Dog licking; affectionate, or just plain disgusting?

For humans, it can be difficult to identify with a dog licking another dog in a greeting. We don't do it, and although our tongues are convenient for some matters, we certainly wouldn't receive a visitor into our home by giving them a long, lingering lick.

Dogs use their tongues to explore the world. A dog's tongue is as crucial to him as our eyes and hands are to us. It's a multi-purpose instrument, utilized to taste things, explore the presence of new people and animals, convey submissiveness, and to let you know that he values your companionship and friendship.  

Dog Licking is a Totally Natural Behaviour

Dog Licking is a totally natural behavior for dogs, and most of the time, the experience isn't something to worry about. The odd lick from an affectionate, moist tongue on your hand or ankle is, at worst, passable.

Some dogs can take matters too far though, and this is where problems can arise. It's not pleasant to be assaulted by a far-reaching, mobile, and slobbery tongue. Some won't leave you alone, but will pursue you all over the house, making lunges of affection on your toes, ankles, calves and anywhere that flesh is displayed and available. And for a big dog, the available places are much more wide ranging.

Many dogs don't confine themselves to your skin alone, either, and owners of these dogs will testify to the always visible consistency of dog saliva on clothing, whether your outfit is black, white, or any of the myriads of shades in between, there's nothing like a sticky patch of dog drool on a freshly laundered hemline to advertise your ownership status to the world at large.

And when it's dried, it's there until the next laundry run. The physical evidence of a dog's friendship is like egg white. It's there, it's dried on, and it's not coming off until a combination of soapsuds, hot water, and vigorous effort is employed.

And all this because your dog wants to say "I love you"

But there's frequently a bit more to it than just plain affection. As with all animal behavior, the logic behind dog licking is generally more complicated and subtle than you may believe, and the same gesture can have multiple meanings dependent on circumstance, your dog's state of mind, and the other behaviors being presented at the same time.

So, while we can postulate until the cows come home (or until your dog stops licking, whichever comes first) as to why your dog's licking you, such generalizations aren't always 100% accurate. It's partially up to you to ascertain the reasoning behind the actions. And, because you know your dog better than anyone else, you're the ideal prospect for the job.

If your dog is licking you because he's feeling affectionate and needs to let you know, it'll be pretty easy to work out whether this is the case or not. His body language will be relaxed, and while the circumstances will be variable, the surrounding mood will normally be stress free and happy.

For instance, when he licks you on the shoulder or ear from the backseat as you're driving him to the park, or lathers your hands and wrists with goodwill and devotion when you return home from a hard day at the office. "Puppy love" is by far the most common cause of dog licking. It isn't anything to worry about, and it's easy to cure him of the habit if the behavior is a problem for you.

Dog Licking - Is Your Dog Anxious or Depressed

 Another common reason for repeated dog licking is that your dog's feeling nervous and stressed. If there are things occurring in your dog's life to induce unhappiness or tension, he'll often demonstrate it by obsessive compulsive behaviors, and licking is a pretty common expression of these. Some dogs will lick themselves, others will lick you, it's really a case of individual preference. 

It shouldn't be too difficult for you to spot the reason for your dog's less than relaxed mentality. Is he getting plenty of attention and mental stimulation, or is he stuck inside for long hours every day by himself? Does he get adequate physical exercise and open air time for sniffing, exploration, and general high-spirited indulgence? Do you pay him lots of attention when you're at home, or are you inclined to greet him hastily prior to rushing away to your next commitment?

These are all matters that you'll want to deliberate, before adjusting your lifestyle to address the issue accordingly. Depending on the conditions surrounding the dog licking, and the overall quality of your dog's life, you may need to make some general readjustments of your own to ensure that, when the licking does stop, it's because you've treated the cause, not the symptoms, otherwise, you're just attempting to remove a useful outlet for his negative emotions, which is unrealistic and unfair.

Maybe you should come home more frequently during the day. Possibly you need to get up half an hour earlier in the morning to give him a more satisfying pre work walk. Or perhaps you just need to spend more time with him in the evenings, playing, grooming, training, and just hanging out together.

Make certain you're paying attention to his demeanor and his activity levels before you try to eliminate the licking behavior as a stand alone problem. Even though he can't talk, he can still use his tongue to try and tell you something, and this could be what's occurring here.

Having said that though, nearly all of the time excessive dog licking is merely due to excessive enthusiasm in your dog. He's happy, he loves you, and he has to let you know right now.

When you want to let him know that his licking's getting a bit too much for you, a simple shift in your body language will transmit your message loud and clear. All you need to do is withdraw the outward showing of your affection for him to understand that, really, you don't like it when he covers your skin in saliva.

In plain English, this means that you just have to turn yourself away from him. When he starts to lick, get up and move away at once. Make certain your face and eyes are dramatically turned away from him. Face in the complete opposite direction. Precede this with a revolted-sounding "No"

At this point, he'll probably get up and come after you. Wait for him to do so. The licking should start again soon.

When it does, repeat the procedure. Withdraw all signs of affection from him and once again: turn away, get up and leave, and don't pay him any attention or talk to him.

It's probable that your dog will be unrelenting. He's not to be easily dissuaded. You're the unquestioned centerpiece of his life, after all, and he needs to let you know this whenever the opportunity should present itself. You just have to outdo him in persistency. Be consistent with your actions, and the message will get across.

Don't feel that you have to shout or respond negatively. The simple detachment of your love (or the appearance of this, anyway) is quite enough.

A word of advice. Some people genuinely like it when dogs lick them, even if the dog concerned is not their own. If visitors to your house greet your dog and permit him to lick them, you'll have to intervene or else they'll undo all your good work.

It's best if you can explain ahead of time that you're educating him not to lick, and then explain the appropriate reaction for them to take if he should begin to lick them. This way, you can be certain that your dog's not going to be corrupted into unwanted behaviors once again and that he'll learn to convey his affection in other, more suitable ways.

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