Doggy “kisses” are adorable…until they’re not. If your dog is an obsessive licker you’re probably more than sick of being covered in slobber or listening to that distinctive smacking sound ad nauseam from across the room.
Why do dogs lick so much, and is there anything you can do to stop it if your dog’s licking is driving you nuts?
Let’s Talk About Why Dogs Lick
First, let’s recognize that there are several different types of licking. Dogs lick other animals, like people and puppies. They also lick the air (sometimes known as “flash-licking.”) They lick themselves. And some dogs will lick anything, from the furniture to the walls.
Every type of licking has a different cause. It’s helpful to remember that dogs generally learned to communicate through licking. Their mother used licking to teach them, and in the wild, licking is a submissive gesture that could save them their life. For dogs, licking is a critical skill.
Domesticated dogs usually lick for one of a few reasons:
- To communicate, particularly to show affection
- To release stress or to relieve anxiety
- Because they’re bored
- Because they’re in pain
What Does Your Dog’s Licking Mean?
It’s important to figure out exactly why your dog is licking for two reasons: 1) to figure out how to stop it and 2) to intervene if there’s an underlying issue that needs addressing. This is especially important if your dog is licking because she is in pain, as many do. Maybe her skin is itchy because she has allergies, or maybe she’s got undiagnosed arthritis. Whatever the case, if you suspect your dog might be licking out of pain, call your vet for a thorough checkup.
If you’re relatively sure your dog isn’t in pain, pay attention to when and how she’s licking. If she only licks other living creatures, she’s probably trying to communicate. If she licks anything and everything, she might be bored and looking for a quick fix of adrenaline. If her licking is accompanied by an outside stimulus like thunder or you leaving for work, she might be doing it to relieve anxiety. Pay close attention and keep a log if you need to.
How to Stop Your Dog from Licking So Much
Once you’ve determined why your dog is licking you can help her curb the behavior. Remember that it’s not uncommon for a dog to lick for more than one reason! This just means you’ll need to curb each behavior separately. You’ll probably have the most success if you start with the most annoying licking behavior and move on to the next one after that problem is under control.
Licking to Communicate:
If your dog is licking to communicate with you, she’s probably doing it to say “I love you, human!” That’s nice, but it’s also attention-seeking. To stop her from doing this so much simply ignore her when she licks or better yet, turn your back on her when she’s licking. It won’t take her long to realize she’s not getting the results she wanted then move on to a better behavior, like begging for belly rubs.
Licking from Anxiety:
Is anxiety the cause of your dog’s licking? If so, start by determining why she’s anxious and seeing if there’s anything you can do to help. Desensitization techniques can be used to get her used to stimuli like thunder, or you could work with her on strategies that lessen her separation anxiety. Canine anxiety is a complicated issue and it can often be helpful to get your vet’s perspective. For some dogs, a low-dose of anti-anxiety medication is enough to get back on track.
Licking Out of Boredom:
If boredom is at the root of your dog’s licking, you’re in luck! This one’s easy. Simply up the length and frequency of her daily walks (if she’s physically up for it) and spend more time engaged in play. If you can’t manage the time, it might be worth looking into doggy day care a few days a week. There’s an excellent chance that the more you tucker her out with activity, the less energy she’ll have for errant licking. Huzzah!