Why Do Boston Terriers Lick So Much



Everyone loves a Boston Terrier! From their clown-like ways to their charming good looks, the Boston Terrier is the perfect addition for families looking to add a little fun to their lives. However, like all dog breeds, Boston Terriers have been known to have their own peculiar quirks, and when it comes to YOUR dog, his seems to be constant licking. With all the personalized licking attention lavished upon you daily, you're starting to become paranoid that your personal hygiene has been slipping. What else could explain Fido's obsession with "cleaning" your face? Is this something that is particular to the breed, or is there something more at play? With dog behaviors that seem confusing to us, a thorough study of the breed's characteristics and history can help reveal some clues behind the activity that mystifies us. Since dog behavior is often deeply rooted in logic, chances are there is something about obsessive licking that provides Fido with a satisfying "payoff." Or maybe he's just hungry, and you taste good. Taking the time to research a breed gives us powerful insights into what shapes the way they think and sometimes why they act the way that they do. Is this is a normal behavior for Boston Terriers, or is your dog just a little on the strange side?

The Root of the Behavior

Boston Terriers are one of the best-loved breeds within the non-sporting group of dogs. Characterized by their markings which are often described as tuxedo-like, the Boston Terrier is easy to spot in a crowd. His well-mannered ways have earned him the nickname "the American gentleman" amongst aficionados of the breed. Though this breed most likely gained its name from its Boston, Massachusetts history as its name would suggest, this breed came into existence in England in the late 19th century through the combining of several different established dog variants in an attempt to produce a dog well-suited to pit fighting and barn ratting sports. Breed experts suggest that the modern day Boston Terrier was derived from a breeding between some type of Bulldog breed and the completely white English Terrier, a breed which is no longer in existence today. This rough prototype dog required refinement and purposeful breeding to achieve the Boston Terrier we know and love today. This selective and careful breeding process was undertaken in the city of Boston, and thus this beloved dog bears the name of the city whose native dog people invested so much into the development of his breed. 

Earlier versions of the Boston Terrier produced a dog of much greater substance and heft to enable him to be a worthy opponent in the dogfighting ring. History notes that the original Boston Terrier was not the cute little dog we know of today. Decades of careful breeding choices later produced Boston Terriers who were slighter of build, sweet-tempered, and amiable who thrived on companionship with their humans and other dogs. Boston is proud of their namesake son and has bestowed upon him several distinctions including a mascot position at the prestigious Boston University and the honor of being selected to represent Massachusetts as their chosen state dog. While there is nothing particular to the Boston Terrier that would make him predisposed to licking, it is a fairly common practice exhibited by many different breeds. There are a number of reasons that could explain this interesting canine phenomenon. From the time they are puppies, dogs lick as a means to communicate. Since dogs do not have a verbal language to express their needs, they quickly learn from observing other dogs to use their mouths to get what they want. 

Encouraging the Behavior

Since baby puppies must survive on their mother's milk and soft semi-solid foods until they develop teeth that are strong enough for chewing on their own, puppies born in the wild had to rely heavily on their mother's assistance for the provision of their food supply. Unfortunately, easily palatable foods such as rice cereal and goat's milk were simply not available in the wild. Because of this, the mother dog would need to hunt to procure food that she would then chew and swallow for later regurgitation for her puppies to eat. The act of licking their mother's mouth signaled to the mother that her puppies were hungry and wanting her to provide them with the previously broken down food for their use. Though your Boston Terrier realizes that you aren't going to throw up food for his benefit, he may be attempting to tell you that a snack would be nice right about now. Licking is also a calming signal for many dogs. You will often see puppies licking the faces of their mothers and even other adult dogs. This is a means of showing respect for leadership and submission to authority. 

Your Boston Terrier might simply be telling you that he understands his role in the family and yours as his wise and loving leader. Since dogs do respond exceptionally well to positive reinforcement, your Boston Terrier may be engaging in frequent licking behavior because you have inadvertently rewarded it. If Fido anxiously greets you at the door then jumps into your arms and lavishes your face with "kisses" and you show obvious delight, he will quickly learn that the behavior gained him his desired response. Because of this, you will see this type of activity again and again. If it is something that you find unpleasant or annoying, you can break this cycle by simply refusing to acknowledge Fido's attempts to engage you in this way. It will take some time, but eventually, Fido will realize that this is no longer the key to what he wants. Of course, there is also the option that you taste good. Dogs love the taste of salt, and undoubtedly, our skin tastes briny to them. No need to fear though; your Boston Terrier will not mistake you for McDonald's french fries and decide to turn the licking into a few hearty chomps. He just likes the taste of your skin; he doesn't want to eat it.

Other Solutions and Considerations

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fido might detect that you are a little "ripe" and could benefit from a shower. If you've come in after a long day of work or a run on the treadmill, Fido just might decide to assist the cleanup process by giving you a pre-shower rinse with his tongue. While none of these behaviors are more than annoyances at best, excessive licking of paws or other body parts is of greater concern. Some Boston Terrier owners share that their dogs have been prone to allergies or skin conditions. Dogs who consistently lick or bite at their own skin are uncomfortable and itchy and require veterinary assistance to get to the root of the problem. Left untreated, persistent licking can lead to lick granulomas and skin infections. If your Boston Terrier is an obsessive licker, it could be behavioral. He may just be bored, frustrated, or stressed. Each of these situations can be addressed in a positive manner to teach your Boston Terrier more productive ways to cope with his feelings. 

More commonly, Boston Terriers lick obsessively due to allergies. Allergies may find their source in food sensitivities or even autoimmune responses to environmental stimuli. Allergies can be extremely difficult to treat, and they must be managed in order for your Boston Terrier to enjoy a good quality of life. In rarer cases, some Boston Terriers do suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, and the licking is a manifestation of that. Dogs in this state are not able to stop or regulate the behavior on their own due to a chemical imbalance in their system. They require veterinary intervention in the form of medication to help reduce anxieties to allow the dog to return to a state of mind where behavior modification training can be started. It is not an "either-or" type of plan. The medication simply levels the playing field, so the dog can respond to training methods. 


Fido's constant licking driving you mad? Feeling like you might need to invest in a helmet to keep him off your face? Rest assured; you are not alone. It could be that Fido really loves you, wants something from you, or is even suffering with a bad case of the "itchies." Take the time to consider the motivations behind the action to best understand your Boston Terrier and how to help him.