Why Does My Dog Lick?

In this post:

  1. Why do dogs lick?
  2. Why do dogs lick people?
  3. Why do dogs lick other dogs?
  4. Why do dogs lick their paws?

 

We love our dogs. No matter whether you’ve had your four-legged family member for years or if you’ve newly welcomed them into your home, they quickly find a way into our hearts and give us endless joy.

And because they’re such an important part of our lives, we take note of their behaviors and how they change over the years. Sometimes they pick up a new habit that leaves us scratching our heads. It’s always a good idea to research a new behavior just in case it can be a symptom of a health issue or simply a sign that something is bothering them.

One of the most commonly asked questions has to do with why dogs lick. Let’s be honest, they lick everything! I bet your dog has licked you today at least once, if not more. So let’s explore the licking behavior and the reasons behind why dogs are so prone to lick.

Why do dogs lick?

When dogs lick, their brain releases endorphins which in return makes them feel happy and secure. The act of licking is self-rewarding, which means that positive reinforcement is at play. The dog or puppy licks, the brain releases hormones, the puppy or dog feels happy, the dog or puppy licks. The circle then continues on.

Licking is also a learned behavior from puppyhood. Puppy’s mom usually licks them to clean them and help them calm down.

Just like a person may fidget, bite nails, or tap their fingers, a dog licking can indicate that they are bored, anxious, or stressed. Because licking releases endorphins, it becomes a self-soothing activity.

If you suspect the licking is out of boredom:

Try to stimulate your dog with mind games (proper dog toys!).

If you suspect the licking is out of stress:

Try to isolate the stressor and do some counter-conditioning to the stressor.

If you suspect the licking is from a medical condition:

There is a small chance your dog might have some neurological disorder like a compulsive obsession. It might be a good idea to check in with your vet.

If your dog is licking its lips:

Dogs lick their lips when they are scared or anxious! Pay close attention to other signs like a tucked tail, whale eyes (a lot of white around the eyes) and the dog or puppy not looking comfortable!

If there is no visible reason as to why your dog has begun to lick (e.g. no changes to the environment) contacting a specialist can help.

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Why do dogs lick people?

Dogs lick people usually because that is how they show affection for us. Their mom did this to them as a show of caring and your pup is returning the favor now. Licking makes the dog or puppy happy. It is soothing and calming. As stated above, when a dog licks he or she releases endorphins that make them happier. Most people encourage licking by making a big fuss out of it and rewarding the dog with attention. Dogs also lick people because they like the person’s salty skin, especially after a good workout! Or perhaps there is some food leftover in a beard.

Why do dogs lick other dogs?

In the wild, a young pup will lick an older dog’s face out of respect. Some dogs, like Truffle, think it is a way to get the other dog to chase you and play with you. Watch the dog who is being licked to make sure they are not getting annoyed by the licker.

When dogs are first meeting, a more timid/shy dog will lower his head, avoid eye contact, and extend his tongue to lick the dog’s muzzle. This is kind of like saying “I come in peace and will be a nice friend.” This is kind of like doggy social kissing.

Dogs who are already friends will participate in grooming each other. They will also lick each other as a sign of affection and friendship. There is no evidence that the “submissive” dog is the one doing all the licking because dogs switch off who does the kissing. This just shows that they like and trust each other.

There is some evidence that dogs can sense when the other dog is stressed or not feeling well. They will try to comfort him by licking. Keep an eye out for any other behaviors that might point to your dog not feeling well.

From VetStreet.com  “A dog who excessively licks the muzzle of his canine pal may be doing this because the dog has a tumor, cut or other medical need that requires attention and treatment.” So check in with your vet if there are any concerns.

Sometimes it could be because the younger pup is just hungry. Puppies lick their mothers’ lips to stimulate a regurgitation reflex so they can eat the food their mothers vomit. There are also a lot of scents around the mouth so the younger dog can get information about where the other dog has been and what they have been up to. As I mentioned, just keep an eye out on your pup as some older dogs do not like getting their faces “washed.”

Why do dogs lick their paws?

Dogs lick their paws if there is something that is bothering their paws. Look over the paw for any irritations, blisters, or anything stuck in their paws. Sometimes flees can get between the paws or on the inside of the leg. Look for black spots that turn red when wet. Licking paws can be a sign of an allergic reaction to the food or the environment. Check-in with your vet if hot spots are forming or blisters are showing up. Dogs also lick their paws out of boredom (so exercise your puppy!!) or out of obsessive-compulsive behavior or anxiety. Talk to your vet or a certified animal behaviorist about these behaviors.

Final Thoughts:

There are lots of reasons why your dog might be licking. While there is a good chance that it’s just “in their nature” and is a form of friendship building or simply because the object tastes good to them. If you’re concerned then it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t some underlying neurological issue or an undiagnosed allergy or other condition.

Like I mentioned before, we all love our dogs and we want to make sure that they are happy, healthy, and living their best life possible. Keeping track of their habits and any new behavior developments is a great way to stay connected with them and to ensure that their needs are being met.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions