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Why Do Dogs Lick?

“Why do dogs lick?” is something many exasperated pet owners have wondered as they watch their pups lick dirty floors and carpets. Most of us assume this dog behavior is simply a gesture of affection, but is it really? It turns out dogs lick for many reasons, and not all of them are good.

Why do dogs lick people?

They like your scent: Dogs are curious creatures, which is why they often lick new items; it’s their way of exploring. Our salty skin is also a comforting scent to our fur babies and explains why pets often steal their owners’ socks and underwear when they’re left alone. 

They expect to be rewarded: One reason why dogs lick you is because you reward them for it with pats on the head and belly rubs. Dogs also experience a rush of endorphins, aka happy hormones, when they lick. 

They’re being submissive: When one dog licks another dog’s muzzle, this is a sign of submission. Wild dogs lick their mother’s mouth when they want Mom to regurgitate dinner. Domesticated dogs still feel exhibit this behavior when they’re interacting with alpha dogs. 

Golden retriever licking paws

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Why do dogs lick their paw? 

They’re allergic to something: If you notice your dog constantly licking his or her paws, check if the area is red or inflamed. This behavior could be a sign of a skin allergy, and your dog’s licking may make the issue worse by causing excessive moisture that leads to a bacterial or yeast infection. A visit to your vet may be in order so he or she can test your pup for allergies. 

They’re injured: Paw-licking that’s caused by an injury usually comes on suddenly as opposed to chronic paw-licking. Something as simple as getting a burr stuck between the toes can cause a dog to lick their paws excessively. The good news here is that paw-licking usually stops once the injury has been treated.

They’re bored or anxious: Dogs need stimulation, so they may turn to licking their paws if they don’t get that. It’s also not uncommon for anxious pooches to start licking their feet when something unexpected happens, like moving to a new house. Some dogs even develop an obsessive compulsive disorder that causes them to lick. 

pug licking the air

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Why do dogs lick in the air? 

There’s something lodged in their throat: You may want to open up your dog’s mouth and check that there’s nothing lodged inside if you notice your pup licking the air. After all, dogs are guilty of getting into everything they’re not supposed to.

They’re stressed: Similar to paw-licking, air-licking can be a sign that a dog is stressed. This behavior coupled with other behavioral issues like hiding and urinating/defecating inside are strong indicators that your pup is anxious.

They’re exploring their surroundings: Did you know dogs can blep too? This is actually known as the Flehmen response, and it allows animals to investigate pungent odors by pushing smelly molecules over their scent glands. 

They’re suffering from a GI issue: “Nausea and reflux can cause lip licking and some dogs may lick the air instead of licking their lips,” explains veterinarian Erin Wilson, DVM. The medical term for this condition is excessive licking of surfaces (ELS), Dr. Wilson says. “A Canadian study in 2016 concluded that 60 percent or more of dogs with ELS have an underlying gastrointestinal disorder, and some studies indicate that it could be as high as 75 percent.”

It’s scary to learn that your dog’s seemingly happy behavior might be the result of a medical issue, the good news is that the most likely reason your dog is licking is because he or she loves you. While you may not want to lick them back, you can tell them what good boys and girls they are. 

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