Dogs are well known for giving sloppy wet licks and kisses, but why do some like to lick people’s legs? Most people see licking as a sign of affection, but it can get a bit annoying, especially if your dog does it too often! Here we explore the reasons why a dog might be licking at your legs, and what you can do to help stop the behavior.
Reasons why your dog might lick your legs
Legs can be a target for some dogs as, depending on their size, it can be easier than trying to reach up to people’s hands or a face. This is especially true during shorts season when people’s shins and knees are exposed. Sitting down on the sofa with bare legs can be a magnet to some dog’s advances!
Let’s explore the different reasons as to why your dog might be licking at your legs.
1. Attention seeking behavior
Some dogs will lick to get your attention. This could be positive or negative attention, some dogs just want to get a reaction of any kind! Excited shrieking, laughing, or even shouting all give your dog attention when he licks you. If he knows he can get a reaction out of you then he will be more likely to keep doing it. Many dogs attention-seek when they need something (like to be let outside) or if they are feeling a bit neglected or ignored, so try and interact with your dog in other more positive ways instead.
Dogs struggle to show their affection as they can’t cuddle and kiss in the same way that we do. So they may show their love for you in other ways, like licking or snuggling up next to you. Others will bring you “gifts” (usually toys or treats) or follow you around the house. However they show it, it can be flattering to receive your dog’s affections in this way and it’s nice to know that they appreciate you. But if your shins are getting soggy then you might want to look at ways to stop the licking.
Repetitive behaviors can be soothing to dogs. Licking is one way of relieving stress for them. They might lick their own legs and paws excessively, or it might be you that they lick. Keep an eye out for things that could be triggering stress such as a new person or baby in the house, new pets, fireworks, or a recent house move. They could benefit from calming pheromone products to help take the edge off of their stress, as well as providing them with plenty of positive stimulation and exercise.
Your dog may simply like how you taste!! You might notice your dog licking you more frequently after you’ve been exercising. The salty taste of your sweat might be appealing to some dogs. Try and shower off straight after you’ve finished working out, to reduce your scent and taste. However, if your dog is licking you straight after a shower or bath you might want to try a different soap in case he’s enjoying the flavor of that a bit too much.
Your dog may be treating you as one of the pack! Dogs often groom each other to keep their fur clean and free from foreign material and parasites. You will see mother dogs grooming their puppies very frequently, which also helps with bonding. Your dog might be licking you as a way of grooming and bonding with you.
If dogs aren’t stimulated enough they may find alternative ways of keeping themselves amused. Licking your legs is just a different activity to try and help fill the time, especially if they get attention for it. While you are sitting down watching the TV and not playing, your dog might get bored and come over to give you a lick for a reaction. Try and make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise in the day, as a tired happy dog is less likely to get bored.
7. Releases endorphins
Physical contact with others releases natural endorphins, such as the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin. People experience this when cuddling and kissing, or snuggling with a baby. Your dog may be getting a buzz off of being close to you in a similar way. This goes hand in hand with the grooming behaviors discussed earlier.
How to get your dog to stop licking your legs
For some people, leg licking might not bother them at all. But if the behavior is becoming an issue for you, then you might want to look at ways you can stop it. Depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s licking there are a few different things that may help to reduce the frequency.
Ignoring your dog’s licking may be effective for some dogs. When your dog starts licking you, don’t react. Try not to stroke him or talk to him. If he persists then get up and quietly move into another room for a few minutes, then come back in and sit down again. Repeat this until he gets the hint that licking you won’t give him the attention he wants. Instead, fuss and praise him when he’s not licking you! Praise him when he is playing and interacting nicely with you in other ways.
If ignoring him does not work then you could try distracting him. If he’s persistently licking at your legs you could try replacing your leg with a well-licked or chew toy that he likes. Make sure you give him praise when he is playing with his toy and ignore him if he licks your legs.
Make sure your dog is feeling loved, by interacting with him in other ways. Spend time grooming him with a soft-bristled brush or playing games with him. This will allow him to bond with you in more appropriate ways than licking.
One of the best things you can do for your dog is making sure they receive plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If your dog is kept busy he won’t become bored or frustrated and is more likely to settle in the evenings when you’re relaxing at home. Plenty of walks, games in the garden, and training or agility classes can help. Interesting toys like puzzle feeders or snuffle mats can help to keep your pet occupied too.
There can be several reasons why your dog is licking your legs. If it’s only happening intermittently and not bothering you, then that’s fine. But if it’s becoming an annoying habit you might want to try some of our suggestions to help stop it. If you have concerns about your dog’s behavior or if he is showing any other symptoms that are worrying you then speak to your veterinarian for advice.