If you’re a lover of all things canine then you know how much dogs love to lick things. From faces to balls, toys other dogs and more, the average dog will lick on just about anything. For some people, these licks are seen as ‘kisses’ and not only tolerated but, in many cases, encouraged. For others, however, this constant licking can be concerning, which begs the question; why do dogs lick stuff (and should I be worried about it?).
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this behavior, where it stems from and how, if necessary, it can be reduced. If you’re curious about why dogs love to lick, or worried that it might be something to worry about, keep reading to find out more.
What Are the Various Reason Why Dogs Lick Things?
For dogs, licking comes naturally. It’s a behavior that’s been handed down to them for generations, starting with their wolf ancestors millennia ago. In the wild, beta wolves would lick the alpha members of their pack in order to gain acceptance and be allowed to feed on a recent kill, so it was more of a survival factor than it is today.
Female dogs will lick incessantly on their puppies in order to clean them, doing so immediately when they’re born in order to get them to breathe, as well as to stimulate the reflex that makes them urinate and defecate. (Pee and poo.) Also, by eating the placenta, the mother dog gets rid of any odors that might attract predators. It’s not exactly necessary in today’s world but, like licking itself, is instinctual.
Besides all of this instinctual licking done by mother dogs with their young, here are some other reasons why dogs lick things;
They Lick to Groom Themselves
Similar to cats, dogs will often lick themselves in order to groom themselves. Female dogs do this more for their young than anything else. Occasionally, a dog will become obsessed with grooming itself due to boredom or anxiety. This can cause skin irritation and even bald patches and so, if your dog is obsessively grooming, you might need to look into it more closely.
They Like the Taste of Salt
Like humans, dogs really enjoy the taste of salt. Interestingly, human skin has a small amount of salt on it at all times (and especially after exercising) and that’s why many dogs lick the faces of their human owners.
Licking is Pleasurable for Dogs
Dogs find pleasure in licking as it releases endorphins which gives them pleasurable feedback. This can help them to relieve stress and so is a good thing.
They Have an Itch Somewhere
Like a human scratching a bug bite, if a dog is being bothered by fleas or allergies it will leak on the area being affected. If your dog is licking around the base of its tail they might also have an anal gland problem that should be checked out.
They’re Hungry or Thirsty
If you’ve ever heard of Pavlov’s dog then you know that, when hungry, dogs will lick things excitedly (and drool a lot also). A dog who is thirsty or dehydrated will also lick it’s own face, mouth and lips to stimulate its salivary glands. Neither of these is a problem, per se, but instead an indication that your dog is either hungry, thirsty or both.
They’re Nauseous from Something
If your furry friend is sick or has eaten something bad and is nauseous, they will sometimes lick more than usual in order to decrease the saliva in their mouth or get rid of a nasty taste that’s been left there by whatever they ate.
They’re Exploring Their World
Like a baby that puts everything in its mouth, a dog will often lick things to find out what they are and “explore” their world.
They are Stressed or Bored
A bored dog will sometimes lick things just because it has nothing better to do. On the other hand, if your dog is anxious or stressed they may be licking a lot more, something that might need to be addressed by a veterinarian.
They Are Older and Having Cognitive Issues
Older dogs that are experiencing a decline in mental health will often lick themselves a lot more, as well as sleep and pace more. If your fur buddy is young and having cognitive issues a veterinarian’s help might be necessary to find the right medication or treatment.
They Have a Dental or Oral Problem
Dogs that are suffering from dental problems like a chipped tooth, or from oral problems like gum disease or gingivitis, will oftentimes lick their mouth and teeth excessively. This can be avoided by brushing your dog’s teeth on a regular basis or having it done at your local veterinarian clinic.
They Have an Injury or Painful Condition
A dog that is suffering from arthritis will lick its joints excessively, as well as one that is suffering from allergies or skin issues. If this is the reason for their excessive licking, a solution needs to be found so that more severe problems like infection don’t occur.
They Want to Play (And Can’t Use their Teeth)?
Dogs will instinctually nip at other dogs when playing. Humans, on the other hand, will train this instinctual behavior out of their dog in order to reduce the chance of injury when they play, for example, with children (or adults). When this happens, some dogs start to use their tongue, licking instead of nipping.
They Are Showing Respect
As we mentioned earlier, wolves in the wild will lick their superiors in order to gain respect in the pack and be allowed to eat. Your dog likely does the same in order to show respect to you, the ” Alpha” of their pack.
What Objects Do Dogs Tend to Lick and Why?
As we’ve mentioned, dogs like the taste of salt and so will lick anything that has salt on it. That includes faces and skin. Below is a list of the things dogs lick the most and why they do it.
- Their puppies. This is done to help them survive and protect them from predators.
- Human faces and skin. Dogs like the taste of salt and also use licking to show affection and respect.
- Flat surfaces. Any surface that has something tasty or salty is prime licking space for dogs.
- The air. If your fur baby is constantly licking the air it is possible that they have dental pain, a gastrointestinal problem or even a neurological problem, or they have allergies.
- The sofa. Many times a human will sit on the sofa (couch) with part of their body exposed, leaving behind oil and salt. Also, food is left behind when people eat on the sofa. These are both good reasons for your dog to give the sofa a good lick.
- Their own butt. The average dog will lick its own behind in order to clean it but also if they have a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection, an anal gland infection or fleas.
- Other dogs. Dogs will lick other dogs in order to groom them, submit to them or ‘make up’ with them after a fight.
Does Licking Things End at a Certain Age? Is it a Puppy Issue?
Dogs, more than many other animals, are born to lick. It is an instinctual habit that starts at birth and continues throughout their life, and so is not a “puppy issue” but instead a natural habit.
Could Licking Things Be Caused by a Medical Issue?
As we’ve mentioned a few times already, a dog licking different and varied things is usually 100% natural. That being said, occasionally a dog licks things, and itself, because it has a medical issue. These include;
- Cognitive failure
- Behavioral problems
- Skin problems or injuries
- Stress and anxiety
- Anal gland infections
- Oral and dental issues
Are Some Dog Breeds More Prone to Licking Things Than Others?
Yes, some dog breeds do tend to lick more than others for various reasons, including to show affection. They include the following breeds (but keep in mind that all dogs lick and the breed is less a factor than other reasons and issues);
- Alaskan Huskies
- English Mastiff
- German Shephard
- Golden Retriever
- Great Dane
- Labrador Retrievers
How To Get Your Dog to Stop Licking Things?
?Although licking is a 100% natural behavior in dogs, if your dog is excessively licking stuff there are a few things you can do to stop it. If the excessive licking is caused by a medical condition (see above), visiting your local veterinarian is your best choice. On the other hand, if they are licking due to non-medical issues, a dog treat, chew toy, food and water can solve the issue.
Training can help also, but keep in mind that many dogs lick to show affection and respect, or because there is something tasty like salt on the surface of the thing they’re licking. Training this behavior out of them will be difficult at best and is possibly detrimental to their mental and health.
Here are 4 items you can purchase that your canine companion will love to lick!
- Hyper Pet Boredom Buster LickiMat
- Helpcook Dog Lick Pad
- Bath to the Bone Dog Bath Distraction
- AWITHZ Dog Lick Pad
Dogs were born to lick as much as birds were born to fly and fish were born to swim. Unless there is an underlying cause to this licking, you should pretty much expect that your dog will do it for its entire life. Plus, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a good face licking once in a while?