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As precious as they are, our furry friends display plenty of weirdo behaviors that we sometimes can’t explain. After all, they can’t use words to tell us why they love to roll around in rabbit poop or find the scent of our teenage son’s socks irresistible; we can only guess based on decades of research and our own observations.
If your dog loves to lick your legs, you might have wondered what the heck it’s all about. Is Fluffy obsessed with the smell or taste of your go-to body lotion, or maybe Fido has a bizarre affinity for your sweaty post-workout skin?
Whether it feels odd or downright unpleasant to you (especially if you’re ticklish), it seems there are a number of reasons why your pooch might be a bonafide leg licker, as Dr. Nicole Savageau, VMD, veterinarian at The Vets of Austin, tells Scary Mommy.
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The Nose Knows
You won’t be surprised to learn that your pup has a seriously keen sense of smell; in fact, dogs have up to a billion scent receptors in their noses, compared to us humans, who have around five million, as veterinary neurologist Philippa Johnson told NBC News in 2022.
Not only does that adorable little nose connect intimately with your pup’s sense of vision, but dogs also have a special organ called the Jacobson’s organ (aka the vomeronasal organ) inside their nasal cavity that opens up to the roof of their mouth. The nerves from this organ lead directly to your dog’s brain, and they can detect odors that would be undetectable to us people. The TL;DR here: Your dog’s senses are strong.
OK, but why do they specifically love licking our legs so much? "They might be attracted to the scents and tastes on our skin, like sweat or skincare products," says Savageau.
Slobber = Love?
"Licking can also be a sign of affection and bonding, a form of communication, or a way to soothe themselves,” she explains.
"Dogs may lick various parts of your body for different reasons. Licking legs can be a sign of affection or grooming behavior, while licking hands could be due to food remnants or a desire for attention. Licking the face is often a way to show affection and seek interaction. In general, these behaviors are typically harmless, but moderation is key to ensure comfort for both you and your dog."
If you dislike the habit (or don’t want your pup licking the legs of every person who comes to your house), directing them away with a favorite toy or treat is a good idea.
"If excessive licking is a concern, consult a veterinarian or dog trainer for guidance," says Savageau.
"Allowing your dog to lick your legs is generally safe," she adds. "However, be cautious if you have open wounds, as there’s a minimal risk of infection from bacteria in their saliva. Dogs may lick out of affection, but excessive licking can indicate anxiety or obsessive behavior, which might need professional guidance. Excessive leg licking in dogs can sometimes be a sign of an underlying behavioral or health issue. If your dog is obsessively licking their own legs to the point of causing irritation or if this behavior is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with a veterinarian. They can help determine if there’s an underlying health problem or if the behavior is related to stress, anxiety, or allergies, and provide appropriate guidance or treatment."
So, if it doesn’t bother you and it’s not excessive, it’s probably just another sign that your furbaby adores you as much as you adore them. After all, you smother them with kisses — maybe they just want to return the favor.