|It’s not much of a conundrum, really. The bottom line is that most of the time, dogs will lick their people as a sign of affection. “You are the sun and the moon,” their silky tongue would have you know. “And guess what? You taste good, too!” But much as barking can be, licking is also a multi-faceted tool that seems to play many roles in canine behavior and, consequently, tends towards many different interpretations. Here’s a list of the many ways in which we homo sapiens have come to understand this culturally alien mode of communication: Licking is a natural instinct in canids. When a mother licks her pups and her pups lick each other during the course of grooming and other social interactions, we’re observing quintessential licking behavior in dogs . Indeed, this behavior is held up as one that may serve as the basis for all other licking decisions a dog makes. (“Mom licked me now I lick you ...”)
But what happens when extreme licking happens? Extreme licking tends to be defined not so much by the dog as it is by the human beholder of the behavior. As such, any unwanted display of lingual attention –– even just a couple of polite laps every so often –– could be construed as excessive. In these cases it’s considered more of a human problem than an animal problem. After all, dogs will lick. It’s in their nature. Nevertheless, dogs can be trained to turn the tap off, so to speak. Finding a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog trainer to aid in this process is strongly recommended. Of course there are those times when licking may take on abnormal tones. Dogs who suffer certain types of obsessive-compulsive behaviors may manifest these as excessive licking. Typically, however, dogs affected by these behavioral disorders will turn to objects –– or more often, themselves –– by way of displaying their outsized penchant for licking. All dog owners observing this behavior are encouraged to seek out the assistance of a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist for assistance. Many of these patients can be treated successfully so that their life might include more than what they might find at the end of their tongue.
- Licking can play a role in the solicitation of resources, as when pups lick their mothers as a precursor to feeding or when lower-ranking pack members lick their superiors in the hopes of an invitation to dine on communal prey.
- It’s just another sensory tool, say some researchers. Licking (and tasting) is like reaching out and touching something –– a sort of slobbery exploration.
- Canine attention-seeking behavior often incorporates the tongue. Dogs often lick you to get your attention or as a simple greeting. As in, “Hey, I’m here. I’m cute. Pet me.”
- Licking may be a way of playing. Many dogs who’s owners report as engaging in excessive licking behavior may be substituting their tongue for their teeth in the reserved dog’s version of a raucous play-fight.
- In many cases, licking is a learned behavior. Dogs learn that when they lick their owners they get more attention, so they come to incorporate licking into more and more of their daily behaviors.
On another note.....
Before you blame your dog for annoying behaviors such as excessive
barking, unruliness on the leash or bolting in the other direction
when you call her, first consider that there are reasons your dog
behaves the way she does — and some of those reasons have to do with
you and the other humans in her life.
You're not entirely responsible for how your canine acts. Factors like
genetics, early environment and inadvertent learning through
experiences outside of your control all contribute to her behavior,
but human-related factors greatly impact a dog’s actions.
Whether we realize it, our dogs are learning every moment. Learning to
behave occurs mostly outside of structured training sessions. Canines
at all ages and stages can learn new behaviors through training, but
most behaviors are shaped in regular, everyday moments. Even canines
who have not had a single training session have been trained — albeit
inadvertently — by people through day-to-day interactions and
experiences. Human-directed factors, like a canine’s daily environment
and routine, work together to either set up a dog for success or make
her more likely to display undesirable behavior.
There are numerous things people do to stress out their dogs, usually
without even realizing it. Beyond that, how you interact with your dog
and the training you provide either work for you and your canine or
Here are the top three human behaviors that exacerbate a lack of
manners and hinder desired change.
Human behavior 1: Focusing on eliminating behavior rather than
rewarding what you want
Punishment-based interactions tend to be harmful to your relationship
with your dog and ineffectual for breaking unwanted habits. Punishment
is rarely done right. It’s usually doled out too late and is too broad
for the animal to pinpoint what she did wrong. Dogs can also become
accustomed to the punishment — such as a spray from a bottle or jerk
on a leash — so it must increase in frequency or intensity over time
to have any effect. In addition, it risks the dog making negative
associations with the punisher and objects or people they are punished
around. With punishment, a behavior may be temporarily stifled, but
without the dog learning what to do instead. The behavior will
typically come back or be replaced with another, equally irksome
Rubbing a dog’s nose in an accident she had in the home only makes the
dog averse to humans; it teaches the dog nothing. The dog does not
associate the punishment with the behavior or she might learn that
voiding in general is bad. The dog may become conflicted around
people, whom she sees as unpredictable, and start to hide from them
when she goes to the bathroom, making the habit of going in the house
harder to break. She doesn't learn to do her business outdoors
instead. Punishment tends to escalate negative emotions such as fear
and frustration, which contribute to unwanted problems. Thus, when the
emotional state is turned more negative, the unwanted behavior, while
temporarily inhibited, can escalate.