Why Does My Dog Lick My Other Dog’s Face?

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puppies licking

Does one of your dogs like your other one’s face? Do you wonder why dogs do this and if you should stop or manage it in some way?

As a dog trainer I often coach clients on how to interpret and guide the interactions between multiple dogs in the household. Read on to find out everything about the peculiar doggy habit of licking each other’s faces!

Origin and Meaning

Dogs lick each others’ faces for a variety of reasons. As social group animals, they employ a large number of different interactions. In the widest sense, all doggy body language is geared towards increasing the peace in their group and preventing escalations.

Even though dogs might seem hostile or belligerent to us at times, they mostly try to prevent serious confrontations by using different expressions of body language.

rottweiler mom and puppy

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. 

Should You Stop It?

As long as both dogs are ok with the interaction and the licking doesn’t become obsessive, you can let it continue.

You should intervene and restrict the licking however if you notice any of the following:

  • The dog who gets licked is growling, raising his lips or snapping
  • The dog who gets licked tries to walk away but is aggressively pursued by the other
  • The dog who is licking is doing so for longer and longer periods of time, seemingly unable to calm down
  • The dog who is licking is starting to show this behavior with any dog he encounters
  • dog is trying to lick another dog’s wounds

If any of the above happens, interrupt the behavior and, if necessary, separate the dogs.

two dogs in the snow
malinois puppy and schnauzer

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!

two jack russell terriers
two huskies playing

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.