Chances are, the first thing your dog does when you get home is lick you.
There are several things dogs do that endear them to some people, annoy other people, and sometimes illicit both responses from the same person. High on this list of traits is licking.
Many people have been taught that a dog licks to "kiss" his human. Dog do lick to show affection, but there are other reasons why as well.
It's a learned behavior.
The first thing a mother dog does after a puppy is born is lick it to clear away its nostrils so the puppy can breathe. The puppy is licked often by both his mother and his litter-mates, so he returns the favor.
He's trying to communicate with you.
As puppies are weaned to solid food, they may eat regurgitated food from their mothers. Puppies learn that if they lick their mother's lips, their mother will produce this food for them. Your dog may be licking you to tell you he's hungry.
He may also lick to get your attention to tell you his water bowl is empty or he needs to go out. If his licking seems to be out of character, or somewhat out of the blue, make sure all is well in your dog's world.
He is telling you he's submissive.
For the most part, dogs communicate through body language. A dog may lick another dog—or his human—to show his submissiveness. It's just a way for the dog to say, "You're the boss and I know it!"
He's investigating his surroundings.
Dog's tongues have numerous sensors. Dogs also will often lick their noses as they bring their tongues back into their mouths. They are able to taste and smell a myriad of things after they lick you. With a quick lick, your dog can get some information on where you've been and what you've been doing.
He may like the way you taste.
Your dog enjoys the flavor of your skin. He may like the taste of the soap you use. He may enjoy the salty residue left by your sweat. Or he may just enjoy the combination of all the tastes that make you taste like you.
He will lick to heal you.
While walking your dog, you might trip and skin a knee or elbow, or get scratched by a branch or bramble. Your dog knows to lick his own wounds when he's injured: he may try to lick yours as well.
He may lick for pure enjoyment.
Licking releases endorphins, causing the dog to feel good. Some dogs just embrace the motto, "If it feels good do it!"
Your dog may be "grooming" you.
Your dog licks you to get dirt or something else he smells on you off your skin. He licks himself to keep clean. He doesn't want to go out in public with a dirty human, so he may be grooming you so you're clean, too (at least in his opinion).
He's showing affection.
Your companion also licks you to show you how much he loves you. His vocabulary is limited and it's important to him for you to know how he feels: this is one of a limited ways he has to communicate that to you.
Some dogs are just lick more than other dogs. If you enjoy being licked by your dog, encourage him by praising and petting him when he licks you and he'll do it more. If you don't care for being licked, walk away when he licks you and he'll soon realize you don't like that behavior and stop it.
If your dog is one that licks only on rare occasion, and you know all is well in his world, whether you enjoy or not take comfort in the thought that at least in that very moment your furry friend is happy, satisfied, and content.
Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.