Why Does My Dog Lick My Hands When I Cry

Having a dog can be a truly extraordinary experience. These loyal companions have an unparalleled ability to understand and comfort their human counterparts. One behavior that often puzzles dog owners is their dogs’ tendency to lick their hands when they cry. In this article, we will explore the science behind this intriguing behavior, the emotional connection between humans and dogs, and its significance in their relationship.

Sharing a Special Bond: The Unique Connection Between Humans and Dogs

Since ancient times, dogs have been by our side, providing companionship and support. This relationship goes beyond mere friendship; it is a deep bond built on trust and emotional connection. Dogs have an incredible ability to sense our emotions, making them a constant source of comfort and solace.

The Intriguing Behavior: Dogs Comfort Humans Through Licking

Licking is one of the most common ways dogs express their affection and concern for their owners. This behavior is not only a simple act of grooming but also a form of communication that strengthens the bond between humans and dogs. To fully understand why dogs lick our hands when we cry, we need to delve into the scientific explanations behind their behavior.

II. The Science Behind Dogs’ Licking Behavior

Evolutionary Roots: Exploring the History of Canines’ Saliva Communication

The ancestors of modern-day dogs were pack animals, relying on strong social bonds for survival. Licking played a crucial role within their packs as a form of communication. By licking their pack mates, dogs could convey their emotions, establish hierarchy, and strengthen relationships.

Understanding Canine Senses: The Power of Smell and Taste

Dogs have an incredibly keen sense of smell, allowing them to detect even the slightest changes in their surroundings. When they lick our hands, they are not only tasting the saltiness of our tears but also picking up the scent of our emotions. This sensory experience provides valuable information to dogs, helping them understand our feelings and react accordingly.

Emotional Empathy: How Dogs Sense and Respond to Human Emotions

Research has shown that dogs have the ability to recognize and interpret human emotions. They can sense when we are sad or distressed, and their instinctual response is to provide comfort. Licking not only acts as a physical gesture but also triggers a release of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” in both dogs and humans, strengthening the emotional bond between them.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Hands When I Cry 2024

Dogs as Empathetic Companions

Dogs possess a remarkable ability to mirror our emotions and offer support in times of distress. Their empathetic nature goes beyond simple companionship; they genuinely care about our well-being. Understanding the reasons behind their licking behavior sheds light on their innate instincts and the emotional connection they share with their human counterparts.

Emotional Mirroring: Dogs’ Innate Ability to Reflect Human Emotions

Just as dogs can sense and respond to our emotions, they also mirror our feelings. When we are sad, they pick up on our distress and feel compelled to alleviate it. Licking serves as a physical manifestation of their empathetic response, offering comfort and reassurance.

Instinctive Nurturing: Licking as a Comforting Instinct for Dogs

Mother dogs instinctively lick their puppies as a way of providing comfort, warmth, and grooming. This nurturing behavior is deeply ingrained in dogs’ instincts, and they extend this behavior to their human companions. When we cry, dogs may associate our weeping with a need for soothing, and licking becomes their way of fulfilling that instinctual nurturing role.

Establishing Trust: Symbolic Meaning of Licking in Dog-Human Relationships

Licking is also a way for dogs to establish trust and reinforce the bond they share with their owners. By engaging in this behavior, dogs convey their desire to protect and care for us. It is a symbolic gesture that speaks volumes about their loyalty and devotion.

A Therapeutic Response: Dogs Licking Away Tears

Beyond the emotional connection, dogs’ licking behavior also offers various therapeutic benefits for their distressed owners. From stress relief to neurological effects, their instinctive response is adept at providing comfort and helping humans cope with emotional distress.

Natural Stress Relief: The Calming Effect of Canine Saliva

It is widely believed that canine saliva contains natural compounds that can reduce stress and anxiety in humans. When dogs lick our hands, these compounds are believed to be transferred, leading to a sense of calm and relaxation. This explains why many people find solace in their dogs’ affectionate licking when they are experiencing emotional upheavals.

Neurological Impact: Dog Licking Triggering Oxytocin Release

Oxytocin, often referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” is associated with feelings of love, trust, and bonding. When dogs lick our hands, it triggers the release of oxytocin in both humans and dogs, enhancing the emotional connection between them. This surge of oxytocin brings about a sense of well-being and helps alleviate emotional distress.

Creating a Safe Space: Dogs Helping Humans Cope with Emotional Distress

When we cry, dogs instinctively sense our vulnerability and feel compelled to provide us with comfort and support. Their licking behavior is one way they create a safe space for us to process and release our emotions. By being physically present and engaging in this nurturing behavior, dogs help us navigate through our emotional turmoil.

The Puzzle of Salty Tears

The allure of salty tears seems to have a particular appeal for dogs. While there is no definitive answer as to why they are drawn to them, there are a few possible explanations rooted in their physiology and taste sensitivity.

Taste Sensitivity: Exploring Dogs’ Preference for Salty Flavors

Dogs have a heightened sensitivity to taste, especially when it comes to salty flavors. Our tears contain small amounts of salt, which may explain why dogs find them appealing. The taste of salt could be inherently enjoyable for them, leading to their inclination to lick our tears.

Communication and Bonding

Beyond the physiological reasons behind their licking behavior, dogs use this action as a means of communication, demonstrating concern, and strengthening their bond with their human companions.

A Form of Communication: Dogs Expressing Concern and Affection

Dogs are highly perceptive beings and can easily pick up on changes in our behavior and emotions. Licking is their way of communicating their concern and showing us affection. When they lick our hands during moments of distress, they are essentially saying, “I am here for you, and I care about how you feel.”

Reinforcing the Bond: How Licking Strengthens the Dog-Human Relationship

While dogs engage in licking behavior with other dogs to reinforce their social hierarchy, they extend this behavior to their human companions as a way to reinforce the bond they share. By actively participating in this form of interaction, we deepen our connection with our dogs and establish ourselves as trusted and valued members of their pack.

Ancestral Instincts and Pack Dynamics

To truly understand the reasons behind dogs’ licking behavior, it is essential to examine their ancestral instincts and the characteristics they have inherited from their wolf ancestors.

Puppies and Motherly Love: Licking as a Maternal Act in Wolf Packs

In the wild, mother wolves lick their newborn pups to stimulate their breathing and promote bonding. This act serves the dual purpose of nurturing and grooming. Dogs, being descendants of wolves, have retained this deeply ingrained instinct to lick for comfort and connection.

Inclusion in the Family: Dogs Treating Humans as Part of Their Pack

By treating their human companions as part of their pack, dogs naturally extend their nurturing behavior to us. Licking serves as a way for them to solidify our position within their pack structure and express their love and care.

Individual Dog Personalities

Just as humans have unique personalities, dogs also have individual characteristics that influence their behavioral patterns, including their licking tendencies.

Different Strokes for Different Folks: Variations in Dogs’ Licking Behavior

Not all dogs exhibit the same licking behavior when their owners cry. Some may voraciously lick while others may refrain from doing so altogether. This variation can be attributed to each dog’s unique personality traits and their personal experiences with their owners.

Breed Tendencies: Unique Characteristics Influencing Licking Patterns

Certain dog breeds may display more propensity towards licking behavior than others. For example, breeds with a strong nurturing instinct, such as Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers, may be more prone to licking when their owners cry. Understanding breed tendencies can shed light on why some dogs may be more inclined to comfort us through licking than others.

Training and Boundaries

While licking is generally a positive and empathetic behavior in dogs, it is still important to establish boundaries and guide their actions through proper training.

Managing Excessive Licking: Establishing Limits and Redirecting Behavior

Excessive licking can sometimes become problematic, especially if it interferes with daily activities or causes discomfort. It is essential to set boundaries and redirect their behavior when necessary. Training techniques such as positive reinforcement and distraction can be effective in managing excessive licking and ensuring a healthy balance in the dog-human relationship.

Reinforcing Positive Actions: Training Dogs to Respond Appropriately

Training dogs to respond in a desired manner is crucial to fostering a harmonious and balanced relationship. By reinforcing positive actions and providing them with alternative behaviors, we can guide dogs to respond appropriately when their owners are experiencing emotional distress.

Health Considerations

While dogs’ licking behavior is generally harmless, it is important to be aware of potential health considerations associated with excessive licking.

Hygiene and Cleanliness: The Risks Associated with Excessive Licking

Excessive licking can lead to sanitary issues, such as dry or cracked skin, irritation, or the formation of hot spots. It is important to maintain good hygiene practices and address any potential dermatological concerns that may arise from prolonged and excessive licking.

Potential Health Issues: Discussing When Excessive Licking Becomes a Concern

In some cases, excessive licking can be a symptom of underlying health issues. Persistent and compulsive licking may indicate allergies, skin infections, gastrointestinal problems, or even pain. If excessive licking is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is advisable to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Understanding Body Language

Interpreting dogs’ body language while they lick can provide valuable insights into their emotional state and the significance behind their behavior.

Non-Verbal Cues: Observing Dogs’ Body Language While Licking

Dogs communicate primarily through their body language, and closely observing their actions can help us decipher the meaning behind their licking behavior. Ears, tail, body posture, and facial expressions are all important indicators of their emotional state, providing clues as to why they are licking our hands when we cry.

Indications of Concern: Recognizing When Licking May Signify Distress

While licking is usually a comforting and empathetic behavior, it can occasionally signify distress or anxiety in dogs. If a dog’s licking is accompanied by tense body language, avoidance, or whining, it may indicate that they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Recognizing these signs allows us to address their needs and provide appropriate support.

Alternatives to Licking

Dogs have various ways of providing comfort and support beyond licking behavior. Encouraging and training them to engage in alternative comforting gestures can be beneficial for both their well-being and ours.

Additional Ways Dogs Comfort Humans: Expanding Beyond Licking Behavior

Aside from licking, dogs have other ways of offering comfort and solace. Some dogs may prefer to cuddle, lean against their owners, or provide a paw to hold. Recognizing and encouraging these alternative comforting gestures enables dogs to express their care in ways that are more suited to their individual personalities.

Encouraging Other Comforting Gestures: Training Dogs to Use Different Methods

By actively training dogs to respond to distressing situations through alternative gestures, we broaden their repertoire of comforting behaviors. This allows them to adapt and provide support in ways that are most effective for both them and their owners.

Addressing Behavioral Changes

It is important to monitor any sudden shifts in a dog’s licking behavior and address them promptly to ensure their well-being.

Changes in Licking Behavior: Reasons Behind Sudden Shifts

If a dog suddenly begins licking more frequently or exhibits a significant change in their licking behavior, it may be a sign of underlying issues. Stress, anxiety, fear, or even pain can manifest as changes in their licking behavior. Identifying the potential causes and addressing them proactively is crucial to maintaining their emotional and physical health.

Seeking Professional Help: Consulting with a Veterinarian or Dog Behaviorist

If there are concerns about a dog’s excessive licking behavior or changes that are causing distress or discomfort, it is advisable to consult with a veterinarian or a qualified dog behaviorist. These professionals can provide expert guidance, identify any underlying health issues or behavioral concerns and suggest appropriate interventions to ensure the well-being of both the dog and their owner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Addressing common questions and concerns related to dogs’ licking behavior.

Is It Safe to Let My Dog Lick My Hands?

In general, a dog’s lick is harmless and can provide emotional comfort. However, it is important to maintain personal hygiene and be mindful of any potential health risks involved, such as excessive licking or the transfer of bacteria. Regular handwashing and monitoring your dog’s licking habits can help keep both you and your dog safe and healthy.

How Can I Train My Dog to Stop Excessive Licking?

Training a dog to control their licking behavior involves setting limits and redirecting their actions. Positive reinforcement techniques, such as rewarding alternative behaviors, can be effective in promoting the desired change. Consistency and patience are key when training dogs to modify their behavior.

Can a Dog’s Excessive Licking Be a Symptom of a Health Problem?

Excessive licking can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health issue, such as allergies, skin infections, or gastrointestinal problems. If the licking is persistent, compulsive, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is advisable to consult with a veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and appropriate diagnosis.

What Should I Do If My Dog Only Licks My Hands When I Cry?

If your dog specifically licks your hands when you cry, it is likely a response to your emotional distress. This behavior can be seen as a form of comfort and emotional support. Embrace their caring gesture and allow them to provide solace during those difficult moments. However, if you find their licking behavior excessive or uncomfortable, you can gently redirect them to other comforting gestures or train them to remain by your side without engaging in excessive licking.

Are All Dog Breeds Equally Likely to Lick When Their Owners Cry?

Licking behavior can vary among different dog breeds due to their unique characteristics and individual personalities. Breeds known for their nurturing instincts and strong emotional bonds with their owners may be more likely to engage in licking behavior when their owners cry. However, it is important to remember that each dog is an individual, and their behavior is influenced by a combination of genetics, experiences, and training.


The relationship between humans and dogs is truly remarkable. Dogs have an innate ability to sense and respond to our emotions, offering us comfort, solace, and unwavering support. When our tears flow, their instinctual response is to lick our hands as a way of providing reassurance and affection. Understanding the science, ancestry, and training behind this behavior deepens our appreciation for the incredible emotional support system dogs provide. Let us cherish the gift of our loyal and comforting companions who are there for us, ready to lick away our tears and be by our side through every emotional journey.

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