Why Do Puppies Like to Lick & Paw Your Face?

Pawing and licking are just a way for your puppy to say he loves you.
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Your puppy wants you to know how much he loves you. He'll run up and jump at you, pawing and licking at your face as soon as you pick him up. This behavior has roots in his primal ancestry, and conveys various messages in a slurpy, furry delivery system.

Hi There!

As your puppy plays or happily licks you, he may raise his paw and pat you or look like he's waving. Dogs generally use this movement as a way to show their submissive tendencies to the higher-ranking dogs in the pack, and to get attention. The puppy paw raise could be a way to initiate play, or give you affection by making physical contact with you. It's his way of saying “Hey, you! You're pretty great! Now play with me or give me food.”

One Lick, A Variety of Meanings

Way back before dogs were domesticated, their wild ancestors would lick the faces and mouths of their pack-mates as a greeting, or to show submission to those higher on the social ladder. Puppies learn this behavior from their mama, who cleans them regularly when they're still in the whelping box. Because you're the big pet parent now, the leader of his new pack, he transfers these communication behaviors to you. He uses them to show affection or submission, or seek a certain reaction, such as being given a treat or toy.

Good or Bad

Although the feel of a tiny puppy tongue or soft paw on your face makes you go “Awww,” this behavior generally isn't something you should allow for too long. That tiny puppy won't be a tiny puppy forever, and soon he'll be a big, clawed dog who may be more slobber than smile. Not to mention that you have no idea what your puppy gets into when you're not around, and he may be passing bacteria and other nasty germs to you through paw and tongue. Adorable puppy affection is fine, but not at the expense of your health.


You don't have to deprive your pup of the attention and affection he seeks just because you don't want him pawing and licking all over your face. Simply redirect him to a more appropriate behavior, such as licking your hand or placing his paws on your leg. When he tries to go at your face, turn away and say, “No” in a stern voice. Offer him your hand instead. When he goes nuts over your hand, praise him. Be consistent and prevent other friends and family from letting him lick or paw at their faces.

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