Dog Licking Excessively: Affectionate, Disconcerting, or Just Plain Disgusting?
We don’t do it, after all, and though our tongues come in handy for things like ice-cream eating and sucking that last dollop of peanut butter off the knife, we certainly wouldn’t welcome a visitor into our home by giving them a long, lingering lick on the cheek (unless you were brought up to embrace certain social mores currently unheard of in Western society).
Dogs use their tongues to explore the world
A dog’s tongue is as important (and useful) to him as our eyes and hands are to us: it’s a multi-purpose utility tool, used to taste things, explore the presence of new people and animals, express submissiveness, and to let you know that he values your companionship and friendship.
Licking is a completely natural behavior for dogs, and most of the time, the experience isn’t something to worry about.
The odd lick from a warm, moist tongue on your hand or ankle is, at worst, tolerable.
And, I must admit, I actually find it pretty adorable when my dog licks me – but then again, he’s trained not to overdo it, so I don’t have to worry about the smothering capacities that a 100-pound male Rottweiler’s tongue possesses!
Some dogs just take things too far though, and this is where problems can set in.
It’s not pleasant to be persecuted in your own home by a far-reaching, agile, mobile, and slobbery tongue: some won’t let you get a moment’s rest, but will pursue you from bedroom to hallway to lounge to kitchen, making sporadic dive-bombings of affection on your toes, ankles, calves – anywhere that flesh is exposed and available.
And for a tall dog, the available terrain is much more varied, and thus, enticing – ever had a long, wet dog’s tongue lathering your bellybutton as you stretch up to those elusive top shelves?
When unexpected, the resultant shock is more than a trifle unbalancing!
Plenty of dogs won’t restrict themselves to your skin alone, either, and owners of these dogs will attest to the always-visible consistency of dog saliva on clothing.
Whether your outfit is black, white, or any of the myriads of shades in between, there’s nothing like a viscous patch of dog slobber on a freshly-laundered hemline to advertise your ownership status (and your dog’s personal level of demonstrativeness) to the world at large.
And once it’s dried, it’s there ’til the next laundry run: the physical evidence of a dog’s friendship is like egg white.
It’s there, it’s dried on, and it’s not coming off until a combination of suds, hot water, and vigorous effort is applied.
And all this because your dog wants to say “I love you”!
But there’s often a bit more to it than just plain affection. As with all animal behavior, the logic behind dog licking excessively is usually more complex and subtle than you might think…
And the same gesture can have multiple meanings dependent on circumstance, your dog’s state of mind, and the other behaviors being exhibited at the same time.
So, although we can postulate until the cows come home (or until your dog stops licking – whichever comes first) as to why your dog’s licking you, such generalizations aren’t always 100% accurate: it’s partly up to you to determine the reasoning behind the actions.
And, since you know your dog better than anyone else, you’re the ideal candidate for the job.
If your dog is licking you because he’s feeling affectionate and wants to let you know, it’ll be pretty easy to figure out whether this is the case or not.
His body language will be relaxed, and although the circumstances will be variable, the surrounding mood will generally be stress-free and happy.
For example, when he licks you on the shoulder or ear from his vantage-point in the backseat as you’re driving him to the park, or lathers your hands and wrists with goodwill and devotion when you return home from a hard day at the office.
“Puppy love” is by far the most common cause of dog licking excessively: it isn’t anything to worry about, and it’s simple to ‘cure’ him of the habit if the behavior is a problem for you. (We’ll get to that further down the page.)
Another not-infrequent reason for repetitive, owner-targeted licking is that your dog’s feeling anxious and stressed.
If there are things happening in your dog’s life to cause him unhappiness or tension, he’ll often show it through obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and dog licking excessively is a pretty common manifestation of these.
Some dogs will lick themselves, others will lick you – it’s really a case of individual preference.
It shouldn’t be too hard for you to pinpoint the cause of your dog’s less-than-relaxed mindset: is he getting enough attention and mental stimulation, or is he cooped up inside for long hours each day by himself?
Does he get enough exercise and outdoors time for sniffing, exploration, and general exuberant tomfoolery?
Do you pay him lots of attention when you’re at home, or tend to greet him hurriedly before rushing off to your next commitment? These are all things that you’ll need to consider, before adapting your lifestyle to address the issue accordingly.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the dog licking excessively, and the overall quality of your dog’s life, you may need to make some general adjustments of your own to ensure that.
When the licking does stop, it’s because you’ve treated the cause, not the symptoms – otherwise, you’re just trying to take away a valuable outlet for his negative emotions, which is unrealistic (and unfair on your friend, too).
Perhaps you need to come home more often during the day. Perhaps you need to get up half an hour earlier in the morning to give him a more substantial pre-work walk (it varies from dog to dog, but as a general rule of thumb, most dogs function best and are at their most relaxed with an hour and a half’s exercise each day).
Or maybe you just need to spend more time with him in the evenings, playing, grooming, training, and just hanging out together.
Make sure you’re paying attention to his demeanor (does he seem content?) and his activity levels before you try to get rid of the licking behavior as a stand-alone problem: even though he can’t talk, he can still use his tongue to try and tell you something, and this might be what’s happening here.
Having said that though, most of the time dog licking excessively is simply due to excessive exuberance in your dog: he’s happy, he loves you, and he has to let you know right now.
When you want to get the point across that his licking’s getting a bit too much for you, a simple change in your body language will convey your message loud and clear.
All you need to do is withdraw the outward display of your affection for him to understand that, actually, you don’t like it when he covers your skin in a composite of saliva, dog-food particulate matter, scraps of debris from his fur, and general oral-cavity detritus.
In plain English, this means that you just have to turn yourself away from him: when he starts to lick, get up and move away instantly. Make sure your face and eyes are dramatically averted from him: face in the complete opposite direction.
Preface this with a revolted-sounding “No!” if you like (I say “No lick!” but you can use whatever comes naturally.
Just keep the phrase short and easily-identifiable so your dog quickly learns to recognize it).
At this point, he’ll probably get up and follow you. Wait for him to do so: the licking should start again soon.
When it does, repeat the process.
Withdraw all signs of affection from him again: turn away, get up and leave, and don’t pay him any attention or talk to him (apart from another “No!” in a disgusted, I-can’t-believe-you-haven’t-got-the-message-yet tone of voice).
It’s likely that your dog will be persistent
He’s not to be easily deterred; you’re the undisputed centerpiece of his life, after all, and he needs to let you know this whenever the opportunity should present itself.
You just need to outmatch him in persistency. Be consistent with your actions, and the message will sink in.
Don’t feel that you have to shout or react negatively – the simple withdrawal of your love (or the appearance of this, anyway) is quite enough.
A word of warning: some people really like it when dogs lick them, even if the dog concerned is not their own.
If visitors to your house (or admiring passersby on the street) greet your dog and allow him to lick them, you’ll need to intervene or else they’ll undo all your good work.
It’s best if you can explain ahead of time that you’re training him not to lick, and then explain the appropriate response for them to take if he should start to lick them.
This way, you can be sure that your dog’s not going to be corrupted into unwanted behaviors again – and that he’ll learn to express his affection in other, more desirable ways.
For more information on dog licking excessively and other problematic dog behaviors …
You’ll probably want to check out Secrets to Dog Training.
It’s a comprehensive, A-Z manual for the responsible dog owner, and deals with just about every canine behavior and training technique under the sun, from aggression to digging to whining to dog whispering to obedience work.
While dog licking is viewed by some owners as a display of the dog’s love and attention, it may also develop into a bother when there are visitors in the home and the dog insists in greeting them with too much licking.
While dog licking is not dangerous, as is the behavior of jumping on people when they visit your home, it is unacceptable behavior for the dog, and certainly is a habit which is embarrassing for the owner and may keep guests from being comfortable around the dog.
Helpful Hints to Stop Dog Licking Excessively
One of the most crucial tips a dog owner should know is that from their first days of puppyhood and into their adult doggy days, it is vital that the owner remains persistent and trains their dog to act towards them as they would want them to behave towards other people.
If a dog owner permits jumping, this will confuse the dog when he is disciplined for leaping onto other people who come through the front door.
The dog will not get why it is the owner’s wishes for him to not lick a visitor’s face or hands, if the dog owner lets the dog constantly lick his hands or face.
The secret to training a dog successfully is persistence, teaching the dog what behavior is acceptable and praising him for his obedience regularly.
Although an owner may feel particularly loved when their dog greets them with kisses and enthusiasm upon their arrival, there are various methods that are more suitable than licking to show affection.
For example, the owner can stop dog licking by turning from the dog each time that it attempts to lick him.
An owner needs to avoid any eye contact with their dog and ought not to pay any attention to them until the licking has come to a stop.
The owner is able to offer the dog attention and praise for correct behavior, after the animal has settled down.
The owner must make the dog cease from licking his hand by withdrawing it and turning aside from the animal, as well as insisting that he will not make eye contact until after the settles down, if the animal has a persistent habit of licking the owner’s hands.
With reinforcement of the correct behavior, the owner is at the same time training the dog to stop licking when visitors come into the home.
The dog will understand the he does not get special attention from his owner when licking him, and so he will probably not attempt to lick the visitors entering their home.
Showing and reinforcing the identical behavior that the owner employed to cease dog licking when the dog tries it, the owner must also share this with visitors to their home.
How to “Lick” Your Dog’s Incessant Licking Habit!
Does your dog seem to spend an infinite amount of time licking himself? Why is he doing it? And how do you, as a dog owner, correct that annoying licking habit?
Here are five of the most common reasons why your dog might be incessantly licking himself and the solutions to correcting the habit.
Your dog might have developed an unrelenting licking habit because he needs a bath.
If your dog spends alot of time outside, romping through the woods, tramping in the mud, rolling in the grass or wading in the nearest stream or pond, he is probably dirty. So, your dog may be constantly licking himself because the dirt is irritating him!
Plus, all that outdoor activity may have gotten him infested with ticks, fleas, mites, or lice. Your dog’s incessant licking may be an attempt to rid himself of those nasty varmints!
Give him a bath with a veterinarian-approved flea and tick shampoo.
Before bathing him, make sure you brush out all the mats and tangles from his coat or the bathing will make them worse.
Dog Licking Excessively – Common Causes
Your dog might have developed a chronic licking habit because he has a skin disorder.
Some common skin disorders that a dog may develop are mange or dermatitis. Mange is a skin disease in dogs that is caused by various types of mites.
The dermatitis could be caused by an allergic reaction to fleas, dust mites, mold or a certain brand of dog food.
If you suspect that your dog has a case of mange or dermatitis, your veterinarian will be able to diagnose what the disorder is and prescribe a course of treatment.
Your dog might have developed a persistent licking habit because he is under stress.
The stress may be a result of a new adoption, physical abuse, separation anxiety, or even a reaction to a new food. If you think separation anxiety might be the cause of his stress, there are several methods for solving the problem.
Try exposing your dog to being alone for very short periods of time. When your dog has adjusted to being alone for that duration of time, gradually increase your departure period.
If you must be away from your dog for a long period of time, while you are away at work, try to find a friend or neighbor who could come over and take him for a walk a couple of times during the day.
Perhaps a new dog in the family is causing the stress? It is very common to experience a period of stress and adjustment when a new dog is brought into a household that has an established pet.
One way to help make the transition a little easier is to give your older dog alot of attention and love. It will let him know that he’s still a vital part of the family. Just remember that it will take time for your dogs to adjust to one another and be one happy dog family!
Changing your dog’s diet can also cause stress. If you’re thinking of feeding your dog a new brand of dry dog food, do it gradually and over a period of four days or longer.
On the first day that you change the food, feed your dog one quarter of the new food with three quarters of the old food. Add in another quarter of the new food after a couple of days or so.
After another two days, add in another quarter of the new dog food. Finally, after another couple of days or so, you will be able to leave out the old dog food entirely!
If you cannot determine the cause of your dog’s stress, talk to your veterinarian. He’ll be able to refer you to a dog behaviorist who will be able to determine the cause of your dogs stress.
If your dog has severe separation anxiety, an anti-anxiety medication might be considered to alleviate the anxiety. Drugs are not a complete solution, however, and should be used along with a treatment program.
A dog licking excessively maybe has an injury that has resulted in an open wound
A dog that has developed an injury that has resulted in an open wound will lick himself incessantly in an attempt to clean the wound and keep it free from bacteria.
Dog saliva has been proven to kill some germs and when your dog licks an open wound, it will aid in keeping the wound infection free.
Veterinarian treatment may be required if your dog appears to be in pain, the wound contains a foreign material and is deep enough to require stitches, is bleeding excessively or becomes infected.
Your dog might have developed a relentless licking habit because he has developed the bad habit of doing so.
Some dogs develop the habit of licking their paws incessantly despite them being clean, uninjured and parasite-free!
Your dog may develop the habit of constantly licking himself because he has alot of nervous energy and no way to alleviate the stress. He also may have learned this behavior because he is bored and this is a way to entertain himself!
Give your dog lots of time to play and run and work off any excess energy. If your dog is well-exercised and happy, he won’t feel the need to relentlessly lick himself to relieve stress or boredom!
The information detailed above will help you discover and correct the habit of dog licking excessively. With careful observation and a little attention to proper grooming, training, along with regular veterinarian visits, you can ‘lick’ your dog’s incessant licking habit!