Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face When You Cry?

Golden Retriever dog licking the face of a sad girl in glasses

You may have experienced having your dog come up to you and lick your face when you’re crying. You may have thought that it was just because they liked the taste of the salt in your tears, but many believe that dogs are much more intuitive and empathetic than we realize. Since birth, dogs have learned that licking is a way to express love and concern for the people or animals they have bonded with. 

This article will explore some of the reasons why your dog may lick your face, especially when you’re crying; the concept of empathy in dogs, and what to look out for when allowing your dog to lick your face. 

Why Do Dogs Lick People?


You may notice that when you walk in the door after being at work, your dog will run up to you and begin licking you. This can be a form of greeting for them, welcoming you back after being apart. There are ways to train your dog not to lick you, if it’s not something you enjoy. Most people, though, appreciate the kisses and greeting from their furry friend. 


Licking can also be an attention-seeking behavior in dogs. They may be asking for you to pet them or look at them or take them outside or feed them. As dogs cannot speak, they find other ways to communicate their needs to their owner. If you wake up to your dog licking your face or your hands, they’re probably telling you that they need to go potty! 


Sometimes, if you have lotion or sweat or water on your skin, your dog will be attracted to the smell and want to take a taste. Often, using sweet-smelling lotions with scents like lavender or vanilla will prompt your dog to sneak a lick. If it smells good to you, it will probably smell good to your pup!

Learned or Genetic Trait

Licking people may be a genetic trait or learned trait in dogs. A mother dog licks her puppies to groom them and also to prompt urination and defecation when they are too young to know how to do it themselves. This is a sign of care and affection from the mother to the puppy, so it may be a learned behavior in your dog. 


Licking releases endorphins for your dog and gives them a sense of comfort and pleasure. If your dog licks you often, you’re likely doing an excellent job of giving them a good, comfortable life. Keep it up! They’re most likely aware of the benefits of licking for themselves and want to share that benefit with their owner because it’s what has worked for them.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Face?


A dog licking a human’s face may be a sign of submission. Most dogs have an innate sense of pack mentality where there is a leader and alpha. They may be showing you their loyalty and submission or obedience if they lick your face. 


If your dog is guilty of something, they may lick your face out of guilt and nervousness. If their ears are also laying back and they roll onto their side or back, you may want to check out your closet or the garbage cans to be sure that they haven’t ruined your newest pair of shoes. 


DNA can also be a factor in why your dog licks your face. Puppies and even wolf pups will often lick their mother’s face when they are young so that their mother will regurgitate food for them. They may be instinctually performing the same ritual in hopes that they’ll get some food. 

Can My Dog Taste the Salt in My Tears?

Yes, most likely! Dogs have taste buds on the surface of their tongue, the roof of their mouth, and the back of their mouth near their throat. But while they do have many taste buds, they don’t have nearly as many as humans do. Dogs typically have about 1,700 taste buds, and humans typically have about 9,000. 

This means that their sense of taste isn’t quite as strong as a human’s. They can probably taste the salt in your tears, but it wouldn’t be very strong for them. Dogs are omnivores and get most of their sodium from the meat content that they eat, so it’s probable that they don’t crave salt or sodium. 

What Is My Dog Thinking when They Lick My Face While I’m Crying?

If your dog notices you crying and comes up to lick your face, they are probably attempting to communicate with you in some way. Dogs sense distress and sadness and likely want to show you love and affection. 

You probably notice that dogs need a lot of attention from their owners, so they may be trying to engage with you to either distract you or cheer you up. Or maybe they just want some playtime! 

Are Dogs Empathetic?

Dogs are definitely empathetic beings. They are in tune with their owners and other humans, too. Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, of Goldsmiths College in London, designed an experiment “to test whether dogs’ behavior around apparently distressed people is consistent with empathy.” 

They found that dogs approached crying people more frequently than people who were simply humming. They found these results even with people who were not the dog’s owner. This shows that dogs are aware of the distress of humans around them and are inclined to show empathy.

Is It Harmful For Dogs to Lick Humans?

It is not usually harmful for dogs to lick humans. You may want to avoid letting your dog lick any open wounds because of the bacteria in their saliva and their mouths. If you have an especially weak or compromised immune system, you may be affected by a dog licking you. 

Most often, though, a dog licking a human is harmless and even beneficial and sweet for both the dog and the human. One thing to consider is that you don’t want to have any toxic foods or chemicals on your skin before allowing your dog to lick you.


Overall, you can conclude that dogs lick our faces when we cry because they are concerned and empathetic beings. They likely want to engage with you and show you love and affection. They may be exhibiting learned traits or genetic traits from their dog and wolf ancestors. 

While dogs can likely taste the salt in your tears, that’s probably not the only reason they’re appearing before your face when you’re crying. They want to make sure that their owner is okay!

Dogs are wonderful companions and have been for centuries. There are many ways to communicate with our pets and many ways they communicate with us; licking is one of those methods of communication and body language.

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