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Many dog owners wonder whether dogs like salty skin. 

This is overall a good question considering that there's a common belief that dogs tend to lick us so much because they enjoy the taste of our skin.

However, how true is that? In order to discover the truth, we would have to ask our dogs. 

Until the day dogs can talk, we will therefore have to rely on what we know so far about dogs and can only ultimately rely on some empirical data. 

Why is Our Skin Salty?

Our skin is salty because of sweat. Sweat is mostly composed by salt and water secreted by 2 to 5 million  of sweat glands that are found on our bodies.

Unlike dogs, who sweat mostly through their feet, humans sweat from their skin producing even up to 10 liters of sweat a day.

To be exact, our sweat is produced by two different glands: the eccrine glands and the apocrine glands. 

Eccrine glands secrete watery sweat when we overheat due to exercise, heat or an illness that raises our temperature.

Apocrine glands are located by the armpits, breasts and genitals and secrete sweat in response to anxiety, pain or arousal. 

This is the type of sweat that is most likely to produce odors due to the presence of bacteria. This type of sweat is not like salt water, but is rather on the waxy side.

Do dogs lick our skin because it's salty?

Do dogs lick our skin because it's salty?

Can Dogs Taste Salt?

What makes the theory that, dogs like to lick human skin because it's salty, faulty, is the fact that dogs have considerably less taste receptors for salt compared to humans. 

Additionally, we must consider that, in humans, most taste receptors for salt are found all around the edge of the tongue as well as its tip. 

In dogs instead, there are no taste receptors for salt found around the edge or tip of the tongue, but rather, you'll find just a few receptors scattered along the sides, points out Stanley Coren. 

Dogs don't need as much salt as humans considering that, evolutionarily, their meat-based diets in the wild provided them with with sufficient levels of sodium,  further points out Coren.  

Coren's Experimental Test

Intrigued by the topic and wishing to discover more, Stanley Coren decided to conduct a small experiment. 

He recruited 20 dog owners and let them apply a salty solution on one knee, while the other knee was free of any solution. 

If dogs were really attracted to salt, they would have licked that salty knee more than the other one, and for a longer time.

Test results came in and no particular differences were noted in regards to the amount of time spent licking the salty versus the non-salty knee. 

Until more studies are conducted on this, the results seem to suggest that dogs aren't particularly attracted to salt on our skin. 

But Wait, There's More!

If not after the salt, why are dogs then so drawn to licking our skin? Maybe we need to dig deeper on this. 

So we know that most of us humans tend to sweat, but where is our sweat really coming from? 

Author Sarah Everts is a top expert on the subject of sweat. Indeed, she has dedicated an entire book on the topic revealing several mind-blowing facts about this fluid we so readily rush to remove from our skin. 

In a chapter of her book, she explains that, basically, when our bodies are opened up, it's very wet inside.

 Special fluids known as interstitial fluids are what keep our internal organs nice and damp.

Interstitial fluids are sourced from our blood so when we sweat, our sweat glands ultimately source the sweat from this fluid which ultimately sources from our blood.

This means that, anything that enters our bodies and bloodstream, will be excreted through our sweat including our morning coffee or that evening glass of wine.

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"Nicotine, cocaine, garlic odor, food dyes, amphetamines, antibiotics (you name it!)—they all trickle out this route, whether we like it or not,"  explains Sarah Everts in her book: The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration. 

This has been proven by the fact a nurse once developed red-tinged sweat and it was discovered this was due to her binging on special tomato chips. Indeed, the red pigmentation found in her sweat matched the one used for that snack. 

So after reading this, my next question is, with dogs so drawn to licking our skin, can it just boil down to them being attracted to the smell, and maybe "taste" of what we recently ate?

This certainly warrants some further investigation!

Did you know? The rare phenomenon of producing colored sweat is medically referred to as chromhidrosis.

Can dogs be smelling the food we recently ate from the sweat on our skin?

Can dogs be smelling the food we recently ate from the sweat on our skin?

Other Reasons Dogs Lick Our Skin

Other than potentially licking us because our sweat makes us smells like the things we eat and drink, there are other reasons why dogs are so prone to licking us and giving us so-called "kisses."

Let's take a look at several other reasons dogs may be prone to attracted to licking us. 

A Matter of Instincts

Licking is an instinctive behavior in dogs that is reminiscent of early puppyhood.

Licking behaviors are something puppies learn about just seconds after birth. Mother dog licks her puppies to remove birth fluids and her vigorous licks encourages them to breath.

Mother dog also licks her puppies to stimulate them to eliminate until they are older and capable of eliminating on their own.

As the puppies raised in the wild grow, and are weaned from mother's milk, they will instinctively lick around the mother's mouth in hopes of her regurgitating.

Licking therefore is a dog's natural behavior, something that was inculcated in them from an early age.

It's therefore not surprising if dogs are naturally inclined to licking people's mouths or licking people's faces, or any other part of the skin!

An Appeasement Gesture

Licking behaviors in dogs may also be used as an appeasement gesture.

In other words, dogs are trying to communicate that they mean no harm.

While puppies lick their mothers to elicit regurgitation, as adults, they may use licking when they're nervous about something, in a sort of "don't hurt me" strategy, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Borns-Weil in an article for Tufts University.

A Quest For Attention

Many dogs love being at the center of attention, and what better way to get your attention than licking your skin?

If you respond to such licking by lovingly petting your dog and sweet talking, you'll have positively reinforced the skin-licking behavior with your attention.

Even if you remark "yuck!" or push your dog away though, that may qualify as attention nonetheless.

For an attention-seeking dog, even negative attention is far better than no attention at all, so they'll take that as a form of interaction!

A Matter of Social Grooming

This form of grooming pulls at every dog owners' heartstrings. Social grooming consists of dogs having other doggy friends who are willing to exchange some grooming.

Dogs may be therefore lying side-by-side when one dog may start gentling nibbling one dog, and the other may exchange the favor in a cute grooming session involving mostly the ears, eyes and mouth area.

"These behaviors are done by individuals closely associated to each other," points out board-certified veterinarian Dr. Bonnie Beaver in the book "Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers."

So there may be chances, that, when your dog is nearby you, he may feel compelled into engaging in some social grooming with you, especially if you recently ate something tasty and have some food residue by the corner's of your mouth!

References:

  • Psychology Today, Why Dogs Like to Lick People-A new experiment aims to answer a classic question, by Stanley Coren
  • The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration, Sarah Everts.

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