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My Dog Won’t Stop Licking: Annoying Habit or Medical Concern?

shutterstock_110619653There is the normal licking; ice cream dripped on the kitchen floor, many happy (and not so welcome) kisses when an owner walks through the door. Then there is the questionable tongue bath; constant licking of an owners hand or the licking of their paw. How does one tell the difference between harmless grooming and a compulsive behavior?

Attention seeker

Sometimes dogs like the scent of a soap or hand lotion and can’t seem to get enough of it, so they will keep licking until they are made to stop. Other dogs require constant in your face attention. If they don’t receive the undivided attention they demand, excessive licking may ensue. In the case of the attention hog, the dog needs to get out more. Schedule extra time at the dog park, take a couple of special training classes or double the dog’s walk time. Most dogs need a sufficient amount of exercise and mental stimulation. If these needs aren’t met, then behavioral issues may erupt.

Medical

If the dog is continuously licking one particular spot on their body, there may be something medically wrong. A sore joint, hair in between the paw pads, or the skin is really itchy due to allergies. If an older dog develops an addiction to licking it may be a cognitive dysfunction. The compulsion could be a chemical imbalance and have nothing to do with a behavioral issue. Whatever the case may be, a veterinarian will be able to determine any medical reasons for a dog to be licking themselves.

Compulsion

If there is no medical issue and the dog is still licking themselves continuously, then the problem is behavioral. An owner should look at how long the issue has been going on, when it started. Did something happen when the impulsive licking began? A seemingly harmless incident may have triggered a fear from when the dog was a puppy. Finding the trigger will help an owner redirect the unwanted behavior into a positive action.

Anxiety

Some dogs are naturally riddled with anxiety. They may chase their tails, chomp at invisible butterflies, or lick themselves raw; causing a hot spot that if not taken care of may go all the way down to the bone. If the dog is anxious, give it a job. Often a restless dog lacks mental stimulation and will resort to worrying itself into a state of exhaustion. Increase the dogs exercise, find fun breed specific games for the dog to do during the week or teach the dog to clean up its toys and put them away.

Change in Environment

Changes in lifestyle or environment in a dog’s otherwise idyllic life may bring on the compulsive licking. Was a new baby or a new dog introduced? It may have upset the pack order and is causing undue nervousness. Redirect the dog’s impulse to lick with a positive alternative such as a treat puzzle or teach him a new fun trick like shaking hands or playing peek a boo.

 

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Written by Renee Moen
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