Dogs might be man’s best friend, but they have some peculiar habits, and to the uninitiated, licking your head and hair feels kind of weird.
But there’s more going on between those canine ears than you might think. And there are many reasons why your dog licks your head and hair, including the most common one, to show affection for you.
But that’s not the only reason why your dog licks your head and hair.
Your Dog Licks Your Head to Show Affection
Affection is the primary reason your dog licks your head and hair. Dogs are deeply loyal, and many breeds are keen to please their owners. Since your dog can’t communicate by talking with you, it uses the tools it has. And a favorite communication strategy for many dogs is to lick your head or face.
If you’re old enough to remember The Flintstones, you know what we’re talking about. As soon as Fred came home from work, Dino bowled him over and began licking his face. Welcome home, dad. I love you.
Your Dog Is Looking for Food
One of the reasons that wolves became dogs is easier access to food. Humans always seemed to have food or left it around in easy-to-reach places. Heck, humans would even give you food directly.
Puppies get all their nutrients from their mother. Everyone knows mother dogs nurse their babies, but that’s not the only way they feed their young. As the puppies get older, many mother dogs regurgitate food to ensure their puppies get a rich, varied diet.
And how do puppies let mum know they’re hungry? They lick her face. Many dogs never outgrow this behavior, and when they get hungry, they lick your head or face in the hopes that you, too, will bring up breakfast for them. Or at least open the kibble.
Your Dog Is Marking You as Part of the Pack
Dogs are pack animals by nature, and they see you as the leader of their pack. And one of the ways they claim you as part of that pack is by covering you in the appropriate pheromones.
Dogs do this all the time, whether by rubbing themselves against chairs or nuzzling your nose. Many people don’t realize that there are also pheromones in canine saliva. So, when your dog licks your head and hair, they cover you in those pheromones.
Whether you notice it or not, this has the effect of marking you with your dog’s scent and cementing you as part of their group.
Your Dog Likes How You Smell
Another reason dogs lick your hair is that they like the smell it already has.
Your new shampoo may appeal to your dog. Admittedly, it’s unlikely you’re washing in the scent of dead fish, but many scents in hair-care products appeal to dogs. These include:
Your Dog Is Grooming You
Grooming is an important part of pack life. Since your dog sees you as part of the pack, licking is a part of pack behavior.
Grooming ties back to our earlier observation that dogs lick you to show affection because grooming fellow pack members typically indicates a bonded pair.
However, while grooming is an incontestable indication of puppy love, it’s more complicated than that.
Your Dog Licks Hair to Supplement Their Diet
Sometimes the reason why your dog licks your head or hair is more complicated than normal pack behavior or doggy devotion.
Dogs are hunters by instinct, so if their diet is deficient, it’s natural for them to supplement it.
As discussed, sometimes, when a dog licks your face, it’s because they hope you will act as their mother and regurgitate food. But once they’ve established that won’t happen, they might start looking for nutrients elsewhere, including you.
Dogs find protein and other nutrients where we would never think to look for them. Earwax is one of these, and your hair is another.
If your dog isn’t just licking your hair but chewing on it, it may be a sign they aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals they need. If your dog licking your hair is a new behavior since changing their food, it may indicate that their new food is missing something.
Your Dog Has an Underlying Illness
No one likes to think about their dog being sick. But if a previously undemonstrative dog starts licking your face and hair, it may be because there’s an undiagnosed health issue.
Typically, when a health issue is the cause of a dog inappropriately licking your hair, you will notice your dog increasingly licking other strange objects, too. Alternatively, you may see that in addition to licking your hair, they start obsessively licking their feet.
Dogs are excellent at masking pain, so it’s essential to take note of unusual behavior and rule out illness as a possible cause. In the case of licking or chewing your hair, this is doubly important since ingesting too much hair can cause further health issues, like intestinal blockages.
Your Dog Licks Your Hair to Calm Down
Grooming and licking can also be self-soothing behavior for dogs. Some dogs do this by washing their feet or their flanks. But other dogs redirect that behavior towards you.
If licking your head or hair is a new habit your dog has picked up, it could be because they are trying to combat separation anxiety.
There are pheromones in canine saliva, and when released, these can help soothe an anxious dog.
Your Dog Wants to Reassure You
Alternatively, your dog may lick your head or hair because they want to reassure you.
Dogs are a lot like emotional sponges but with more personality. They stay attuned to your feelings, and if you’re angry or upset, they notice.
With that in mind, if your dog registers that you are anxious or upset, it may try to calm you down. And because licking is an inherently soothing behavior in the doggy universe, it’s natural for them to do the same thing to cheer you up.
Interestingly, for many people, dogs who lick their face and hair effectively cheer them up since the interaction boosts human endorphins. And your dog, the emotional sponge that it is, may not understand the reason, but they recognize a positive result when they see one.
So, encouraged by their initial success, your dog may continue licking your face and hair to ensure you stay happy and healthy for as long as possible.
Your Dog Wants Attention
Finally, one of the most fundamental reasons your dog licks your head and hair is that they want attention.
This behavior can be cute when you have time for it or when the dog is small and easy to manage. It’s less charming when you’re in the middle of a Zoom meeting or contending with a medium-to-large-sized dog.
To stop a dog from seeking attention like this, you need to ignore the behavior and redirect it. In this kind of mood, any attention, even negative attention, is a positive result for your dog. So instead, you need to gently but firmly redirect your dog’s attention onto something like a chew toy or means of independent play.
There are many reasons why your dog licks your head and hair. Some are sweet, some are horrifying, and some might be worrisome.
However, unless the licking comes on suddenly, chances are your dog thinks you make the sunrise and wants to ensure they are reciprocally at the center of your universe.
If it’s not a practice you want to encourage, remember that independent play and gentle redirection can help reduce the frequency with which your dog licks your head or hair. And don’t underestimate the power of authority. Many dogs like to see how much they can get away with, but they respond positively to a firm boundary.
Once you’ve made it clear grooming is your job, not your dog’s, you might be surprised to see they defer to you and leave the licking to someone else.