When your dog licks you to show affection and playfulness, it can be a pleasurable experience that makes you feel loved. But if your dog repeatedly licks his paw, lips, backside or even the floor or some other object, it may be a sign of a compulsive behavior. Address this annoying and sometimes destructive behavior with the right intervention and training.
What To Look For
Repetitive licking behavior, known as acral lick dermatitis (ALD), can be painful for your dog and difficult to diagnose and treat. Certain large breeds such as Labradors, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and Great Danes are more prone to obsessive licking. They will most often lick their paws, although other parts of the body, such as the flank or tail, can also be affected. In the worst cases, constant licking will cause hair loss and create open wounds that will expose the dog to infection.
Causes of Licking
Obsessive licking can be caused by neurological or physical problems, but most often the source of the obsession is anxiety or fear. Dogs who are left alone or crated much of the day are the most likely to be bored and nervous and resort to self-licking or other repetitive behaviors. Consult your vet to make sure the behavior is not caused by a medical problem. A burr that is embedded in a paw, mites, allergies and other physical problems may also cause a dog to obsessively lick.
Some dogs may need a behavior modification program to break them of the licking habit. First make sure your dog gets enough exercise and plenty of love to help relieve his stress. Distract him if he begins to lick himself, but don't yell or punish him, as this creates more anxiety. Spray a taste deterrent on his favorite licking spots throughout your home. Hide treats in toys around the house as a way to keep him busy when you are away. Use a cone collar to prevent licking and further injury. An overly anxious dog may benefit from medication along with behavior modification, so talk to your vet if your dog's licking won't stop.
Where To Get Help
If your dog needs additional help, consult an experienced trainer or animal behaviorist. Some clinics, such as the Purdue University Animal Behavior Clinic, will consult with owners to determine the cause of behavior problems and help find solutions. To help diagnose your dog's issue, experts may take an extensive look at the dog’s background and consider his breeding, personality, exercise routine, diet, humans in the household, medications and how you obtained him.
Based in Los Angeles, Mary Helen Berg has been writing about pets, travel, families and parenting since 1989. Her work has appeared in publications such as "The Los Angeles Times" and "Newsweek." Berg holds a Master of Science from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.