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Why Is My Dog Obsessively Licking Other Dogs?

Updated on March 22, 2016
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Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

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Does Your Dog Obsessively Lick Other Dogs?

Among the vast repertoire of dog behavior, some behaviors make us laugh, others can be quite annoying, and others simply leave us baffled. Like when dogs obsessively lick other dogs. Whenever I see it, I just can't help but wonder what on earth dogs are thinking.

Whether you own an adult dog or a puppy, obsessive licking is out of the norm. Yes, the occasional lick is often witnessed among some groups of social, friendly dogs, but what if all your dog wants to do is lick? What if he doesn't engage in other behaviors other than licking? At this point, you may be wondering if you're dealing with the canine version of an obsessive disorder.

Safety Concerns with Other Dogs

First and foremost, safety comes first. Not all dogs like to be repeatedly licked as you can imagine. So if you notice your pup repeatedly licking another dog, pay attention to the dog being licked. If the object of your dog's attention tries to move away, you may want to intervene before things escalate. Depending on that other dog's temperament, he could respond in any number of ways: some of them not so pretty. If moving away doesn't work, the other dog may growl. If that goes unheeded, then trouble is definitely brewing as the next step could be an air snap, an inhibited bite or a bite that causes damage.

Even if the other dog appears to have the patience of a saint, it's really not fair for him to sustain all that repeated licking. Even the most tolerant dogs may have a breaking point after some time. And even though they may not react as we would expect them to, they may start resenting being around other dogs, due to the negative associations.

Just separating the dogs likely won't solve the problem. Once they're back together, the licking dog may lick even more enthusiastically, almost as if he must catch up for the lost time. So what's going on with this dog, and most of all, how can you reduce this annoying behavior?

What Your Dog Licks and What it Means

When you observe your dog licking other dogs, pay close attention to whether the licking is targeted towards a specific body part. Is your dog obsessively licking the other dog's mouth? the ears? or the private areas? Interestingly, there may be some explanations based on what area your dog focuses on.

Licking Another Dog's Mouth

Licking other dogs' mouths is behavior that comes from early puppyhood, when puppies used to lick their mother's lips. The behavior was meant to encourage the mother dog to regurgitate food for them. This may sound odd, but when puppies were being weaned in the wild and started to no longer depend on mother's milk, mother dog would eat and regurgitate semi-digested food. This helped the pups transition from a diet of milk to one based on meat from prey.

As pups grow, they may still lick faces to greet other dogs and people. When dogs jump on you, they are simply trying to come near your face to say hello. You may therefore often see a dog lick his lips or mouth to communicate to others his peaceful intention and friendliness, explains author and dog behavior expert, Arden Moore. A dog may lick another dog's mouth after playing rough to communicate peaceful intent or to offer an apology.

A dog who does this obsessively though, may not have been properly socialized, and as such, may overuse this stereotypical behavior because he knows no other more appropriate way to approach dogs.

Some dogs will go as far as licking inside the other dog's open mouth. My female Rottie used to do this to my male when they were pups; we called it " dental treatment time" and my male dog didn't seem to object. In some cases though, a dog who obsessively licks another dog's mouth sense something out of the norm. The dog being licked may have a mouth infection, bleeding gums or even a tumor.

What Should You Do?

Observe your dog's behavior and interactions. If your dog licks briefly and the other dog is friendly, that's normal, social behavior, but if your dog insists on licking and it starts looking looking like an obsession, it's time to intervene. Step in when he's done licking once or twice, call your dog and redirect him into a different activity.

Licking Another Dog's Ear

And then you have dogs who are obsessed with other dogs' ears. Often, this is a puppy who finds the floppy ears of other dogs fun to play with. The more the other dog moves away, the more appealing the ears become as they get more mobile. Luckily, many adult dogs are tolerant of puppy behavior, but not all dogs will grant a puppy license to act this way and may growl or even give a correction to the boisterous pup.

Ear licking can also be part of a dog's grooming repertoire. Dogs who live together may lick each other's ears when they're napping close by to each other. Because a dog cannot groom its own ears, having them licked by another dog may be welcomed and even reciprocated. This can also signal a close bond between the dogs.

And then, just as you have dogs licking mouths because of interesting smells and remnants of food, there are dogs who lick ears because they are lured by the smell of earwax—I know, yuck. But we all know well the discriminating sense of smell and taste Fido is blessed with, so it shouldn't come as a surprise. If another dog has an ear infection or a bleeding wound, the other dog may also be attracted by that.

Interestingly, it appears that the skin around an adult dog's ears may emit pheromones that make them attractive to younger animals, explains veterinary behaviorist Dr. Cam Day. This may play a role in dog social communication and cohesion, suggests Nicola Ackerman in her book The Consulting Veterinary Nurse. A dog may lick the ears briefly to signal peaceful intent or perhaps apologize after playing rough.

What Should You Do?

As with mouth licking, carefully observe your dog's behavior and the interaction. If your dog licks briefly and the other dog is friendly and doesn't seem to mind, that's normal, social behavior. If your dogs enjoy ear-licking grooming behavior, that's fine too as long as all parties agree to it, but if your dog insists on licking and it starts looking like an obsession, it's time to intervene. Step in when he's done licking once or twice, call your dog, and redirect him to a different activity. Also keep in mind that excessive ear licking will make the victim dog's ears moist and provide “a nice environment for yeast and bacteria to flourish,” explains Dr. Pike.

If your dog doesn't typically lick ears and now all of a sudden can't take his mind off the ears of your another dog, consider having that dog's ears checked out. Veterinarian Dr. Marie claims that almost every time when within a two-dog household one dog wants to lick the other dog's ears obsessively, it's because of some type of medical issue going on with the other dog's ears.

Licking Another Dog's Privates

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Normally, when dogs meet for the first time, they'll show some interest in each other's private areas. The dog's body has apocrine sweat glands scattered over its entire body that emit pheromones. Dog pheromones are highly concentrated in their private and rear-end areas, explains Stanley Coren. It's therefore natural for dogs to be drawn to these areas. When dogs sniff these areas they learn a lot about the other dog such as their age, health, gender, and even mood.

In an ideal social greeting, checking the private areas should take place for just a handful of seconds. If one dog persists in licking, the other dog may at some point communicate a need for the other dog to move on. Just as you may object to a person shaking your hand for an indefinite period of time, a dog may decide he has had enough by either moving away or emitting a growl.

As with other forms of licking we have seen, a dog who suddenly becomes obsessed with licking another dog's privates may be communicating that something is amiss health-wise with the other dog. The licked dog's private area may have some discharge in the form of drops of urine or pus. There may even be some irritation or wound.

What Should You Do?

As with the other forms of licking we have seen, carefully observe your dog's behavior and the interaction. If your dog licks briefly and the other dog is friendly and doesn't seem to mind, that's normal, social behavior. But if your dog insists on licking and it starts looking looking like an obsession, it's time to intervene. Step in when he's done licking once or twice, call your dog, and redirect him to a different activity. Have your licked dog checked out by a vet to ensure there's nothing medical going on.

If the licked dog has a clean bill of health, provide more stimulation to the instigator to keep his mind off of the licking. Prevent him from rehearsing the behavior over and over by using a positive interrupter and then invest in differential reinforcement of non-licking behaviors. Punishment may seem like a tempting solution, but consider that punishment is prone to fallout down the road and will only cause your dog to learn to lick your other dog when you're not around. Consider also that as with ear licking, continuous licking of the other dog's genitals may make them vulnerable to annoying local irritations and infections.

The Bottom Line

Licking can be normal, social dog behavior, but, as with other behaviors, when done excessively, it may signal some problem that needs investigating. A good place to start is to have the licked dog evaluated by a vet to rule out medical problems. Dogs have shown an uncanny ability to recognize medical problems.

But what if your dog's behavior is so obsessive that you have a hard time redirecting it and putting it to a stop? What if the issue doesn't lessen or subside despite providing environmental enrichment, exercise, and training? Dogs, similar to humans, may be also prone to obsessive, compulsive behaviors. Consult with a reputable force-free behavior professional to help you out.

Alexadry © all rights reserved, do not copy.

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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting and such behavior can be frustrating. Your reasons sounds helpful.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      Thanks DDE, frustrating is the right word when dealing with the obsessive dog licking, luckily there are ways to help these dogs out, but in some cases they may need the intervention of a behaviorist.

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      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      Thankfully I am not familiar with these behaviors but it was educational. The more we know about our friends the better we can treat them.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Very helpful. I have three dogs and they lick each other at different times in different parts of the body. This has been a real eye opener, and now I know how to respond to their licking behavior. I also realize that licking is a loving activity. But strangely, when I call one dog, the other deliberately distracts it by licking its face over and over. I can't figure out if its out of dog love or (am I being presumptive?) because the dog is jealous that he is not getting human attention, and wants to provide a distraction to his fellow dog to deprive her.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      Dogs are so interesting, as they often have their unique ways of communicating. If it seems to be happening mostly in that context, you calling the dog for attention, perhaps it's a displacement behavior. Often, when getting attention from owners, it's a time of conflict for dogs. Your dog that licks may be using the licking as a displacement behavior instead of biting. In a similar example, a dog may be frustrated by a child who removes his toy, and therefore may feel compelled to bite, but chooses to suddenly lick his paw as a displacement behavior. Of course, until dogs can talk and really tell us what is going on their minds, one can make only assumptions. Here's a read about displacement behaviors:https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Understanding-Dog-Disp...

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      Lyndsay 17 months ago

      What about eyes? My dog licks my other dogs eyes at any time anywhere

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 17 months ago from USA

      Eyes can be "tasty" from a dog's perspective due to tears or ocular discharge.

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      Michael 11 months ago

      I have a pit bull Garry and another small dog lokie Garry is like 65 lbs and lokie is maybe 3 lbs Garry will case lokie and kick him for may be 20 minutes. Plus he licks EVERY thing in the house he is a pound rescue, and in a lot of ways is damaged I think he's been beaten really bad but is a great dog. He don't like confrontation big groups of people and jumps at loud noises. What can I do to help him get his confidence back

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 11 months ago from USA

      Play with him, train him, walk him, and engage in confidence building exercises https://hubpages.com/animals/Dog-Behavior-Exercise...

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      Angie 11 months ago

      My Golden Retriever is 6 and Is CONSTANTLY liking My Blood Hounds Genitals, Ears and Butt.. Non stop seriously! Both dogs could be just laying in the living room, and the Golden will jump up walk over and just start liking the others Dogs Genitals.. I say stop, go lay down, and 5 secs later hes at it again.. HELP! Does the Golden have an anxiety disorder or something!

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 11 months ago from USA

      I would start with a vet visit for both dogs to check for medical problems.

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      MargieR 9 months ago

      Had interesting encounter while walking my 1yr old German shepherd/ husky mix male. He is unpredictable with other dogs after a bad experience and most times will growl or the hackles go up. While walking on leash, a BIG male pit bull off leash came up to us and started licking my dogs penis. My dog stood there and did not get annoyed or upset, although I swear he looked very nervous. I had to distract the other dog and get my dog to start moving to break the action. He was in no hurry to stop. It made me very nervous..and I was quite shocked by it.

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      Patricia Pruett 6 months ago

      My dog has licked a hole on my other dog's head, just behind the ear. It is severely infected and Cappuccino, the male dog's name is, will not stop licking Emma's head. I have put things such as neosporin and as far as antibiotics to try and stop the infection but he will not stop licking. Before that, he licked a hole in my couch, in his crotch, in the wall and now on my other dog. What am I supposed to do? I cant put anti-chewing stuff on there, can I? its not only bad for Emma, a very short tempered dog who has already three times bitten and drawn blood from Cappuccino but she has now gotten sick and lays on the vent by the door with the infected side on the floor. How can I deal with this?

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      Guest 4 months ago

      Patricia, here's a start, take those poor animals to the vet already. Neosporin is not going to heal an infected hole in the poor dog. Good grief!!! Is there CPS for dogs??

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      Lenore Walker 3 months ago

      I have a 3 year old English Bulldog and a 1 1/2 years old Cheweenie. Well my cheweenie in the last 4 months has started locking my bulldog, on her back tI'll there is literally a raw bleeding, almost hole, on her back. We have trod redirecting the cheweenie to another activity and put him in his crate, but what do I do to stop this behavior?? My poor bulldog has probally 4 or 5 spots on her back that my cheweenie has obsessively licked and now are balb and hairless. Please how do I fix this habit?? My husband is ready to get ride of him, and my kids and I love the little guy very much and would be heart broken if we have to find him a new home. Please any advice would help

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 months ago from USA

      You will have to keep them separate (baby gate, umbilical leash) or find a mechanical means to discourage this habit. Have your bulldog wear a shirt or pair of boxers that covers his whole back area and monitor all interactions, another option is to spray a bit of bitter yuck or Grannick's Apple around the wounds or on the shirt area to discourage trying to remove it. Also, you may want to train your cheweenie a leave it cue followed by a treat so that you can re-direct him or offer interactive toy to keep him mind off the wounds.

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      susan brown 2 months ago

      My male chihuahua will sit there behind my female and lick the spot right above her tail, he will do it for long periods of time, he's actually licked a bare spot above her tail and now he does it with his Daughter who is a little over a year old!

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      Delmer 2 months ago

      I have an American bulldog thst constantly licks every animal he comes in contact with cats other dogs etc. We just bought another dog as soon as we get home with the puppy my bulldog licks her as much as he can . If we push him away from her he lays there and whines. But if we let him he does not stop the puppy has shown that she doesn't like it as she growls and barks at him but he don't care he continues to try to lick her. At night time my bulldog lays there and whines all night unless we let him lick her so what should I do about this.

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      Patricia 7 weeks ago

      I have a dog that will not stop picking my other dogs rectum,why does he do this?

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 weeks ago from USA

      Patricia, I would have the dog checked out if there is any issue with the anal glands. Is this a female dog or male dog?

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 weeks ago from USA

      He may be getting information from this area as it's an area where dogs secrete pheromones.

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      Ladybug73 5 weeks ago

      I have a 16yr old male dachshund that was just diagnosed with Lymphatic Cancer and a 3yr old male dachshund. For the last 6 months or so the older one licks the younger one like he is grooming him and the younger one just sits and enjoys it. . No really specific area just all over. No mouth or genitals. We've tried redirecting him and nothing has worked. Why is he doing this?

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      Crystal Martin 5 weeks ago

      We have a 16yr old male dachshund and a 3yr old male dachshund. The 16yr old has lymphatic cancer but is responding well to treatment. He obsessively licks the younger one all over. The last few days has gotten really bad. If he can't get to him he whines and cries now. Please help!

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      Debbie 5 weeks ago

      I have a english springer spaniel that is 2 yrs old and a minature schnauzer the springer licks the schnauzer constantly on the head and back keeping her soaking wet, i have no clue how to stop this. and now he is hunching her and its all i can do to pull him off of her, she was fixed when she was 9 months old and she is 8 yrs now. i need some advice.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 weeks ago from USA

      You may have to keep them separated, use a baby gate. At other times, provide your doxie with a stuffed Kong to keep him entertained and keep his mind off your other dog. Redirect him to the Kong if at any times he tries to go back to licking.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 weeks ago from USA

      I always think a vet visit is important, just to check for underlying medical problems, especially when new behavior pop up like this. You may need to use a baby gate to prevent rehearsal of behavior when you are not around. You can give a stuffed Kong to train your dog to look for other activities, in the meanwhile and redirect to the stuffed Kong when your dog tries to get to the schnauzer. If you are concerned about calories, stuff the Kong with daily ratio of kibble given a little at a time in it. Keep your springer busy with activities during the day. these dogs have lots of energy!

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