It is nine in the morning and you are sitting there, waiting to get your test results. You are worried, you are stressed, and you cannot contain the anxiety within yourself. You begin biting your nails and breathing deeply, and it begins to soothe you. In that moment, you tend to feel better because there is a distraction that brings ease to your body and to your mind. Animals are no different, in that regard. In fact, their soothing method of licking is a key instinct to many parts of their survival. When puppies are born, they learn this behavior from their mother, as she loves and takes care of them, and it becomes prominent to their wellbeing.
The Root of the Behavior
Licking, at first, is a way of communication. When a mother is taking care of her litter, she will lick each puppy, and through each lick, she is communicating, stimulating, and showing them that they are alive. It is her way of giving comfort and affection, so her puppies know it is time for them to begin breathing. Licking can be a learned behavior, but just as humans use their hands and senses to touch and taste, animals use their mouths and licking to do the same. They are communicating their needs and affection to other animals, as well as to their selves, and owners. Animals explore everything throughout their lives using their mouths. When your dog begins licking you, it is usually because they are communicating affection. Beyond that, your animal loves the taste of your skin, as it is salty. When they begin licking someone or something, endorphins are released in their body. Those endorphins are pleasurable and bring comfort to your animal. Licking makes them feel good. They will also lick other animals around them, as they are trying to console and comfort others as their mother did to them. If you decide to bring a puppy home and your dog of seven years begins licking the puppy, it is perfectly normal.
Beyond the positive attributes of licking, there may be negative attributes as to why licking occurs. Anxiety can be a huge reason as to why animals constantly lick themselves. It releases endorphins and it draws them away from their worries. They may be licking their body to help ease the discomfort of their skin from allergies that they are having, or they may be licking it consistently, so they are drawn away from their pain. Animals know licking makes them feel good, and at times, they are also rewarded for it. If your dog is licking a certain area consistently, or doing it in a way that seems obsessive, there may be an issue that needs re-evaluation. There could be something wrong with their skin, or their emotions and anxiety may be heightened as well.
Encouraging the Behavior
Licking may be something that you love in your animal, or it may be something that feels a bit tedious. It should be encouraged if your animal is licking another, especially if there is a mother dynamic in place. When two dogs lick each other, they are showing affection and simply understanding their own roles and places in the world. There is no harm in licking, as it can be play, affection, or even a way for an animal to help take care of themselves, physically or emotionally. If you do not like your animal licking you, then you may train them to stop by simply doing an act they are not expecting, like leaving the room. There are times when licking should not be encouraged. Although it is helpful in survival, affection, and helping animals truly find their place in the world, it can also be a habit that draws attention to things needing more attention. Your animal may have a health concern like allergies or their skin and they may have an emotional issue like anxiety or even obsessive-compulsive disorders. When this is present, you may want to have your animal looked at and licking may need to stop.
Other Solutions and Considerations
The act of licking seems to have a few causes, and none seem to be harmful in any way. Communication, grooming, healing, taste, affection, and sometimes bad habits are the causes that dogs lick. It is apart of their nature and something they adopt from the minute they enter into the world. It is important to know that through healing, grooming, and communication, they are doing their part to rid and communicate what is needed for the best interest of their body as well as for their owner. It is important to watch over them if they tend to take licking too far, if they break open wounds that are healing, or if they become obsessive with the act of licking. This behavior is a huge part of being a dog, and without it, a dog’s nature may feel peculiar. Every breed of dog will adopt the habit of licking.
Animals are filled with an immense amount of love for their owners and for the people and animals that surround them. Although their licking may be wet and a bit constant, it is important in how they love, and it is important for their silly nature to be its strongest each and every day.
By a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze
Published: 02/07/2018, edited: 01/30/2020