Dog Kisses?: Hill’s Pet.” Hill’s Pet Nutrition, https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/behavior-appearance/are-dog-kisses-safe.

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