Why Do Dogs Lick? Understanding Licking Behaviors in Dogs

    Many dog owners might not think twice about those sweet licks and kisses from their furry best friend. But have you ever wondered why dogs lick you, other dogs, items around the house, or even themselves? Learn how dogs lick, when licking is a problem, and what you can do about licking behaviors.

    Reasons Why Dogs Lick

    Licking is a natural behavior for dogs, that they learned from their mother when they were puppies. Other than eyeing your meal and waiting for a tasty crumb to fall on the floor, your dog likely licks for several reasons that don't involve discovering food around the house. Licking is:

    • self-soothing and calming
    • a form of self-expression and a sign of affection
    • a way of bonding
    • helpful for relieving anxiety
    • one way dogs groom themselves
    • a sign of hunger
    • stimulating for dogs who may be bored
    • a potential sign of a health or behavioral issue

    Dog Licks Hands

    When Is a Dog's Licking a Problem?

    Not all licking is the same, and just as your dog might simply have an instinctual need to give your face a good lick, in some cases, licking can be a sign of underlying health or behavioral problems. Anxious dogs can lick more as a self-soothing tactic to help calm stress.  Likewise, dogs with an infection, arthritis, an allergy, a gastrointestinal issue, or an injury may increase how much they lick out of discomfort.

    Signs Your Dog's Licking Could be Cause for Concern

    Here are a few signs that your dog may need an intervention to curb unhealthy licking habits:

    • Changes in licking habits.If your dog goes from disinterested to extremely interested in licking without an obvious reason for the change, it could be a sign of a problem.
    • Your dog licks while you're away or you when you come home. Separation anxiety can cause dogs to lick when their owners are away at work or elsewhere for an extended period.
    • Bald patches or sores. A dog who licks too much may have patchy fur or even tongue sores. 

    Dogs Lick their paws

    What to Do About Obsessive Licking?

    If you're concerned, it's always best to rule out any medical issues to ensure your dog isn't experiencing a serious problem. So, if you see any worrying signs of licking problems, the first thing you should do is contact your vet.  After you rule out potential health problems, then it's time to grab that bone and get ready to start digging into behavioral causes and solutions for licking.

    1. Consider Positive Reinforcement Training

    Training your pet to stop licking can help reduce how often your dog licks and give you an opportunity to reward him or her for healthier behaviors. You can have a go at DIY positive reinforcement training by giving your dog a treat when you say a command like “leave it.” Keep the command consistent, and be sure to give your dog praise for following the command.

    2. Play with Your Pup

    If your dog is bored and has high energy, keeping your dog fit can help decrease boredom and the licking habits associated with it. Consider taking your dog on routine walks, out for playdates, or to the local dog park to keep your dog stimulated. An interactive treat toy or game of fetch can also add some indoor fun to a dog's routine on days where it's just too wet, hot, or cold to go out. 

    3. Use a Licking Mat

    Licking mats are great for dogs, and they serve so many purposes! You can put your dog's favorite treat—like xylitol-free peanut butter—on the mat to use as positive reinforcement and to distract your dog.

    Dogs might benefit from a licking mat if they:

    • Get anxious when they're separated from their favorite person: AKA you! Your dog may feel calmer and more focused on a reward rather than the fact that you're leaving.
    • Lick because of an allergy.Dogs are more likely to lick their paws until they bleed. Licking mats are perfect for distracting your dog while you apply ointment to or treat the itchiness. 
    • Have sores or painful joints and lick at the spots troubling them. You can use licking mats to distract and soothe your dog.
    • Suffer from aches and pains due to arthritis and old age.As dogs age, the spine and joints can turn into arthritis, just like with humans! 

    Chopper & Otis Use Licking Mat with suction cups

    Many of our customers have reached out to us to let us know that they appreciate licking mats because their vets recommended them to get a licking mat for licking problems. With that, here are a few of our bestselling licking mats:

    Licking Mat with Suction Cups

    Duckies & Whales Licking Mat With Suction Cups

    Say goodbye to having to wrestle with your dog during bathtime! These mats are super handy when it comes to bath time, grooming, or whenever you need to make sure your dog stays in one place (maybe when there is a visitor, etc). They also help relieve spinal pain in senior dogs and are easier on the joints for taller dogs, as the mat can be placed on a vertical surface at dogs' face levels without them needing to bend down.

    Bone Licking Mat

    Bone Licking Mat

    The bone pattern is a simpler pattern that can be used as an introductory mat for dogs to learn the concept of the licking mat and how to interact with it. This mat gives out the treat reward easier than some of our other licking mats. Did we mention that it has an adorable bone design?

    Jigsaw Licking Mat

    Jigsaw Licking Mat

    For an advanced puzzle-solver, you'll want to choose the jigsaw pattern. It's one of the more complicated and narrower patterns, meaning it's more difficult for dogs to lick off the treat. This design is suitable for dogs who are super motivated by food and persistent dogs who enjoy getting what they want with hard work and some determination.

    Until next time--

    Chopper & Otis