It was the aim of this study to investigate if, based on heart rate measurements, social licking may be used as a positive indicator of animal welfare. Furthermore, the effect of using cow brushes on heart rate was studied. The basic assumption was that a decrease in heart rate when being licked or using the brushes would indicate a calming and relaxing effect. The study was carried out during October and November 2005 in an Austrian Fleckvieh dairy herd housed in a sloped floor system.20 focal animals were fitted with heart rate monitors after the morning milking.Social licking interactions (spontaneously, after solicitation, following agonistic interactions) and brushing events were continuously observed. Additionally, feeding, standing and lying were recorded using scan sampling. Data were analysed using linear mixed models. On average heart rate changed only slightly and not significantly when animals were licked. However, a significant decrease was observed when licking occurred after solicitation; this was the case in standing animals and animals standing at the feeding place. In general, there were pronounced intra- and inter-individual differences in the magnitude and direction of changes in heart rate. Heart rate increased during brushing events, which presumably was due to increased motor activity.In conclusion, cows may experience being licked as positive if social licking has been solicited and possibly the preferred body regions can be presented. However, based on the present results social licking cannot be recommended as a positive welfare indicator representing overall relaxing and calming effects in dairy cattle. A calming effect in terms of reduction in heart rate was also not found when cows used brushes. However, the presence and use of brushes can be regarded positive for animal welfare from the skin care effects only.