Who doesn’t love it when our pets shower us with their love, licking us with utmost, unmatchable affection? However, some dogs practice licking more while some do not. So does that mean this behaviour, its absence or presence, indicates an underlying problem? Read on to understand why dogs lick humans and self, and when this licking could be a symptom of a problem.
Why do dogs lick us?
No pet parent or a vet would consider dog licking as a major problem. However, if the human licking by a dog is so much that the humans are really bothered, then it is time to put on those trainer shoes. In general, dogs like to lick humans for several reasons including:
Licking is the way of dogs to display their love and affection, to humans and other animals. When they are puppies, they learn this style of showing love from their mothers who lick them from head to paw. The mothers’ licks are majorly to stimulate vital body systems in puppies as well as to show love. However, licking out of love is just a behaviour shown by some dogs and not by others. If a dog does not prefer licking, it does not translate into a less loving dog. ‘Not a loving dog’ is a myth in any case.
Natural Instinctive Behavior
Dogs have descendants of the wolf family. Wolves spew up the meat for their puppies after returning from a hunt. Puppies then lick the wolf’s face and around the mouth to nourish themselves. This behaviour is believed to have passed on dogs and has made face-licking an instinctive behaviour.
Your dog’s behaviour is a product of your relationship with him. Your reactions, good or bad, are reflected in the dog’s behaviour. A bored dog wants your attention and may start doing things that will catch your attention, positive or negative. If you react in any way when your dog licks you, he is successful in his goal.
Dogs explore and understand world with the help of their smelling sense and licking. If something or someone interests them, it is probable they would explore it further by licking.
Obsessive compulsive disorder, popularly known as OCD, is a rare problem in dogs. However, dogs who have had experienced immense stress or anxiety for a long time in the past may develop OCD. One can identify this problem if the dog does have a history of anxiety and also shows highly frequent licking of self, humans as well as objects around him. Some researchers believe that licking themselves enhances the production of endorphins in dogs, which calms them and gives a happy feeling. In these cases medical intervention in unison with proper behaviour training will be necessary.
How hygienic is a dog lick?
Dog owners, dog lovers are often seen quoting that a dog’s mouth has less germs and bacteria than a human mouth. It is not totally untrue. However, there are bacteria found in their mouths, which when comes in contact of an open wound, can cause infections. Dog bites too are considered dangerous for the same reason. Dog licking you where you have no skin abrasions or wounds will be perfectly fine. You may want to cover up your open wounds before you allow a dog to shower his love on you.
How to Stop Your Dog to Lick You
When it gets a little too much of those kisses, you would want your dog to stop it on your command. If you want to stop your dog licking you, you will need to make it clear that this act will not be rewarded with any kind of attention. Stop reciprocating the love through pats or rubbing, look away, or just walk away. Then, when they stop licking, reward them with a treat. Repeat these steps until the undesired behaviour has been eliminated or at least controlled.
Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?
Who doesn’t like to be clean and proper. Dogs often lick themselves to be clean, which is a natural behaviour. Additionally, there can be more reasons why they cannot stop licking themselves.
The most common cause of excessive licking in dogs is allergies. Pollen, dander, and dust, among other particles in the air, can build up in the thick fur of dogs, causing itching. Alternatively, itching may also be a result of allergies from insect bites or even certain food items. The environmental allergies can be controlled by maintaining a hygienic lifestyle. Make it a habit of cleaning the paws of dogs with wipes or warm wash cloths every time after a walk outside.
You can use special shampoos for controlling the itching. You may also get anti-histamine medicines prescribed by a vet. If the excessive licking and itching has caused changes in the color of the skin and/or there are crusts and wounds appearing on the skin, it is a time to visit a vet.
Excessive licking of their own lips and at not-so regular places are classic signs of stomach issues in dogs. Sometimes dogs may show sign of excessive drooling or smacking of lips, which shows they are feeling nausea. Visit a vet if these signs do not stop in 24 hours and/or are accompanied by vomiting, appetite loss, and dairrhea.
Your dog may need some detailed diagnostic and blood tests to ascertain the cause and source of the stomach problems. There are several prescribed medicines to help your dog relieve the feeling of nausea.
Why are there licking-related skin infections in dogs?
Excessive self-licking in dogs can go to an extent that they may develop certain hot spots of skin infection. These spots are generally found around the abdomen, paws, leg joints etc., depending on the accessibility of that spot. Additionally, such aggressive licking can also cause acral lick granuloma. It is a skin mass and inflammation that is usually secondary to tongue’s chronic abrasion.
A vet can help in treating these painful skin infections and granulomas. You can also seek a vet’s help in the problem of excessive licking by your dog.
How to stop excessive licking in dogs?
You can try to control your dog’s excessive self-licking caused by OCD with the help of certain calming products. There are calming water drops and treats, collars with pheromone, thunder shirts, etc. These natural products are safe, with no dangerous chemicals. Also, you may create a calm and peaceful environment at home for your dogs.
Like kids, sometimes the only thing that works is diverting their minds. When you notice your dog excessively grooming themselves, you may start a training routine. Offer his favourite treat, throw a ball to catch, take a walk, or start talking whenever you see your dog in the action of licking himself. Gradually, the compulsive feeling of licking might fade out or go away.
When all your efforts in helping in the OCD of your dog has failed, your dog will need medical intervention by a vet. They can prescribe drugs to induce behaviour modification, however, these drugs do have some side effects. It is always better to try out all the other actions before finally resorting to medication.
I am practicing as a veterinarian since 2016 in small animal. I working as physician as well as surgeon. I have specilization in Neutering of dogs and cats and their anesthesia. I had performed more than 9K neutering and their post-operative care yet. My goal is to practice as a vet worldwide.