Dog Licking Behaviors
Learn about causes and corrective actions for dog licking.
Signs of Dog Licking Behaviors
- Licking people in the face
- Licking another dog
- Consistently licking own body
Causes and Corrective Actions for Dog Licking
Puppies lick at their mother's face in greeting and to instinctively stimulate her to "regurgitate" food for them as she would do in the wild, a behavior that becomes a part of the adult canine greeting ritual with other dogs and humans.
GREETING Corrective Actions: As long as your dog doesn't obsessively bother another dog with in-the-face licking, no action needs be taken to stop this natural behavior. Keeping in mind dogs do eat nasty things like animal excrement, if you don't object to an occasional friendly lick in the face as greeting, train your dog to do this on command with a "Give me a kiss" cue. Unlike puppy kisses, repeated excessive face-licking performed with a very direct attitude may indicate a demanding gesture that should be met with a firm "no" followed by a proper behavior command such as Sit.
Mother dogs lick their puppies to clean them, stimulate elimination and to show affection — some adult dogs will perform grooming behaviors on another dog.
GROOMING Corrective Actions: As long as the other dog seems fine with this attention, no intervention needed unless it becomes excessive in which case a "Leave it" command that tells your dog to turn attention elsewhere should be taught and used.
Parasites, fungi, yeast, allergies and other skin conditions frequently occur in dogs that cause terrible itching and subsequent licking, chewing and scratching.
ITCHING Corrective Actions: Consult your veterinarian if you notice your dog excessively licking his body, legs or feet as this can quickly create a moist, infected, hairless area called a "hot spot" or "lick granuloma" with possible treatments including insecticides, special diet, medication, soothing shampoos, topical ointments and other therapies. For a mild flea problem, purchase a safe flea-control product to treat your dog and any area he frequents to kill out adult fleas, larvae and eggs.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Triggered by separation anxiety, intense boredom, stress and other mental or emotional problems. OCD accounts for odd fixations in dogs that include licking an area until it becomes raw and infected.
PUNISHMENT INDUCED Corrective Actions: First schedule a veterinary examination to rule out medical causes for licking, then review your dog's exercise regimen, both mental and physical, to determine if her OCD stems from frustration and boredom that could be alleviated through increased daily training, interactive play, running and/or swimming in safe areas. For separation anxiety severe enough to prompt OCD behaviors, work with a professional trainer to help your dog handle being alone and away from her family. Work to break the cycle of licking by teaching a "Leave it" command you can use whenever your dog wants to start licking, then turn attention toward an acceptable outlet like chewing on a bone or playing with a treat-dispensing toy. Your veterinarian may recommend antibiotics, topical treatment and cotton socks to help the raw spots heal.
Often difficult to diagnose, pain such as an injured muscle, irritated nerve or sore joint often prompts dogs to lick the affected area in an attempt to alleviate the ache.
SENIOR Corrective Actions: Schedule a veterinary examination and write down the times of the day your dog usually licks an area and what the dog was doing beforehand, such as running, jumping or something else that might aggravate a painful spot. Treatment might include radiographs to pinpoint the problem, rest, canine pain medication and, in extreme cases, surgery.
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