In the world of dog affection, a little lick here and there lets you know that your dog loves you. You might even enjoy the occasional kiss or two from your dog. Dogs lick for a lot of other reasons, including to taste your salty skin, but frequent or repetitive licking can quickly become an annoyance. When your dog’s licking gets out of hand, it could be an indicator to you that something is wrong. Depending on the type and severity of the licking, the issue could be one of health, or one of behavior. If your dog starts to lick all the time, you might have a bigger problem than just slobbery kisses on your hands. Here are some reasons that dogs lick obsessively, and what to do for dogs that like to give dog kisses a little too much.
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The Root of the Behavior
All dogs lick, and at any given time it could be for a number of different reasons. For starters, your dog could be casually licking you, the air, or itself as a completely normal and routine behavior. Licking can be a way for dogs to calm down, to express their affection, to groom their fur, and to communicate with you and other dogs. In moderation, these behaviors are completely normal. If you do not like that your dog licks your face, the behavior can be easily and healthily trained out of them. While communication through licking is ambiguous at best, the message is generally that your dog needs something, but it isn’t urgent yet. If your dog is looking at you intently and licking its chops, it may just be trying to communicate with you that it is hungry! If your dog’s licking becomes more common and you notice your dog licking itself or the air without an apparent reason, the issue may be behavioral. Your dog might be licking out of boredom, stress, anxiousness, or nervous habit. There is nothing immediately wrong with this type of licking, but it is a clear sign that your dog requires more outlets and stimulation. In the long term, the licking could become obsessive. In some cases, dogs who lick for behavioral reasons may have learned to associate licking with being petted. This is especially common in dogs who lick as a display of affection. If you reciprocate the affection and your dog begins to associate licking with positive reward, the behavior might grow and carry itself out even when you are not there. When a dog licks compulsively, it might be a sign that there is something seriously afflicting its health. Medical problems like allergies, nausea, joint pain, neurological damage, or severe anxiety might lead to obsessive compulsive disorder in dogs. Licking a local area like the base of the tail or paws could be a sign that there is something irritating your dog. This can be anything from environmental allergies to a burr lodged between its toes. If it is particularly bad, a dog might lick itself to the point that it begins to remove layers of fur or skin. This type of compulsive licking calls for a trip to the vet, where a veterinarian can properly examine your dog and deliver a diagnosis.
Encouraging the Behavior
Licking behaviors tend to escalate over time. Until your dog’s licking becomes compulsive or problematic, the issue is limited to whether or not you are okay with your dog licking you. If you do not want your dog to lick you, the best solution is to get up and ignore your dog every time it starts to lick you. It should not take long before your dog associates licking you with losing your attention, and dogs never want that. If you begin to notice your dog licking itself, the air, or various objects seemingly all the time, then you should be concerned and start to seek out practical solutions. Unless you know right away what is causing your dog to begin to compulsively lick itself, going to the vet sooner rather than later can save you and your dog from long-term problems with behavior or health. If you are absolutely sure that the issue is behavioral and not medical, then you can try working with your dog on redirecting the licking behavior into other outlets. New stimulation, more playtime, more exercise, and less stress may naturally bring the licking to an end. Be aware of environmental changes, as well, as these may stress your dog out beyond the normal. If a dog begins to harm itself via excessive licking, it is time to go to the vet, and your vet will help you by reaching a diagnosis and establishing a clear path forward.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Cases of excessive, compulsive licking are very rarely straightforward. Although it might seem on the surface that your dog is okay and simply licking itself a lot, attempting to solve serious cases on your own may lead to even more negative outcomes. In serious cases of obsessive licking, the best route is to see a veterinarian. It may also be of great benefit to you to seek out a veterinarian who is trained in animal behavior, that way you can be sure to address all angles of a dog’s licking disorder. Most often, severe cases licking that cause self-harm are the result of a combination of an underlying medical issue, and an obsessive compulsive disorder as the dog tries to cope with the underlying condition.
Most of the time, when a dog licks you or itself casually, there is no cause for concern. You may not always like it directed at you, but your dog is probably just trying to share a little affection. Knowing when innocent licking becomes problematic licking is different for every dog. The issue requires your attention and best judgement. Try and remember that licking is normal, after all, even humans lick their lips after a delicious meal. Your dog might simply be doing the same.