I have a 13½-pound Teddy Bear puppy that licks all the time. She will lick hands, clothes, her forelegs, and as much of the rest of her as she can reach. I have been sitting next to her, and she won’t stop licking her front legs. I try to hold her mouth away, and as soon as I let go, it’s back to licking.
Rosie came into my life on April 1, 2016. She was 14 weeks old at the time. Since then, I have devoted my time to her so she would be comfortable in her new home. I am retired, and Rosie has lots of friends, so I don’t think it could be anxiety, but you’re the expert.
Can you give me any reasons why she might be doing this? Should I just ignore it?
Thanks for any help you can give me.
Great question, because so many dogs do a lot of licking, including my own poodle, Paula Jean. It’s not a problem to really worry about unless the licking is seriously obsessive, in which case the dog can give itself a “lick granuloma.” The incessant licking of a sore spot, often on the front legs, can result in a lesion that keeps getting worse until it becomes a medical emergency. That aside, dogs explore the world primarily with their nose and mouth. And to dogs, a scent is generally not a matter of good or bad, it’s a matter of the stronger the better. The stronger the smell, the more informative it is. I don’t have enough fingers to count all the times I arrived for a lesson and, to the embarrassment of the owner, the puppy came bounding into the room with a tampon or underwear in its mouth.
That’s why they like to chew on shoes, preferably the ones you just took off after jogging. If Rosie could talk after giving you a good lick, she might say, “Your salty sweat is delicious, and it’s obvious that you had red wine with your turkey sandwich, which, by the way, you neglected to share!”
When you come home and your dog smells your pants, it knows who you touched, what you ate, and what environment you were in. It was Mark Twain who said, “If dogs could talk, nobody would own them.” Rosie may be licking you to show affection or submission, or just enjoying the endorphins from your taste and close contact. Plus, the likelihood of your response to her licking you was inadvertent “positive reinforcement.”
Even if you said, “Cut it out!” it showed her that licking you will get some form of attention. More often than not, dogs will prefer negative attention to no attention.
As for licking herself or objects, licking just feels good to dogs; it releases endorphins. The problem is, dogs are strong creatures of habit, hence the constant, annoying licking of anything and everything. When I’m on the floor breathing heavily doing pushups, Paula is licking the air in front of me, enjoying my extra-informative deep exhalations. Whenever I pet or cuddle Paula, she tries to lick me, and I just move and touch her in such a way that I avoid being licked. I call it the lollipop syndrome when I see someone sitting passively while their dog treats them like a Mad Martha ice cream cone.
I remember a client trying to impress me with her close bond with her German shepherd by letting it lick her face for five minutes. We had just come in after a walk where the GS had licked all kinds of nasty stuff in the gutter, and then proceeded to lick his genitals in the elevator up to her apartment. A simple handshake in lieu of a kiss would have sufficed.
As for Rosie licking her legs, try to “redirect” with interesting toys, such as a hard toy that you rubbed with a piece of baloney or cheese for a couple of seconds. Any toy or activity that will garner her interest more than licking herself will do.
There’s one word I haven’t mentioned so far: allergy. She could be allergic to something in the environment or her food, which a vet can check for you. That’s a whole other story, but I still might suggest a quarter-teaspoon of honey daily per 20 pounds of body weight: raw honey from local beekeepers. Processed honey filters out the beneficial pollen, and therefore isn’t even real honey. I’ve read that raw honey has research-proven antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that can calm allergic reactions and will soothe irritated skin.
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