Dear Lisa: I have a Dachshund puppy who loves to lick. Is this natural? He will lick your arms, legs, toes, blankets, you name it he licks it. What's up with this? Is there anything I can do? --Lickety Split in Louisville
The licking of ears and face is a form of communication that goes back to the dogs' ancestors, the wolves. Wolves needed a method of clear communication that was easily understood and obeyed each time. It was based on their different senses and because it worked every time, it ensured the survival of the pack. No mixed messages from anybody.
Licking for most dogs begins with their mother cleaning them and stimulating certain body functions. But as pups grow, their littermates join in the licking fun. They help each other out with cleaning out-of-the-way places like ears, back and faces. It is an act of friendly cooperation. I imagine your younger pup, still very much in the adolescent phase, is licking as a sign that he is trying to be friendly.
On the other hand, he might be licking to gain food. In the wild, mama wolves regurgitated digested food for their puppies. Puppy licking of the face and lips would trigger mama to give it up. But in the modern day domestic dog this reflex is very slight, which is a good thing. Pups in an attempt to quell their hunger might try to elicit some food from you through ear or face licking.
As the puppy matures, licking the face of an adult dog or human could be a sign of respect to the dominant head of the pack, which hopefully is you. A submissive lick lets you know that your dog accepts your leadership role. His velocity of licking should calm down with age as your place in the permanent pack order is established and followed. As a precaution, you should take him to the vet for a check-up just to make sure there is no medical reason for his licking.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.