Many dogs have busy little mouths. They may carry things around, chew, or lick. And all of these are normal dog behaviors — unless they become excessive. So, if you're asking yourself "Why is my dog licking everything?," we have a follow up question for you: What is "everything" and how much are they licking it?
The more you can zero in on what and how much your dog licks, the easier it will be for you to identify the cause of their licking. So, take notes about your dog's licking behavior. Are they actually licking everything or are they focusing on one or a few objects? Do they spend their time licking themselves or is their licking focused on inanimate objects? Do they give each item a few licks or do they sit there and lick a single item for an extended period of time?
When you know the answers to these questions, it will be easier for you to identify the cause of your dog's licking and seek help from a veterinarian or animal behaviorist if you need it. Here's a look at the most common behavioral and medical causes of excessive licking and the type of licks that often accompanies each cause.
Behavioral Causes of Dog Licking
Licking can be the result of normal dog behavior or an underlying behavioral issue. And as dog owners, we can end up accidentally encouraging this behavior, which can make our dogs lick more frequently. These are the most common behavioral causes of licking:
Because dogs don't have hands, they explore the world with their mouths. They carry objects in their mouths, and they lick things to learn more about them — it allows them to experience the texture and taste of an object, and decide whether it's something they want to play with, chew, or eat.
Some dog breeds are mouthier than others. Retrievers, for example, were bred to carry objects back to their humans in their mouth, and they tend to both carry and lick objects more often than other breeds. This is likely the reason for your dog's licking.
Dogs that lick as a form of exploration will lick everything a little bit, but you won't catch them obsessively licking a single object. So, when you ask, "Why is my dog licking everything?," you may genuinely mean “my dog licks everything.”
Pit Bulls and other bully breeds famously give their owners lots of kisses, which is typically a sign of affection. Mother dogs lick their young, and from an early age, puppies lick each other as a form of affection and communication.
But if your dog is licking you too much, you can train them out of this behavior. Whenever your dog starts licking you, stand up and turn your back to them. Wait until they stop licking you before turning around and paying attention again.
If your dog continues to lick you even after you've turned your back, leave the room. (Exception: Don't leave your dog unsupervised outside of their crate if they have a habit of chewing or licking dangerous objects, for example, chewing on electrical wires or licking outlets.)
Go to another room and close the door so your dog can't follow you and continue to lick. Wait a minute or two before going back out to see your dog. Repeat this process every time your dog licks you, and soon they'll learn that this is unwanted behavior.
If you start talking to your dog or paying attention to them when you notice them licking, then dogs can learn to lick more often as an attention-seeking behavior.
Maybe they lick their paws and you run over to check on them — your dog will learn to lick their paws when they want attention. Maybe they lick their empty food bowl and you take that as a cue to refill the bowl — your dog will learn to lick the food bowl when they want food.
Essentially every time your dog licks, you reward them with positive reinforcement. But, because you were unaware that you were reinforcing this behavior, your dog has trained you and you haven’t trained them. If you want them to stop licking for attention, it's time to retrain. Use the same technique described above, and start ignoring your dog or leaving the room whenever your dog licks.
A bored dog might lick to get your attention or entertain themselves. If your dog starts licking inanimate objects or themselves when they have nothing else to do or have been cooped up in the house all day, it can be a sign of boredom. Their licking behavior may also be accompanied by other boredom-based behaviors like chewing or digging.
To address their boredom, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. When you leave them alone for an extended period of time or want them to settle down for the evening, keep them entertained with a puzzle toy or a long-lasting treat like an all-natural Yak Chew.
If your dog is anxious or afraid, they may engage in obsessive licking as a way to self-soothe or to distract themselves from the source of their anxiety. Typically, an anxious dog will focus their licking on themselves or on an inanimate object.
Anxious licking behavior is often accompanied by one or more additional signs of anxiety, which include:
- Lip licking
These behaviors will start when something triggers your dog's anxiety. In the case of separation anxiety, they may lick more when you're away from home. If your dog is afraid of thunder, they’ll start licking during a thunderstorm.
Try to identify what triggers your dog's anxiety and work with a professional to address it. An animal behaviorist can offer behavior modification strategies and tools to help ease your dog's anxiety. You may even be able to use natural supplements like Native Pet's Calm Chews, which are made with a limited number of all-natural and organic ingredients.
Like with the example of a dog licking their food bowl to get a refill, your dog may lick things because they're hungry. They may also lick their water bowl if they're thirsty, or they may lick areas that get a lot of condensation, like the shower floor or the sides of your water glass.
If you notice your dog licking the floors in your kitchen, there may be some food splatter that never got cleaned up. If your dog often licks in the corners of your couch cushions, they may be trying to reach some crumbs. This can be especially true in households with little kids who leave tasty messes behind. Give the area a good cleaning and see if the licking stops.
Medical Causes of Dog Licking
In addition to the behavioral causes for dog licking, some medical problems can cause your dog to lick. And constant licking can also lead to medical issues like skin irritation and hot spots. Talk to your vet to rule out potential health issues and address any skin issues that arise from your dog's licking.
Skin allergies can make your dog's paws, ears, and hindquarters itch, which can lead to excessive licking. If the itch is bad enough, your dog may even lick themselves to the point of wearing away fur or skin.
Environmental allergens are the most common cause of allergies in dogs, but your dog's diet can also be the source of their allergies. Try switching your dog to a dog food for allergies or consider allergy testing for dogs.
For more severe allergies, your vet may be able to prescribe allergy medication. And you can help boost your dog's immune system and make them more resilient to allergies with an all-natural allergy supplement.
If your dog licks the air, their lips, or random objects, it could be a sign of pain or other problems in your dog's mouth — this is an attempt to self soothe. Pet owners can help prevent dental issues by brushing their dog's teeth or using other techniques to clean their dog's teeth without brushing.
Hot spots are painful, inflamed red spots that form on your dog's skin when moisture gets trapped in their fur. Because they're painful and itchy, hot spots can cause your dog to lick the spot obsessively. But because they're caused by excess moisture, obsessive licking can also lead to hot spots.
Your vet can prescribe medication to treat existing hot spots, but you'll also need to determine whether the hot spot caused the licking or the licking caused the hot spot. If your dog doesn't stop licking themselves after the hot spot clears up, work with your vet or an animal behaviorist to address their licking behavior and prevent recurrent hot spots.
Older dogs can develop cognitive dysfunction, a condition similar to dementia or Alzheimer's. This condition can lead to excessive licking, as well as confusion and disorientation. While this condition isn't reversible, your veterinarian can help you make a plan to slow your dog's cognitive decline.
Like humans, dogs can suffer from a variety of mental health conditions, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Dogs with OCD will exhibit compulsive behaviors, including excessive licking or tail chasing. They may lick themselves to the point of wearing away fur or skin.
If you think your dog is exhibiting OCD behavior, work with your vet. They'll want to rule out other possible health issues and determine the severity of your dog's condition to help you find the right treatment option — which can range from behavior modification to medication.
So, Why Is My Dog Licking Everything?
If your dog licks everything as they explore the world around them — a lick here, a lick there for short periods of time — you likely have nothing to worry about. Licking is a normal dog behavior, and some dog breeds are simply mouthier than others. But, constant licking is not normal and could be your dog's way of alerting you to an underlying problem.
Talk to your veterinarian to rule out an underlying health condition. Once you're sure your dog's licking behavior isn't caused by a medical problem, you can work with a trainer or an animal behaviorist to teach your dog to lick less.
To learn more about your dog's health and behavior, check out the Native Pet blog.