Why Do Dogs Lick Things?

Is your dog always rewarding you with slobbery kisses for no apparent reason? Find out why dogs like to lick things.
Dog licking his lips
Dog licking his lips
Dog licking his lips

Does your dog offer slobbery wet kisses left and right? Whether you are delighted, annoyed or slightly worried, you surely have the same burning question on your mind: why do dogs lick everything in sight?

Why do dogs lick?

There are lots of reasons why a dog licks you – it could be to show you affection or get your attention. It can also be a sign of stress and anxiety.  Dog licking might seem simple but it is such a complex behaviour with so many different meanings. And if you’re worried that your dog is licking you (or themselves) too much, it’s worth consulting a vet to see if there is an underlying condition.

1. Showing affection

We all wish we could have a decent conversation with our dog companion. Since words are not an option for your pup, they had to figure out a different way to communicate feelings to you. The slobbery dog kiss is just their way to show affection and brighten up your day. When your dog licks you, it’s their way of saying how much you mean to them.

Man with his dog

2. Attention-seeking behaviour

If you’ve always rewarded your dog’s affectionate licking with attention, don’t be surprised if this ends up being the go-to move whenever your pup wants your eyes on them. This is just your dog saying ‘I love you, but there is something I need from you’. And because it’s not always obvious why dogs lick, you will usually need to investigate the behaviour further. Maybe the water bowl is empty, or they are hungry and want some treats. Solve the mystery and your dog will reward you with copious amounts of tail wagging.

3. Stress or anxiety

If your dog starts licking excessively, this could also point to stress or anxiety. Loud noises, moving house or separation anxiety can cause pups enough stress to look for ways to soothe themselves. The act of licking releases endorphins which help the dog calm down in stressful situations. If you’ve ever wondered why dogs lick feet, one of the reasons is that their environment has just become unstable for some reason and they are looking for comfort.

Dog licking their lips waiting to go outside

So if you see your dog grooming or licking you more than usual, look for ways to get their mind off their troubles. Go for a walk together, spend some quality time playing with a favourite toy or treat them to a nice meal full of tasty things they adore. If this doesn’t help, consider a visit to the vet for a treatment plan.

4. Skin allergy or infections

Dogs lick their feet in an attempt to resolve skin problems too. These might be allergies or wounds that need your attention, as excessive licking can sometimes cause even more harm. Red raw spots or missing fur are some of the tell-tale signs to be aware of. If licking becomes the norm, don’t wait long before taking them to the vet.

5. Pica

Some dog owners have watched their canine companions lick pretty much every surface in the house. If you are asking yourself why does my dog lick everything in sight, you might be surprised to find out that this strange behaviour is actually a condition called ‘pica’ that makes dogs crave non-food items. If their diet is lacking nutrients this might be enough to send your pup looking for them in the least obvious places, and sometimes it is simply behavioural.

A visit to the vet will be enough to establish if the missing nutrient is due to their diet or to a parasite and what treatment is more appropriate to help your dog stop licking everything.

6. Cognitive dysfunction

Repetitive behaviours such as licking can also point to neurological disorders. Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is a condition similar to dementia in people and one of the first symptoms is excessive licking. Whether a particular spot on their body, the floor or a wall, the reason why your dog is licking more than usual might be a sign for this serious condition. Make sure you check if there are other symptoms accompanying this behaviour and arrange a visit to the vet to come up with a treatment plan.

When dog licking should make you worry?

Chances are you will be able to tell when your dog licking activity is unusual. Because every dog is different in the way they communicate with their owners, excessive dog licking is usually in the ‘eye of the beholder’, meaning there are no hard rules for establishing what constitutes signs that a dog is unwell. But if your dog is licking everything all of a sudden and you can’t easily stop the behaviour, you should check with a vet to rule out any serious conditions.

Keep in mind that any changes to a dog’s routine can set off anxiety in more sensitive pooches. Is there a new pet in the house, a new baby, or a change in the schedule? Any new events can disturb your pup’s peace and quiet. So if you’re wondering why your dog licks your feet so much, try to think of what changes have happened lately.

Find out more about attention-seeking behaviour in dogs and discover how to deal with it if it goes too far. And find out why dogs bark and what it means.