Dogs are all about communication, whether it’s barking at a stranger, putting on their happy face during play, or nudging your hand to pet them. Canines use several ways to convey their emotions, which makes them so expressive. It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on in your pup’s mind. His face and body posture will show it. Interestingly, licking is also a part of their repertoire.
Dogs will communicate among themselves and with their owners. Sometimes, it’s appropriate and other times, not so much. If you have an affectionate pet, you may find that he’s constantly showing his love. That may leave you asking, why does my dog lick my legs?
There are several reasons behind this behavior. Some have evolutionary roots, and others are so obvious that they are easy to miss. Understanding why your dog acts the way he does will go a long way in realizing how the canine mind works.
The Social Nature of Canines
To answer this question, it helps to start with the nature of canines in general. Domesticated dogs and modern-day wolves share a common ancestor that goes back an estimated 19,000 years. This extinct wolf was a social animal that hunted cooperatively. The hierarchy that exists among wolves today is classic, with its alpha male and female.
It may surprise you to learn that wolves aren’t as successful at hunting as you may think. Their success rate is only 3–14 percent. Their best chances are in groups of 3–5, depending on the nature of the prey species. Their pack living sets the stage for canines also displaying social behavior, which can explain why your pet licks your legs.
Bear in mind that puppies are not unlike babies. Everything goes in their mouths when they’re young. It’s part of being a dog that all of them experience. Licking goes hand in hand with chewing and exploring their world.
Some affection is one reason why dogs lick each other and their owners. It reinforces the bond between you and them. Remember that it is the first form of communication that puppies learn. They cannot see or hear since neither organ is well-developed at birth. That’s what makes them altricial young. They have a shorter gestation period than precocial offspring that are mobile at birth.
Before a puppy is aware of his surroundings, his mother is licking him. He does the same thing to her when he wants to nurse. It’ll take about two to three weeks before the pup can see or hear. In the meantime, licking shows affection and cements the bond between the puppies and their mother.
Bear in mind that dogs consider you a part of the pack. They will lick you just as they would others in their group. If you think about it, it’s high praise, indeed, for a pup to treat you the same as he would any other member of the pack. That could be part of what’s going on when your dog licks your legs.
Canines also will lick to show submission to a higher member of the pack. Dogs often view their owners as the alpha of the group. Licking shows affection to try and please you. Your pup may also roll on his back, exposing his belly. It’s another submissive gesture that also shows trust. After all, that’s one of the most vulnerable parts of a dog’s body. It’s also one of the first places they attack their prey.
When you look at their behavior in that context, it’s easy to see how much your pet depends on you. That could make you think differently about your dog licking your legs.
Going for the Salt
The proverbial elephant in the room may be the simplest but perhaps most likely reason that your dog licks your legs. Sure, he may be showing affection and maybe submission. However, your pup may just like the taste of the salt on your legs, especially after you’ve been active or outside on a hot day. Remember that the hardwiring that drives canine behavior is ancient and all about survival.
The low hunting success rate meant that early canines—and modern-day wolves—live a life of feast or famine. They may go several days in between meals. When they do feed, it’s fast and furious, with them even cracking open the bones of their prey. That evolutionary history equips dogs with the same drive for survival. Licking the salt off of your legs could be an ancient remnant of that behavior.
Discouraging the Licking
If you don’t like your dog licking your legs, you can use a little canine psychology to break this habit. We don’t recommend scolding your pet. After all, he’s only doing what Nature has taught him through the centuries. Instead, when he starts getting affectionate, simply get up and walk away from him. Eventually, your pup will learn that if he starts licking your legs, you’ll leave.
This type of behavioral modification is called conditioning. The essential thing to remember is that you have to be consistent in your actions if you really want to discourage this habit. Every time you walk away, you are reinforcing the conditioning to create this association in your dog’s mind. It’s an effective technique to use for whatever unwanted behavior your pup displays.
When a dog licks your legs, he’s likely showing his love for you. After all, you are his owner and human companion. Some pets, especially puppies, will also act this way out of submission. They recognize your role as the alpha member of the pack. Other times, a dog will lick your legs just to get the salt off of them. It goes back to the canine’s survival instinct.
If you don’t like the behavior, it’s easy to modify it with conditioning. Just remember that your pup doesn’t comprehend that he’s doing anything wrong. He only wants to please you in the best way he knows how to do it.