CAUTION! Dog can’t Control his Licker
I recently wrote an article on doggy obsessive compulsive disorder (read that article here). All dogs, well most of them, have some behaviors we humans think verge on obsessive; however most of these behaviors are just “dog” behaviors. Obsessive behaviors, true obsessive behaviors are those that interfere with the sufferer’s normal life.
For instance, digging may seem like an obsessive behavior to us, but most dogs dig because it’s super fun for them and mentally stimulating.
Digging would only become an obsessive behavior if your dog can’t seem to stop, and is digging to the point his feet and nails are bleeding. This kind of digging is rare.
Your dog’s tail chasing might be fun for him for a moment or two and you might think it’s funny but when he chases it to the point he is tearing all his tail fur out and making his tail bleed is when it becomes an obsessive compulsive behavior (I have seen several dogs that do this).
But many of you mentioned that you have what you think is an obsessive licker at your house.
And, licking can be an obsessive behavior.
I have seen many dogs over the years that have licked themselves to the point that they created painful sores on their bodies, and yet, they keep licking. These dogs lick and lick their skin in the same spot (it may begin with an itch or a sore that already existed) and when your dog licks and his skin begins to bleed his body releases endorphins; some dogs enjoy this release of endorphins and so they continue licking their skin away.
I have even seen dogs that have chewed their own toes and tails off. Obviously this is an obsessive compulsive behavior!
In these severe cases, it is imperative to limit the dog’s ability to lick himself by utilizing an Elizabethan Collar (most people call a lamp shade collar) or putting clothes on him, provided he won’t just rip the sock or shirt off.
These dogs that are self-injurious may also need a little anti-depressant to help their minds relax and focus on normal life.
But most of your dogs fall somewhere in between this severe self-destructive licking, and not licking at all.
And, it is important to know where your dog is at in this continuum.
A non-licker is great, be glad you don’t have a dog that licks.
For the most part, I don’t encourage licking at all. If I have a nipper, or a dog that takes treats harshly, I will reward licking instead of biting.
Although in one of my articles I admit kissing some of my dogs on the snoot, I do not encourage them to lick or kiss me in the face. I just don’t like it. I don’t like their tongues on my face and I know where they lick themselves 😉 I also like to be the “instigator” or the one who goes into the face of a dog (only one that I trust) and don’t try to encourage my dogs to get into my face.
But some dogs are orally fixated.
The Stress Sucker
The puppy I got at 6 weeks old is orally fixated. It was because he was taken from his mommy too young (now before you send hate mail, I did not remove him from his mother. He was already taken away and I simply gave him a stable home to live in. I NEVER recommend taking a pup from his mother before 8 weeks, (more on that here) but sometimes it is unavoidable).
He has a fixation, where he wants to suck on blankets and pillows and sometimes even my arms and skin. This kind of licking and sucking calms him down, and is something that has eased his stress as he has aged. Again, it was because he was separated too early. He will probably always have a desire to suck blankets and pillows.
When he tries to suck or lick on me, I redirect him and give him something else to suck on because I realize he has a need to suck. He rarely falls asleep that he doesn’t suck on something as he is drifting off.
Some dogs have a need to lick and suck and so we must give them an appropriate outlet for it for their mental health. I am afraid if I didn’t allow and encourage him to have a “sucking pillow” he would lick himself to the point that he became self-injurious.
The Submissive Licker
Some dogs lick as a form of submission. If they were in a dog pack and they were getting in trouble, or after they had gotten in trouble they would laterally slither toward the alpha of the pack and lightly lick them in the face. This licking is a way of saying “I’m sorry” and is usually only tolerated for a short time.
They usually slink up to you and lick. Their eyes are soft and blinking.
However when you get mad at or yell at your dog for this behavior, your dog is likely to lick you even more vigorously.
The Dominant Licker
There are some dogs that lick, because they want to it is a way of asserting themselves into your space.
This kind of dog usually gets angry when you try to stop their licking and will begin nipping or biting you.
His eyes are usually dilated and hard.
It is important to remove this dog from your presence and not allow him to get in your space and lick, especially in the face!
The Bored Licker
This dog likes to lick, because he has learned that you enjoy it.
Even if you no longer enjoy it, you may have once encouraged him to lick you in the face or on the body and so he has learned that licking is a behavior that you lick.
Some dogs start licking you, think that you like it (because you giggle or allow him to lick) and then they learn that they like licking.
People are salty.
As we sweat our skin becomes salty and dogs like that taste.
Some dogs also like the lotions and potions we put on our skin and try to lick them off.
Our dogs like the way we smell, remember their sense of smell is thousands of times better than our and they like tasting us.
If You Don’t Like It
- Don’t reward the behavior by giggling or encouraging it.
- Give your dog something else to do.
- Exercise him so he is unlikely to get bored and lick you.
- Put him outside or in another room to change his mindset. Dogs get bored and get into habits, if as soon as he starts licking you remove him or yourself from the situation he will learn that licking equals something bad, or something he doesn’t want.
- And, you can always use a bitter spray like bitter apple.
- If your dog thinks you taste TERRIBLE he will stop trying to lick you.
- But you will have to spray yourself with bitter apple fairly frequently for several weeks; and remember to wash your hands before you eat!
Allowing your dog to lick you, to some degree is personal preference. But if you allow it, it can get out of control quickly.
Identify which “licker” you have and come up with a strategy to deal with it!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.