Why Is My Dog Obsessively Licking Other Dogs?
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
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.
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For further reading
- Why Dogs Sometimes Lick their Lips Excessively
Why is your dog licking his lips repeatedly as if he has peanut butter stuck in his mouth? There are several possible causes, but at times this remains a medical mystery.