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Why do Dogs Lick?

Right from birth, before a puppy has opened its eyes, the mother communicates with her litter by licking them. It’s how they are stimulated to start breathing and how the mother cleans them after they are born. It is incredibly important to the survival of dogs as in the wilderness they lick the area around their mother’s mouth in order to know who their mum is because they can’t see yet. Most dogs still do this when they are born, and the instinct to lick remains with them throughout their life.

It is also a sign of submission. In wild dog packs, the lower members of the pack lick the higher up members to show their submission. The reason that your dog may lick you or other members of your family is to show that they know their place in the ‘pack’ that is your house. It can also be a sign of affection from your dog. A lot of dogs will lick you or other people in your house because they want to show you that they love you and this is how they would show other dogs in their pack that they loved them. It is also how they would play with one another.

Similar to humans who bite their nails when they are stressed, licking releases endorphins which can calm them down when they are feeling anxious or nervous. It can also become a habit for some dogs, because they associate the feeling of licking with being calmed down. Humans start biting their nails because it relieves stress and then eventually it becomes a habit and they do it even if they’re not stressed out. This is similar to what happens with dogs and licking. They will start it to calm them down and eventually they will just do it because it’s what they’ve gotten used to.

If you want to stop your dog licking you or other members of your house then you need to start ignoring them when they do it. Dogs don’t tend to understand being told off, they cannot associate the telling off with a specific behaviour of theirs, they will just associate any attention as a good thing. So if you tell them off for licking, they may just continue licking because they know it gets a response from you. If you ignore them, however then they are more likely to stop licking because it isn’t getting any kind of response from you. If you do not respond when your dog licks, they will come to associate the licking with being ignored and, as all dog owners know, dogs hate being ignored.

Sometimes dogs may lick themselves. This can be a perfectly normal thing to do – it is how they clean themselves and how they cool themselves down when hot. However, if a dog licks themselves too much it can cause skin problems or be a manifestation of a different problem. Dogs may lick themselves because they are bored, anxious or already has a skin problem which is causing them discomfort. Rule out any allergies or skin infections by taking them for a visit to the vets, where they can rule out this or give them treatment to fix this issue.

If you think your dog may be licking themselves because they are bored it is important to make sure that they are getting enough stimulation. Make sure they are getting enough exercise by walking them enough. Different dog breeds need different amounts of exercises, but most dogs need a walk first thing in the morning and again in the evening. Make sure they are getting out for long enough and are having a good run around. If you work long hours and don’t have enough time to take them out as much as they need then you may want to consider hiring a dog walker or asking a neighbour if they wouldn’t mind walking them once a day.

As for making sure your dog is getting enough stimulation, you need to be playing with them on a regular basis. It is hard after you get in from a long day of work and all you want to do is relax on the sofa, but try to remember that your dog has probably been sitting by themselves all day and needs some attention. Again, if you work long hours and your dog is being left alone by themselves for long periods of time then it may be worth investing in a dog sitter or again asking a neighbour to check in from time to time. This is especially important if your dog suffers from separation anxiety, as being left alone is likely to exasperate this problem and could cause them to lick themselves out of anxiety.

Remember that licking is not an unusual activity for your dog, it just an evolved response to their time before they were domesticated. Many people don’t mind that their dog licks them and will sometimes encourage it, but remember that not everyone will appreciate your furry friend’s kisses! It is best to discourage them from licking other people as they may not like it, even though you are perfectly fine with it. You need to pay attention to their licking behaviours however because if they seem to be doing it out of boredom or anxiety then this needs to be addressed. You should also make sure that their licking isn’t due to allergies or skin problems and make sure that their licking habits are not affecting their skin in anyway. If they lick too much it could cause them to develop sore spots. Keep an eye out and take them to the vet if you notice a change in behaviour or any skin conditions develop.