Dog Behavior 101: Why Does My Dog Lick Everything?
We all have little ticks that we exhibit from time to time with no discernible reason.
Maybe you drum your fingers on the wheel while driving or bite your nails out of boredom.
For dogs, the equivalent behavior is licking and it is something most dogs do – a lot.
What is it that makes dogs lick things, and what purpose does this behavior serve? Keep reading to find out.
Understanding the Basics of Dog Behavior
Sometimes dogs do strange things – things that don’t always serve an obvious purpose.
If you take the time to think about it, however, you may find that these behaviors are actually very significant.
When a dog pants he is expelling heat through his mouth because he can’t sweat to cool himself off when he gets too hot.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, dogs chew on things to relieve the pain of new teeth growing in or simply as a means of determining what an unfamiliar object is.
Other behaviors like digging, barking, and whining all serve a purpose as well.
Along the way from puppyhood to adulthood you may experience some bumps in the road.
When your dog develops a behavior that you don’t like – such as digging in the yard or chewing on your shoes – it is your job to deal with it.
What you shouldn’t do, however, is try to eliminate the undesired behavior without understanding it first.
If you take the time to think about why your dog is doing something, you can come up with a more appropriate outlet for that behavior that will meet your dog’s needs without becoming a problem.
Your dog might be digging in the yard because he is bored from lack of exercise or because he is trying to make a cool place to nap.
Giving your dog some extra exercise or providing him with a shady spot to rest could resolve this so-called problem behavior in a more constructive way than trying to eliminate it altogether.
Why Do Dogs Lick Humans?
Another seemingly odd behavior that actually serves a purpose is licking.
Dogs lick anything and everything from you and other people they encounter to other dogs, and even their own paws.
Why do dogs lick people?
Certified animal behaviorist Dr. Megan Maxwell suggests that the reason may go all the way back to birth.
When puppies are first born, their mother licks them clean – licking also helps to stimulate breathing and it helps them to urinate and defecate.
In this way, licking is an affectionate behavior for dogs.
Setting the affection component aside, other reasons your dog might lick you can be discerned based on when they happen.
If your dog licks you when you come home from a walk it's probably because you are sweaty and the salt on your skin tastes good.
Licking can also be a nervous behavior for dogs.
If your dog is uncomfortable in a situation, he may lick his lips or your hand. Whatever the situation, taking a moment to think about the reason can help you understand your dog’s licking.
Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?
When you think of animals that lick themselves, cats are probably the first thing that comes to mind.
Cats are notorious for spending hours upon hours grooming themselves every day.
Though dogs don’t groom themselves to this degree, they will lick themselves from time to time as a grooming behavior.
When a dog licks himself it isn’t always simply a matter of grooming, however, so you should take a closer look to see if there is a specific reason for his behavior.
When, where, and how long your dog spends licking himself can clue you in to the meaning behind this behavior.
Licking can also help to clean wounds and speed healing because a dog’s saliva contains enzymes that kill bacteria.
Your dog might also lick himself if he is experiencing some kind of irritation such as a tick bite, flea bites, or something stuck in his coat.
Dog Licking Paws?
If you’re wondering why your dog licks his paws specifically, it is probably because he has something on them.
If you’ve just come home from a walk in the woods, your dog might have stones or burrs stuck in the fur between his toes.
It is important to clean your dog’s paws when he gets them dirty because if you don’t, he could end up licking them to the point that he draws blood.
If there is something stuck in his paws, he could also develop an infection if you don’t remove it in a timely manner.
Another common reason why dogs lick themselves is one you might not expect – food allergies.
Dogs can develop an allergy to any food, though things like beef, dairy, chicken, eggs, corn, wheat, and soy are the most common culprits.
Though food allergies can sometimes cause digestive problems, the most common symptoms of food allergies are skin-related.
Food allergies can make your dog’s skin itchy and inflamed, causing him to lick himself in attempts to soothe the irritation.
Unfortunately, frequent licking of the same area can make problems worse, leading to hot spots and hair loss.
If your dog always seems to be licking himself and you notice that his skin is irritated or inflamed, talk to your vet about food allergies.
Why Do Dogs Lick Other Dogs?
Not only do dogs lick themselves and their owners, but canine licking between dogs is also common. If you have ever introduced your dog to another dog, you may have witnessed and interesting exchange.
The dogs typically approach slowly with a lowered head, avoiding eye contact, until they get close enough that one dog can extend his tongue to lick the muzzle of the other dog as a gesture of peace. If both dogs exchange the gesture, they become friends and they may continue to lick and groom each other from time to time out of affection.
The American Kennel Club suggests that licking is sometimes a sign of submission between dogs, especially when one dog licks the muzzle or mouth of another.
This behavior has been observed in wild puppies who lick their mother’s muzzle to ask her to regurgitate food, showing their submission.
Dogs will sometimes lick humans for this reason as well. It may also be a means of seeking attention for some dogs, especially if you have reinforced the behavior in the past.
How Do You Stop Dog Licking?
Now that you understand a little bit better why your dog licks things, you may be wondering what you can do to stop dog licking behavior.
If you think back to the beginning of this article, however, you may recall the suggestion that not all undesired behaviors need to be eliminated entirely.
Before you start thinking about ways to stop your dog from licking, consider whether the behavior serves a purpose and, if it does, find another way for your dog to express that behavior that doesn’t become a problem.
Talk To Your Veterinarian?
Something else you should do if you find your dog licking things a lot is talk to your veterinarian.
If you are unable to discern an obvious reason for your dog’s licking behavior, it could be a sign that something is wrong – your dog might have a medical condition that requires treatment.
Dogs have a natural instinct to hide their pain because showing weakness could make them vulnerable to other predators.
Paying attention to your dog’s behavior, especially if he exhibits a sudden change in behavior, is your best indication that something is wrong.
Time To Train For Canine Licking?
If you are able to determine that your dog’s licking isn’t caused by an underlying health issue and you still want to reduce it, you can essentially train your dog not to lick you.
The concept behind this type of training is simple – if your dog licks you because he wants attention, don’t give it to him!
Dogs develop certain behaviors in the same way that people develop habits.
If you learn that a certain behavior gets you what you want, you’ll keep doing it.
The same is true for your dog!
To teach your dog to stop licking for attention, just stop giving it to him when he licks you.
Avert your eyes and withdraw your hands until your dog learns that licking won’t get him the attention he wants.
Final Thoughts: Why Does My Dog Lick Everything
Licking is a seemingly inconsequential behavior that all dogs exhibit but it actually serves a number of important purposes.
If your dog starts licking you, himself, or other dogs it would be a good idea to take a deeper look at the situation and to identify the underlying cause before you attempt to reduce the behavior.
I hope the information provided in this article will help you to determine 'Why does my dog lick', and whether it might be a problem.
Be sure to leave your comments below, we look forward to hearing from you.