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Why do dogs lick excessively?

Why do dogs lick excessively?

All dogs lick, but when they lick excessively, it is a cause of concern. Many dog parents believe that dogs lick as a sign of affection or as though they were "kissing". Although licking is a display of love, licking can be for several other reasons.

According to Alexandra Horowitz, the head of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, wolf puppies would lick their mother's mouth in order to get her to regurgitate when she returns from a hunt. This trait is seen in almost seen in all puppies in every litter. But why do dogs lick their humans? Do you smell good? Dr Mary Burch, a certified applied animal behaviourist, highlights that humans have salty skin, and sometimes when a dog licks, it may be more to seek salt than to show affection. And all this while we thought we were being showered with love and affection, didn't we?

Dogs lick for reasons that are as apparent as trying to get the last of the tasty meal you ate, and some not so apparent, such as a calming signal.

As overwhelming as this may sound, we're here to help you understand the many reasons your dog licks!

Boredom

Have you ever found yourself fidgeting with something out of boredom? Well, dogs can't fidget, so they lick! Dogs lick different parts of their body repeatedly when they're bored; this is because licking is stimulating; however, over time, it becomes dangerously obsessive. Oftentimes, in severe cases, dogs are seen with bald patches from excessive licking.

How do I help this?

Exercise - Ensure you exercise your dog as per his/her age and breed requirements. Exercising rids the body of excess steam and helps a dog release stress and feel relaxed. It's also beneficial to change the exercise every day - walking, swimming, agility, treasure hunts, games at the park, hikes etc. 

Mental Stimulation - As important as physical exercise is, so is mental stimulation. Mental stimulation channels a dog's energy and encourages him/her to focus on the task at hand rather than concentrate on a dead-end activity like licking. 

Stress

Some people lick their lips, bite their tongue, or grind their teeth when they're stressed or under pressure. But, with dogs, almost all of them do so. Stress manifests itself in different ways in dogs, licking being one among them. Stress licking can stem from boredom, negative reinforcement training, being tied/kenneled, underexercising, lack of mental stimulation, use of loud/harsh tones to communicate and so on.

How do I help this?

~ Never skip exercise

~ Always incorporate mentally stimulating activities

~ Use positive reinforcement training

~ Communicate with a calm voice

Nervousness

Nervousness occurs in new environments, with new people, and/or with new animals. When dogs are nervous, they are involuntarily stressed, and when they are stressed, licking can be a result of that stress.

How do I help this?

~ New environment: Adjusting to a new home takes time and lots of patience! In order to ensure a comfortable transition, it is best to stay with your dog during their first two weeks in the new environment. 

~ New people: Always allow the dog to approach the person as opposed to the other way around. It is far easier for them to feel comfortable after they make the first move, i.e. sniff you, rather than the new person squishing their cheeks and rubbing their head. 

~ New animal: Before you bring home a new pet, irrespective of whether it is another dog or any other animal, it is best to get your dog acquainted with the new animal's smell. This way, their brain forms a positive association with the smell, and they aren't alarmed when they meet the new animal for the first time. 

Habit

Ah, old habits die hard. Some dogs have a habit of licking - it's like a habit of licking your lips. The only way for a dog to break this habit is to engage himself/herself in mentally stimulating activities and physical exercise that takes their mind off of falling prey to old habits.

Calming Signal

A Norwegian canine behaviourist, Turid Rugaas, discovered that dogs often use 'calming signals' when they perceive something as a threat. Licking is one of the many calming signals that dogs use. In today's world, threats take the form of something that makes them feel uncomfortable, like, cameras or clothes. This is observed alongside other calming signals such as, squinting and/or turning the head away.

How do I help this?

If your dog shows signs of discomfort, it is best to respect that and discontinue the activity causing discomfort.

Taste

Licking your mouth after you've eaten a delicious meal? Or rather, any meal is for nothing but taste. It smells good, and if they couldn't have it at the table, they might as well have it through your breath, right?

Affection

We saved this one for the end because it's something we all love - wet noses and puppy kisses! Licking is also a sign of affection - puppies lick their mothers, dogs lick other dogs, dogs lick their humans, dogs lick other animals their fond of etc. In short, it is a way of saying ' I love you now and forever!'

 

We hope you enjoyed reading about why dogs lick! That said, give your pupper a big little kiss to show them how much they mean to you!

 

 

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