This tongue was made for licking and that’s just what it’ll do! Some dogs seem to live by this mantra and will lick anything and everything. Others are only occasional lickers and some just seem to get stuck in the act when they have an irritation on their body.
No matter what, licking isn’t just annoying it can actually cause lasting damage.
The first lick
Okay, we get it when you bring home a little puppy and it licks you on the hand for the first time it’s an amazing sensation. It’s as though everything is right in the world because you feel you got that lick because your puppy loves you. “Oooh! Look he kissed you, it means he loves you!” say onlookers as you receive that lick of approval. It’s at this moment you need to stop and realise that the more you encourage that lick, the more likely it could turn into a habit.
The nature of dogs mean they like to please humans and if they get a positive reaction out of licking then you can be sure that they’ll do it again and again. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with the odd dog lick. As dog owners we enjoy that close connection with our pups but just be wary of encouraging behaviour that you don’t want to become annoying in the future.
If your young dog has begun to lick you to get attention then ensure that you and other people do not reward them for doing so. Every time your dog starts licking you just move your hand (or feet etc) out of the way and ignore them. Do not say “No!” or anything else that could be seen as attention. When they stop trying to lick, then you can give them attention.
A puppy or young dog should slowly start to get the hint that licking doesn’t get them what they want. This should prevent them from learning licking as a positive behaviour. If your dog already has an ingrained habit of licking then read on further for tips on how to make it stop.
Why Do Dogs Lick?
Before you can resolve the licking issue, the reason behind it must be identified. There are countless reasons why your dog could be excessively licking. Before these are highlighted it’s important to mention that licking is a normal behaviour in dogs and can be used for a multitude of aims:
Communication -Licking is used by dogs as a symbol to others of the same species. It can signify things such as being hungry, submissive or requesting friendship.
Tastiness - Depending on what you’ve been up to, your skin could be pretty tasty to your dog. Sweat tastes salty and steak juice left over on your fingers after eating a sandwich is a pure culinary delight. Other objects could taste good to your pup too.
Grooming - Licking helps to keep fur clean and helps to maintain personal hygiene. Although cats are known for their personal grooming, dogs also have their own routine for keeping clean.
Attention - As mentioned above, licking can be a learned behaviour in dogs. If they have perceived that you reacted positively to it or given them attention, then they’ll do it again. This counts for licking your skin or licking other things.
Affection - As a puppy, dogs are licked by their mothers to encourage toileting and for grooming purposes. Puppies then lick their mum’s mouth to ask for food (a remnant of ancestral traits when mother dogs regurgitated food they had hunted outside the den). This means that, in your dog’s mind, licking has a strong association with love.
Enjoyment – Licking actually releases endorphins, which give a sense of comfort and pleasure. So they may lick things whilst getting comfortable in bed or as a mechanism for dealing with an uncomfortable environment.
Healing – Since they don’t have hands, dogs use what they have to help with a wound – their tongue! Dogs lick their wounds because they think they are helping it to heal. Whilst this may have worked for wild dogs most domestic dogs will lick excessively, making it far worse.
Obsession - Your dog may not have full control over his licking habits. It may be caused by a neurological disease or disorders such as Cushing’s Disease or liver failure. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can also arise due to anxiety, conflict, stress or frustration in the dog’s life.
How to Stop dogs licking you
Tired of having a layer of doggy drool across your hands? Embarrassed about your dog giving your guests regular ‘tongue baths’? Follow these tips on how to stop dogs licking you.
- Change your toiletries – It may sound crazy but your dog may be enticed to lick you because you taste good. If you use body lotion like cocoa butter it could mean you smell like an edible treat. Other sweet smelling perfumes or hand creams could also be an invitation to a good lick down. Try replacing your sweet scented toiletries for scents of lemon, grapefruit or orange as citrus smells are often not enticing to dogs.
- Wash your hands thoroughly - Our hands pick up a lot of scents, particularly after eating, preparing food or sweating. These all taste pretty good when your dog licks your hands. Wash your hands well using soap. You could even use a squirt of fresh lemon juice since dogs don’t like the taste of citrus.
- Wear socks – Sweaty feet can be a real delicacy as far as a dog is concerned. Wash your feet when they get sweaty or wear socks to prevent your pooch from licking in between your toes.
- Distract them – If your dog starts licking you, move away and direct their attention to something else. Walk around the room or throw a toy for them to fetch.
- Ignore them – Your dog could be licking you just to get your attention. Simply ignore them until they stop. If they do not stop after about 10 seconds simply move away from them without saying anything or looking at them.
Your dog is most likely licking out of affection so the last thing you want to do is tell them off! This just shows that you don’t particularly enjoy the licking so they get the hint and find another way to show they love you.
How to Stop a Dog from Licking their Skin
Repetitively licking skin and fur can damage your dog’s body. Too much licking can cause Lick Granuloma, which is a nasty skin disorder characterised by raw, inflamed skin that eventually results in raised and thickened tissue.
The most common places that dogs lick are paws and the front of their legs.
- Visit your vet - Get your dog checked for allergies, skin sensitivities, fungus and parasites because they could be licking the area because it is itchy.
- Check the area – Have a good look at the area as there could be an irritation.It could be something major like an embedded grass seed or piece of glass or something simple like hair in between their toes or sticky pollen stuck in their fur. If they are licking around their anal area it could be impacted anal glands.
- Put on an Elizabethan Collar – Also called a cone of shame or lampshade, these help to stop licking by putting a barrier between the dog’s mouth and the skin. There are also inflatable collars that work the same way.
- Bandage the area – If your dog is starting to cause an irritation to their skin by licking then you can bandage the area to prevent them from getting to it. It’s important to note that some dogs may chew at their bandage or they may just swap to licking the other leg.
- Use a bitter spray or cream – Coating your dog’s paws with a bitter spray or cream can help deter them from licking and chewing the area. Some people say to use chilli or pepper but you should only use pet-safe products as they won’t irritate your dog’s eyes or nose.
- Exercise – Paw licking could be a result of boredom or unspent energy being directed into licking. Make sure your dog gets a good walk or run based on their exercise requirements.
- Redirection – You may find yourself shouting your dog’s name to get them to stop licking their paws but your dog could see this as attention grabbing. Instead take your dog’s attention away from paw licking by playing with a dog toy or encouraging them to get up and follow you to the garden.
- Visit a dog behaviourist – Your dog could be facing an obsession and no matter what you do, you might not be able to change it by yourself. Seek outside help with dealing with licking due to OCD or anxiety.
How to Stop dogs licking Wounds or stitches
A dog’s saliva may have mild medicinal qualities but the myth that a dog licking a wound will heal it isn’t strictly true. Gentle licking of a wound can help remove dirt, dead tissue and dogs’ saliva contains anti-bacterial agents and growth factors that promote healing. Despite this most of the time licking causes even greater damage to wounds and cuts because dogs overdo it.
This is commonly seen in dogs that have just been in surgery and have received stitches for example from a de-sexing procedure.
- Tell them off - Because you know that they are only licking the area due to the wound (not just to get attention or an obsession) you can tell your dog off. Don’t hit them or yell; just firmly say “No!” to get them to stop licking. Do this whenever you see your dog reach towards the wound or stitches.
- Put on an Elizabethan Collar – When your dog has stitches or a wound this in a necessity. Without an e-collar they will get to the wound and they will make it worse. You cannot be there to tell them off all the time, especially when you are asleep.
- Dress them in a onesie – Small dogs can be put in a baby onesie to prevent them from getting to their stitches from desexing. Just choose a baby onesie aged 12-24 months and ensure it is flat to their fur for comfort. If you have a big dog you can put them in a t-shirt and tie it at the waist.
- Bandage the area – Wounds on extremities (legs and tail) should be bandaged to protect them from your dog’s tongue. Even with an e-collar on, your dog may still be able to reach these areas so bandages provide a secondary layer of protection.
How to Stop a Dog from Licking Objects
Some dogs develop the habit of licking objects such as the floor, their dog bed or a spot on the sofa. This could be caused by anxiety, lack of mental stimulation or it could be a comforting to them.
- Replace with an appropriate object – If your dog is licking something pointlessly, try replacing it with a dog toy. They might come to see that gnawing on a chew bone is a lot more fun than licking the sofa. You could also give them a Kong filled with treats or peanut butter as a major distraction.
- Clean the object – Clean the object of interest thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner. This helps to remove the scent of urine, faeces, saliva and vomit and may make the area less interesting to your dog.
- Cover the area – Covering the area with something else may stop the licking particularly if they favour one spot on the sofa. Use a throw rug with a different texture and they may stop licking there.
- Spray with bitter spray – Non porous objects can be sprayed with a bitter spray. It will make the area undesirable to lick because it tastes bad.
- Isolate them from the object – Avoid letting your dog near the object that is being licked and see if this stops their licking habit.
- Consult your vet – Licking may be due to an issue that you don’t understand. Seeking help from your vet could identify the problem as it could be a compulsion or sign of an illness and your pooch might not be able to control it.
As a dog owner you’ll have to accept that you’re going to get the odd lick now and again. You also have to accept that dogs will lick themselves from time to time. It is important to be vigilant to ensure licking doesn’t become an obsession. It should never take up so much of your dog’s focus that it causes consequence to them or others around them.
Have you had an experience with a dog that won’t stop licking? What did you do to stop them?