“Help! I’ve been slimed!” Have you ever been covered in dog slobber and wondered why your pet seems to be driven by an obsessive need to lick everything around him or her?
LICKING TO SHOW LOVE
According to VetStreet, most of the time the licking is caused by a desire to show affection. Awwww.
Since dogs don’t really have hands or opposable thumbs (though sometimes it would seem otherwise given the stuff they can get into), they can’t easily hug us or pat us on the head like we do with them.
But they’ve got a tongue and they know how to use it! So we get slobbery kisses. Ewwww and awwww. It’s kind of amazing how pets can be both precious and disgusting at the same time.
Similarly, it can also be a way of saying hello. But licking isn’t just limited to affection. It also serves a number of other purposes.
LICKING AS A REQUEST
You’ll see this very frequently with puppies. They will often lick their mother to let her know they want to nurse.
It’s also common in packs for the lesser pack members to lick the high-up pack members to request permission to do things like partake in prey they’ve killed.
In that same vein, it can be a request for attention, “I’m super adorable, pet me now please!” I tend to think of it more as, “If you think you can resist me, let me help you change your mind.”
It’s an animal thing that crosses species. If your dog is licking himself a lot, he may just feel like he’s dirty. While a bath may help (and is always a good thing to throw in there), sometimes animals clean more after a bath—I guess they need to lick of the “clean” as well.
SENSORY TOOL LICK
Yay for slimy discovery learning? Researchers believe dogs lick for a similar reason that humans touch things. For whatever reason it helps them take in and process their environment.
Dogs are usually pretty smart and have a sense that they should be gentle when playing with their humans (especially the tiny humans). Since that kind of rules out teeth, your dog may use his tongue instead.
Licking can also be something your dog learns to do if they usually get a specific response from it. For example, if they get attention from it—you pet them or stop what you’re doing to focus on them—that will reinforce the behavior.
Or perhaps you have your own little language and your dog has trained you (it happens to the best of us) that when he licks you, he needs to go potty.
There are other causes for excessive licking such as anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, boredom, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
You know your pet better than anyone else. So if your dog’s licking is raising a red flag for you, take him to the vet and have him examined.
Or if you simply prefer that your dog not lick so much (some breeds can be pretty wet lickers), there are trainers who can help you modify that behavior.