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Close up of dog licking

Why Does My Dog Lick So Much?

July 18, 2021

If your dog licks you a lot, you aren’t alone! Licking is a very natural canine behavior and highly enjoyable for dogs like nipping and mouthing. After giving birth, mother dogs will lick their newborn puppies to stimulate them to breathe and eat. Licking also releases endorphins that make dogs of all ages feel relaxed and happy. Although licking is natural for dogs, excessive licking can be a symptom of an underlying health condition. Licking is a common behavior for dogs, but what are the reasons they do it so much?  

Why does my dog lick me?

Affection 

Dogs licking people is a very common behavior from dogs. Most dog lovers enjoy an occasional slobbery kiss from our dogs. As many people suspect, licking is one way that dogs can show affection to people in their family. Licking is a natural behavior from dogs as a way to show affection and so licking parts of your body is a way that your dog is trying to communicate their bond with you. Some dogs will also regularly lick their stuffed toys, or even other pets in the home for similar reasons of affection, material reasons the way that mother dogs lick puppies. As long as your dog isn’t ingesting any part of the toys, and/or the other pets aren’t bothered by the licking it’s nothing to worry about. If you are someone who doesn’t like it when your dog licks your face or any other part of your body the best way to discourage the behavior is to ignore it. 

You are tasty

In addition to thinking you’re great, your dog may be licking you because whatever is on your skin is tasty. Dogs see the world through their nose so it’s no wonder if for example you come inside after working in the garden, or just finish a workout your dog might think the smells on you are delicious and they might immediately start licking you. Many dogs are drawn to the salty body taste of our sweat so you might find your dog licking you more during warm summer months. In addition to sweat, if you have leftover food or grease from a recent meal that might have accidentally spilled onto your clothes, or the residue of which is still on your hands it’s very likely your dog is going to come over to start licking. Beware, toxicities in dogs can come from licking their pet parents’ skin if the parent is using topical medical products. One of the most common is hormone replacement therapy.

Why do dogs lick themselves?

Itchy skin

Although most people associate signs of allergies with a dog scratching, licking is also a very common symptom of skin irritation that may be caused by allergies. Unfortunately, while licking might temporarily soothe the itching a dog is experiencing, licking can also cause further irritation to the skin including hot spots or sores to develop. These sores may need to be treated by a veterinarian and the dog may need to wear a cone to prevent them from having access to the area they have been obsessively licking the area that is uncomfortable. If your dog is excessively licking, your vet may recommend running allergy tests to determine if your dog is allergic to something in your environment such as grass or pollen, or an ingredient in their food. 

Dogs may also lick themselves if they are itchy or it has been a long time since they were last bathed. In this case, a bath with a soothing shampoo may help alleviate excessive licking. When bathing your dog, be sure to thoroughly rinse your dog’s fur thoroughly to prevent leaving shampoo in your dog’s coat which can lead to more irritation. 

Medical conditions 

Anytime your dog begins suddenly licking excessively, it’s a good idea to do a thorough investigation of that part of your dog’s body to make sure there aren’t any injuries or irritations that could be causing your dog to lick. For example, sticks, rocks, seeds, tar etc. can all get stuck in between a dog’s toe pads which can be uncomfortable, painful or even cause sores. A dog licking a part of their body can be a sign of pain including cuts, bug bites or even discomfort with joints, muscles or bones. if your dog is consistently licking their genitals or around their butt, it may be a sign that their anal glands need to be expressed, or that they may be developing a urinary tract infection (UTI). In some cases, excessive licking of other objects can also be a sign of underlying gastrointestinal disease. If your dog begins licking themself more than usual, it’s a good idea to get your dog checked out by your veterinarian. A trip to the vet will be able to rule out any sort of medical issue or discomfort which might be an underlying cause of the licking. 

Behavioral considerations 

Canine acral lick dermatitis is thought to be a naturally occurring disorder in which excessive licking of paws or flank can produce ulcers and infection that require medical treatment

Licking releases endorphins so dogs that are stressed or overwhelmed may lick to try to make themselves feel better. Dogs that lick obsessively in some cases may be struggling with underlying psychogenic related conditions. In those cases the licking can become an obsessive behavior in itself and dogs may be unable to resist, even if they are causing sores, fur loss, or skin irritation. If your dog is licking excessively, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your veterinarian first to rule out any underlying health related complications. Work together with your vet, and as well as a positive reinforcement-based trainer, to figure out ways to solve for the underlying anxiety that is leading to the licking behavior. 

Licking is a natural behavior that most dogs will engage in regularly to show their affection and as part of play. However, If your dog is obsessively licking it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. If your dog suddenly begins licking, check that part of their body first for any obvious injuries or sores and then schedule an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian. 

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