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Why Does My Australian Shepherd Lick Me So Much?

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An Australian Shepherd licking its owner's face

To canines, licking is a natural and instinctive trait. That includes Australian Shepherds, also known as Aussies. To keep their puppies clean and comfortable, mother Aussies will often lick their puppies. Aussie puppies will also learn to groom themselves as they grow. In addition to being a good way to clean, licking is also a sign of love, greeting, and a great way to show affection. 

With that in mind, being licked by your Australian Shepherd can be a sign of love or empathy. However, it can have several other meanings as well. So why does your Aussie lick you so much and what can you do if it ever becomes a problem?

1. Your Australian Shepherd is showing affection

Aussies are known for being affectionate, loyal, and protective of their families. One way these dogs show affection is by licking. Puppies feel comfortable, calm, and happy when their mother licks them. As a result, your Aussie may instinctively lick you to make you feel comfortable and happy. Moreover, just as it feels nice for you to stroke your Aussie, it probably feels nice for them to lick you.

2. Your Australian Shepherd is showing empathy

Australian Shepherds are very social animals and and known for forming strong bonds with their owners. As such, try to comfort their owners the same way we try to cheer up anxious or depressed dogs. Australian Shepherds do this by licking, nuzzling, or making eye contact. If your Aussie notices a change in your mood, they may lick you to make you feel better. A 2018 study found that can sense our emotions, and read our facial expressions including:
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Surprise
  • Disgust
A 2012 study found that dogs were more likely to lick and nuzzle their owners when they were asked to pretend to cry. So your Aussie licks you so much probably because of your facial expressions.

3. Your Australian Shepherd is seeking attention

For Australian Shepherds, licking is an attention-seeking behavior. If your Aussie licks you so much, it probably means you usually stroke them, are kind to them, or praise them. Consequently, your actions encourage your dog to lick you and make you more likely to do it next time.

4. You taste good

If your Aussie licks you more after exercise, particularly on sweaty areas, it may mean you taste delicious to your dog. Human sweat contains salt and acidic chemicals that may be tasty to your Aussie. Your Australian Shepherd may also lick your face or hands, smelling of nice a cream or lotion you just used. However, pet experts advise against letting your dog lick you after you’ve used certain lotions. That's because certain lotions, such as psoriasis creams, can be very poisonous to dogs.

5. Your Australian Shepherd is hungry

Sometimes, Australian Shepherds communicate by licking. It is an instinctive behavior that dates back to their wolf ancestors. In the wild, pups lick their mother’s lips to show that they’re hungry. They usually do this when their mother returns from a hunt. Because this instinct is embedded into your dog’s DNA, they may lick you to let you know they’re famished.

6. Your Australian Shepherd is anxious

Australian Shepherds tend to bond strongly to their owners and therefore tend to develop separation anxiety when left alone too often. In that case, licking you might help your Aussie feel less anxious. In other words, calm, relaxed, and more at ease. In some rare cases, dogs with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) resort to licking themselves, objects, or their people, which can lead to sores on their tongues. So you should speak to your vet or a behaviorist if you think your dog might be affected.

7. Your Aussie is greeting you or you are their favorite person

After you’ve both had a sleep, your Aussie may lick you as a way of greeting you. What for? Probably because your Aussie is happy to see you again after dreaming of you stroking them. But then again, if you live in a multi-person household, your Aussie may lick you more than anyone else. That means the dog has chosen you as its favorite person. It might probably be because you are their primary caregiver and their best friend. On the other hand, it might be because you taste the best.

When does licking become a problem?

Like many other dogs, Aussies express themselves in a variety of ways, including licking. Every individual Aussie is different of course. While some Aussies may lick less, others may do it a lot. However, if your Australian Shepherd unceremoniously begins licking you a lot, then it could be a sign that something is not right. Aussies with anxiety or a health issue may lick more frequently, in which case it is advisable to contact your vet if you’re concerned about your dog or their behavior.

What can you do about problematic licking?

As I mentioned a couple of times before, licking is a natural and instinctive behavior dogs use to express themselves. So, expecting your Aussie to stop licking you completely is almost impossible. If you feel your Aussie licks you too much, I recommend trying to understand the reason behind the behavior so you can act accordingly. To try to stop this behavior, I suggest moving away anytime your Aussie tries to lick you. 

Don't give your dog either positive or negative attention. Instead, try to move the part of your body that your pup tries to lick away from them. Alternatively, try leaving the room entirely, moving away from your Aussie. However, it is important to remain neutral. In other words, don’t say anything or make eye contact. Australian Shepherds are very intelligent and therefore will over time understand that licking is not something you enjoy.

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