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Last week, I shared some resources about making life easier for disabled pets.
We don't own a disabled dog, but I know this is an important topic that many dog owners have to cope with.
This week, I'd like to switch gears and discuss an issue that we do struggle with in our home — compulsive licking.
I know there are a lot of other pet parents out there asking themselves, “Why does my dog lick all the time?”
There are many reasons why dogs lick, and most of them are not signs of a serious problem — though they may be somewhat annoying.
Granted, not everyone enjoys a slimy dog tongue wiping across their face, but typically, your dog is licking you to show affection.
Dogs use licking to communicate with each other, and since you're a member of his pack, too, your dog uses his licking language to communicate with you as well.
Believe it or not, we taste good too! Dogs like the salty taste of human skin, and that's why they will repetitively lick your hand or arm. Dogs use their senses differently than humans, and we all know that the sense of taste is a dog's favorite.
It's not such a bad thing when he's licking you or licking himself (within reason of course), but what if your dog enjoys licking other objects like your furniture?
Why Does My Dog Lick Me All the Time
9 Answers from Animal Experts
There are many reasons why a dog licks and LifeStyle9 does a great job of explaining them. It's normal for your dog to lick you, your furniture, even the air. Dogs lick. It's what they do.
As long as your pet isn't licking constantly, you don't have anything to worry. He's just expressing his love and affection or asking you for attention. Of course, dogs lick to groom themselves and they'll lick the floor or furniture if they smell something tasty.
- This is how their mother stimulated them to breath and how she cleaned when they were puppies. So licking turns out to be one of their important behavior for survival.
Licking is a natural instinct for your dog. Did you know that licking can also be a sign of submission? Your dog may lick you to show his submission because he sees you as the alpha dog of his pack. He may lick other dogs in your household to show his submission to them.
2. American Kennel Club
Liz Donovan wrote this short article for the American Kennel Club that explains this issue, and it also talks about recognizing a possible medical or behavioral disorder in your pet. For some dogs, repeated licking is a sign of an obsessive disorder. If he is licking himself repeatedly it may be a sign of a medical condition and you should seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
- Dogs that repeatedly lick a certain spot might be suffering from an issue that needs a specialist’s intervention, including anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also, dogs who frequently lick their feet may be trying to resolve a persistent itch caused by allergies.
There is a medical issue referring to a dog's craving of a non-food item and the subsequent eating or licking of that item. It is known as Pica. So how can you tell if your dog has an obsessive-compulsive disorder or if he suffers from Pica?
3. Valarie V. Tynes
Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, wrote an article to help you figure out this quandary. If you've been wondering “Why does my dog lick all the time?,” the first thing you need to do is observe his behavior to try and figure out a cause. As Dr. Tynes explains, observation is the first step to figuring out the issue.
- The first and most important step when presented with a dog that licks excessively is to define the behavior as accurately as possible. Excessive licking must be differentiated from pica. An observant owner can usually describe exactly what behavior the dog is performing.
Once you've figured out the root of your dog's licking, it may be a quick fix or it may take time and the assistance of a veterinary. If your dog doesn't seem to suffer from Pica and doesn't have a compulsive licking disorder, it can probably be easily fixed with training and consistency.
4. Clarissa Fallis
As Clarissa Fallis explains in this blog for petful, many people do not like to be licked by dogs. Modifying the behavior with some simple training techniques is the easiest way to teach your dog that licking people is not acceptable. The author explains how to approach this type of behavioral training and what to do if it fails.
- Other than removing your attention, a change in body language will help you make your point. When your dog starts to lick you, say, “Nope!” and withdraw your attention while moving away. (It may help to put a little bitter apple spray or lemon on your skin to make the licking less desirable.) Make sure your eyes and face are dramatically averted from the dog.
5. Dog Adoption and Training Guide
As explained in this blog on dog-adoption-and-training-guide site, if the issue is that your pet is constantly licking you it's probably because he's trying to get your attention. Obviously, if your pet isn't getting the attention he requires, that's a big problem, and it could lead to behavior that will be much worse than licking like destructive chewing or urinating in the house.
after observing your pet, if you believe that the licking is a cry for attention try some of the tips recommended in this blog including:
- Can you come home more often during the day, or leave the dog with a neighbor who is home all day?
- Or perhaps get up a half hour earlier and try to tire the dog out more before you leave to help him stop the licking on his own?
- Generally, dogs are most relaxed with an hour and a half of good exercise per day.
- You might try spending more time with your dog in the evenings, playing, roughhousing, grooming, and training. Training sessions are tiring but they alone won’t stop dog licking problems.
- Adequate chew toys like Kongs stuffed with food like freeze-dried liver and peanut butter are a good time waster that will stop a bored dog from licking to an extent. Keep plenty of them on hand. They can be a bit messy so they should be used on the porch or a floor that can be wiped up easily.
6. Anthony Jorgensen
So what should you do if you really don't believe that your dog has a behavioral or medical condition but behavioral training isn't working either? Anthony Jorgensen gives pet parents some advice on using bitter apple in this blog that he wrote for healthguidance.org.
- You can buy a bottle of bitter apple (this is not toxic but tastes horrible) and apply it to yourself or any other object that your dog seems to become infatuated with licking obsessively. I have yet to see a dog that enjoys the taste of bitter apple so this method is a sure fire way to turn him off from licking you.
But what if it is a behavioral or medical condition? Seeing your veterinarian should be first on your to-do list if you have any suspicions that your dog's licking may be more than just a habit.
Obsessive disorders will consists primarily of licking, but if it is a medical disorder the licking could be paired with chewing or scratching as well.
This extensive article on WebMD explains what your veterinarian will do to try and pinpoint the cause of the problem. Because there are so many reasons for excessive licking, your vet may want to observe your pet for a bit before making any type of diagnosis. According to this article:
Depending on the cause of your dog’s compulsive behavior, this [treatment options] might include:
- Eliminating parasites
- Changing foods
- Using medication
- Preventing the behavior
- Addressing anxiety or boredom
8. Dr. Karen Becker
OCD-behaviors are actually more common in canines than you may think. Dr. Karen Becker gives some great information on compulsive disorders in canines in this blog. You'll learn about the disorder, get some suggestions to prevent or control it and she also talks about pharmacotherapy for pet OCD if you're interested in taking that route.
- As you might have guessed, I'm not a big fan of the use of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Zoloft) or N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) blockers in the treatment of obsessive behaviors in animals. They are sometimes appropriate in extreme, intractable cases and/or when an animal is causing harm to himself. Sometimes they can be used as an interim measure to interrupt the cycle of behavior at the same time other less harmful remedies are being attempted. But my general recommendation is to try a wide variety of natural remedies first, since every drug has side effects.
9. Stan Rawlinson
There are other symptoms of canine compulsive disorders that you should also be aware of if you think it may be an issue with your pet. Tail-spinning, light and shadow obsessions and resource guarding. To learn more about canine OCD, possible treatments and what you can do to help your dog, check out this article Stan Rawlinson, known as The Doglistener in the UK.
- There are a number of treatments. Drugs, concentration exercises, alternative stimuli, desensitisation and interrupters, Interrupters are normally based on sound aversion and must be created psychologically. The idea of this treatment to make the dog believe their actions are causing the interrupter. Therefore for the sound to stop they must cease the actions that are creating the sound.
If you've got an obsessive licker in your home, please share your tips and tricks for dealing with the issue in the comments below. If you've used a particular training method or training tool that I haven't mentioned, we'd love to hear about it. Vet tips and suggestions are always welcome as well.
All dogs are different, so you may need to try numerous methods before you find something that will work for your pooch. Constant licking could be a sign of a more serious issue, and it's best to seek veterinary help if you don't find a treatment that works within a few weeks.