Excessive licking is an anxious dog behavior whereby the dog attempts to self-calm by constantly licking themselves, a person, other items or even the air. The more anxious they are, the more they lick.
This behavior could result in a lick granuloma (chronic sore) most commonly on either the paws or hind quarters, or hair loss. You might have to medically treat the area with bitter spray and something to heal the sores. A vet might suggest an anti-anxiety medication, or a holistic remedy.
Redirecting requires the need to satisfy the licking process by giving the dog something appropriate to lick, like a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, cheese or cream cheese. Turning the licking process into a positive thing comforts the dog.
Don’t allow the dog to lick you, since the anxiety only ratchets up to higher levels. The key here is to catch it quickly and to end all negative licking.
This behavior is rarely corrected at a young age in a dog because many owners like it when their dog licks them – not realizing that it will become excessive and annoying. Once it is learned and becomes self-satisfying to the dog, it is very difficult to correct.
The other reason is licking is often used to get someone’s attention and if it succeeds then the dog learns to use it that way.
Often dogs like to lick cream or sunscreen off a human. It not only tastes good, as does salt from your legs or arms, it is a bonding mechanism to make contact and show affection.
They also do it to other dogs, especially to show deference or to lick wounds. Unfortunately, there are some serious health consequences as many medications are now used topically and may present hazards to dogs.
Such a medication is Fluorouracil which is used to treat skin cancer and other ailments. Signs of poisoning can be vomiting, seizures, tremors, diarrhea or difficulty breathing. If not treated promptly this poison may result in death or a need to euthanize the dog.
Correcting the licking behavior early before it is imprinted is critical. In addition to redirecting with appropriate licking substitutes mentioned above, it is necessary to use a “No Lick” cue and move the dog off of you. You might need to resort to using something on you as well as the dog to make licking unappealing. There are a number of bitter spray deterrents on the market.
Reducing anxiety and keeping your dog safe are certainly more important than allowing a dog to show too much affection, especially since there is definitely something behind this behavior when it goes unchecked.
Abby Bird is owner of Alphadog Training Academy. AlphadogTrainingAcademy@gmail.com