Why Do Dogs Lick You Before They Go to Sleep?


The unique behaviors of dogs often intrigue and charm their owners. If you’re a dog parent, you’ve likely noticed a common routine in your canine companion’s sleep habits – the frequent and seemingly affectionate licks they shower you with just before they drift off to sleep. Dog owners and enthusiasts alike might be wondering, Why do dogs lick you before they go to sleep?

This question has piqued the curiosity of many and led to a host of assumptions. Yet, there is a science behind this fascinating ritual, and as dog parents, gaining a deeper understanding of these canine behaviors is vital.

Why Do Dogs Lick You Before They Go to Sleep?

Dogs lick their owners before going to sleep for several reasons. One reason is that it releases endorphins that can help soothe a dog to sleep. It also provides a sense of security and reminds them of puppyhood and being groomed by their moms. Additionally, it is their natural way of expressing affection and thanking their owner for showing them love.

However, incessant licking or doing it for long periods may be indicative of something else.

Understanding Canine Behaviour

To fully grasp why dogs lick you before they go to sleep, it’s crucial to have a fundamental understanding of general canine behavior. Dogs, much like humans, communicate through a series of actions and sounds. This form of canine communication is a critical part of their day-to-day life, shaping the dog-owner relationship and enhancing mutual understanding.

The Licking Habit: A Sign of Affection or More?

One of the most common dog behaviors is licking, and it often leaves owners questioning its meaning. Is it a sign of affection, a throwback to their puppyhood, or an indication of something more complex within the dog-owner relationship?

Dogs licking their owners or themselves is a natural behavior inherited from their wolf ancestors. It’s an instinctive action that starts from their puppyhood and continues throughout their life. While often perceived as a gesture of affection, it’s also a dog’s way of exploring their environment, much like we use our hands.

However, it’s essential to understand that while licking is a normal behavior, excessive licking might indicate underlying issues. This can range from a simple habit that the dog has formed over time to a sign of stress, discomfort, or a medical issue.

Decoding the Licking Before Sleep

Now, let’s focus on why dogs lick before they go to sleep. Circadian rhythms, which are essentially the physical, mental, and behavioral changes in living organisms following a daily cycle, play a vital role in a dog’s behavior, including its sleep pattern. Endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones, are also released during licking, which can have a calming effect on dogs, preparing them for sleep.

Psychologically speaking, this pre-sleep ritual might be an outcome of various factors. One such factor could be separation anxiety. Dogs are pack animals and are inherently sociable. They might lick their owners before sleep as a comforting behavior, ensuring their pack is close by before they rest.

Another factor could be attention-seeking behavior. Dogs are cognizant of their owner’s reactions to their actions. If they’ve noticed that licking before sleep garners attention or a positive response, they are likely to repeat this behavior.

Health Implications of Licking

It’s essential to be aware that licking, while often a harmless and instinctive dog behavior, can sometimes signal an underlying medical issue. Dogs use their sense of taste to explore their surroundings, and any alterations in the skin taste of their owners or themselves could trigger increased licking. It’s therefore recommended to monitor your dog’s licking habits and seek veterinary advice if you notice a sudden increase or if the licking seems concentrated on a particular area, as it may indicate a skin condition or other medical issues.

Furthermore, excessive licking carries potential health risks due to the transfer of saliva and germs. While a dog’s mouth is not significantly more unhygienic than a human’s, it can still house bacteria that may cause illness, especially if it comes into contact with open wounds or mucous membranes.

Licking: Boredom or A Plea for Attention?

As we delve deeper into the implications of excessive licking, it’s crucial to note the connection between licking and boredom in dogs. Dogs who are under-stimulated or lacking physical or mental activities may resort to licking as a form of self-entertainment, indicative of boredom-related behaviors in dogs.

It’s also crucial to understand that dogs might use licking as a form of communication, seeking attention from their owners. Dogs are perceptive creatures and quickly learn to associate their actions with the reactions they get.

If a dog receives attention or any reaction—positive or negative—from its owner when it licks, it’s likely to repeat the behavior, especially if it’s feeling ignored or lonely.

Deciphering the motive behind your dog’s excessive licking requires keen observation and understanding of your pet’s overall behavior. A sudden increase in licking might be their way of telling you they need more engagement, stimulation, or possibly even a medical check-up.

As always, when in doubt, it’s best to consult with a veterinary professional to ensure your pet’s health and happiness.

Dealing with Excessive Licking

Managing excessive licking involves understanding the behavioral issue and applying suitable training techniques. A crucial aspect of dealing with any canine behavior issue, including excessive licking, is training. By utilizing positive reinforcement, owners can guide their dogs to curb the over-licking habit. This method involves rewarding the dog for positive behavior, such as obeying a command or ceasing to lick when instructed. These rewards can be in the form of praise, treats, or extra playtime.

Setting Limits and Enforcing Boundaries

Setting limits is another effective strategy in dealing with a dog’s excessive licking. By clearly establishing what is acceptable behavior, you can prevent unwanted actions, such as unnecessary face licking or licking at inappropriate times.

This might involve using a firm but calm No command when the dog starts to lick excessively.

In addition to verbal commands, it’s important to establish physical boundaries. For instance, if your dog tends to lick you before they go to sleep, you might want to create a separate sleeping arrangement to enforce the limit. This approach could involve training your dog to lay down and sleep in its own bed or crate, away from your sleeping area.

Remember, it’s crucial to enforce these limits consistently. Dogs learn best through repetition and consistency, so stick to the rules you’ve set, and in time, your furry friend will come to understand and respect these boundaries.

Dealing with excessive licking can be a challenging aspect of dog ownership, but with understanding, patience, and appropriate training techniques, it’s certainly manageable. By recognizing why dogs engage in these behaviors and taking steps to address them, you can foster a healthier, happier relationship with your canine companion.

When to Seek Veterinary Advice

Excessive licking may sometimes indicate an underlying issue that requires professional attention. Understanding when to seek veterinary advice is crucial in maintaining your dog’s health and well-being.

If your dog’s licking behavior drastically changes or becomes excessive to the point of causing skin irritation, discomfort, or damage, it’s time for a veterinary consultation.

Changes in behavior, especially if accompanied by other symptoms such as changes in appetite, mood, or physical appearance, should never be ignored.

Possible Medical Conditions that Can Cause Excessive Licking

Excessive licking can be associated with several medical conditions in dogs. For example, dogs may lick their skin excessively due to allergic reactions, parasites, or skin infections.

Licking can also be a response to pain or discomfort. In some cases, excessive licking, especially if targeted towards one specific area, can indicate localized pain, such as arthritis or an injury.

Other health conditions, such as gastrointestinal issues, can also result in excessive licking. Dogs might lick their lips or the air excessively due to nausea, indigestion, or other digestive discomforts. Similarly, neurological disorders can lead to compulsive behaviors, including persistent licking.

Remember, it’s essential to consult a vet if you notice any significant changes in your dog’s behavior or overall health. While some reasons for licking are relatively harmless, it’s always best to get professional advice to rule out any potential health issues. After all, a timely consultation can make a significant difference in ensuring your pet’s well-being.

Should I Use a Diaper on My Dog to Prevent Licking After Neutering?

Using a diaper on your dog after neutering can aid in preventing excessive licking. This practice, known as diaper use for neutered dogs, ensures proper wound healing and reduces the risk of infection. However, consult your veterinarian for guidance on the right type and fit.


In conclusion, understanding your dog’s licking behavior, particularly before sleep, can strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion. However, noticing any drastic changes or excessive licking is crucial for promptly addressing any potential underlying health issues, and ensuring your pet’s overall wellbeing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a dog’s licking behavior change over time, or is it consistent with puppyhood?

Yes, a dog’s licking behavior can evolve based on factors like age, health status, and changes in their environment or routine.

Are there specific breeds that are more prone to licking behaviors than others?

While most dogs exhibit licking behavior, some breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Dobermans might show this behavior more due to their affectionate and social nature.

How can I discourage my dog from licking strangers or guests?

Training your dog to obey commands like “leave it” or “sit” can help control their licking behavior towards unfamiliar people. Offering treats and praise for obeying commands can reinforce this good behavior.

Can my dog’s diet influence their licking behavior?

Yes, certain food allergies or nutritional deficiencies can cause a dog to lick excessively. If you notice changes, consider a vet consultation to review their diet.

Can excessive licking lead to injury for my dog?

Yes, excessive licking can lead to skin irritation, hair loss, or even hot spots (localized skin infections). It’s best to address this behavior early.

How can I keep my dog entertained to prevent boredom-related licking?

Regular exercise, mental stimulation like puzzles, chew toys, or interactive games can help keep your dog engaged and prevent boredom-induced licking.

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