Dogs are such social animals, which makes communication so vital to them. They’ll use several ways to express their emotions to you and their canine friends, whether it’s raising their hackles, barking, or putting their tail between their legs. There’s not a lot of guesswork when it comes to knowing what a pup is thinking. If you have more than one dog, you have a front-row seat to see how they act together.
In many ways, having two or more pets is like having toddlers in the home. They’ll sleep together one moment and chase each other around the yard the next. Dogs are also expressive in physical ways, which may have you asking, why does my dog lick my other dog’s face? The answer requires a deep dive into canine behavior and the evolutionary past of your best friend.
Puppies Licking Older Dogs’ Mouths
In wolves, young cubs lick their mother’s mouth when she returns from hunting to make her regurgitate food. It is a habit that is crucial for survival.
Most puppies are born with the tendency to want to lick older dogs’ mouths. It is rarely used for inducing regurgitation in dogs – most frequently it is an appeasement signal. A young puppy might for example lick an older dog’s mouth when he comes in from outside or enters a room the puppy is in.
Adult Dogs Licking Other Dogs’ Mouths
Domestic dogs often retain the habit of licking older dogs’ mouths well into adulthood. This is especially true if you acquired a puppy in addition to an adult dog who was already living in the household. That puppy will lick the older dog’s mouth and often continue with this habit lifelong.
Anxious dogs, very submissive dogs or dogs without a lot of social experience also tend to default to licking, especially if they feel nervous or excited.
Mothers Licking Their Offspring
If you have a female dog who had a litter and you kept a puppy who grows up in your household, the mom might always enjoy licking and cleaning that puppy, even when grown up. Usually the licking is targeted towards the face and neck but it can include the mouth as well. Most offspring gladly soak up the motherly love and attention.
Licking As An Obsessive Habit
Licking itself is a very calming activity for dogs (such as also sniffing and chewing). Some dogs discover how good they can make themselves feel through licking and start to obsessively show this behavior.
It can be targeted towards the dog’s own body – in these cases the most common spot is on top of the paws, which can actually lead to raw and sore areas and require dogs to wear a cone.
It can also be aimed at people – their hands, faces or ears – or towards objects, most commonly doors or windows.
Finally, some dogs take licking to the next level by obsessively licking another dog’s face. In this case you need to swiftly and resolutely intervene. It is not fair to any dog to be a victim of obsessive licking and it will damage the dogs’ relationship in the long run.
How To Interrupt
If you notice one of your dog’s obsessively licking the other one’s face, coax him away in a happy and cheerful voice. You can also give both dogs a treat.
You should absolutely not scold the dog who is licking, because licking is an appeasement signal – meaning that if you are mad at him and he wants to appease, he is likely to lick even more …Instead, by using a happy voice and maybe some treats, you can break up the licking in a positive and lasting manner. Then you can physically separate the dogs – put one in the yard and the other inside, both of them in different rooms, one in a crate or exercise pen etc.
If your dogs have never been separated, now is the time to start practicing this! As a dog trainer I meet owners who have two inseparable dogs all the time (most often it is one dog who is strongly bonded while the other one could be more independent). This makes life and training very difficult, and eventually the day is going to come when they need to be separated. One dog might need to go to the vet, to the groomer, to a training class etc. … start getting them used to being separated now instead of postponing the inevitable!
Reasons That Dogs Lick
Canines will lick for three reasons. They use it to show affection for their pack mates and owners. You can think of it as their form of kissing. You may find that your pup is quite loving when you first come home after being away from the house for a while. Your pet may do the same thing with his roommate. The licking is both a greeting and a reinforcement of your bond.
Canines also use licking to express submission, whether it’s with their mother, other dogs, or you. It’s a gesture of respect in their world that is often accompanied by exposing their bellies to signal trust, too. Puppies often go right for the face. That’s how they communicate to their mother that they want to be fed. Sometimes, it’s a behavior that they’ll take into adulthood.
Dogs also lick for health reasons, whether it’s to groom themselves or tend to a wound. It can also signal medical issues, such as a skin infection or an injury, especially if accompanied by redness or swelling. Canines often show similar symptoms with food allergies. In many cases, the licking is obsessive, particularly on the paws.
The Bottom Line
One of your dogs licking the other one’s face is a natural and common behavior. It ties back to an appeasement behavior and calming signal and is not problematic in most cases.
If the dog that is being licked seems to not appreciate the gesture or the licking becomes obsessive however, you need to intervene. Don’t let bad interactions continue – this can lead to resentment and worse escalations between the dogs down the line. The best way to achieve a happy, well-balanced multi dog household is by nipping unwanted behaviors in the bus as soon as they appear.