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How to Stop A Dog From Licking: Treatments for Too Much Tongue

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Dog Training By Kayla Fratt 9 min read March 1, 2020 29 Comments

how to stop dog from licking

Dogs lick things. They lick themselves, they lick each other, they lick their toys, and they lick us.

If you find this gross or annoying, you’re not alone. Many people don’t enjoy being covered in dog slobber, so what can we do to teach our furry friends not to lick us? Even more importantly, how do we know if your dog’s licking is a serious problem?

Why Does My Dog Lick?

Licking is a pretty normal behavior in dogs – but why? There are a few different reasons why a dog may lick, including:

1. To Ask For Food

This sort licking is often directed towards a beloved human’s face, especially after the human has been away at work. Some dogs, especially puppies, lick their humans as an instinctive request for food. Pups normally lick their parents to ask for food or attention, so they do the same with you, their human caretakers.

You may have seen video of  wolf puppies licking the faces of their parents to get them to regurgitate dinner – it’s a similar idea (but yes, kind of gross too).

Dogs often will grow out of this habit, and the habit will be worst with the humans they’re closest to.

2. To Clean Themselves

All dogs also lick themselves to keep clean. In the vast majority of situations, this is a healthy and normal behavior. Many dogs will also lick themselves as a way to calm down and self-soothe.

Pay attention to when your dog seems to drop everything to lick – is he actually relaxed and cleaning himself, or is he stressed and using licking as a way to calm himself?

don't you look tasty

Occasionally, dogs will compulsively lick themselves to the point of removing fur or creating sores. These dogs need to see a veterinary behaviorist. Read more about compulsive lickers below.

3. As a Calming Signal

Other dogs lick their lips as a way to reduce social tension. This is called a calming signal, and it’s a good idea to learn about more calming signals that dogs use.

You can think of calming signals as a way to say “I’m sorry,” or “let’s all calm down here.”

These dogs may be nervous or trying to de-escalate a stressful situation. They’ll lick you after something went wrong in the home, after being yelled at, or sometimes for no apparent reason.

These dogs will often lick their own nose as well, and it may look like they’re trying to hold themselves back from licking you.

dog-164933

This tongue flick is a common signal that they want to diffuse tension or calm themselves.

It’s also signal to others nearby that this dog does not want to start trouble.  The spaniel to the right is demonstrating this “tongue flick” nicely.

Self-calming licking behavior is similar to when a human takes a deep breath and smiles – they are at once calming themselves and showing others that they are not a threat.

4. As a Compulsive Behavior

Some dogs are compulsive lickers. These dogs are the ones that will sit and lick your jeans or forearms for as long as you allow them. They may also lick sofas, themselves, the floor, or just about anything else. These dogs may be stressed out or may have compulsive tendencies.

Think of them like humans who can’t stop cleaning their nails when they’re nervous. These dogs have taken what is a normal behavior and taken it to abnormal levels, and may need special help. Veterinarians are starting to classify this as canine compulsive disorder.

5. Because You Taste Good

If you’re salty after a workout or covered in barbeque sauce, it’s no surprise that your pup wants in on the action! Dogs that lick spills on the floor or even the upholstry might also be motivated by delicious tastes.

6. Because He Loves You

Licking can also be a plain old sign of affection. Last night after being reuinited after a two-week separation, my border collie kept giving me gentle licks on the hand.

Normally, he only licks me when he’s excited (or if I’m salty), but when he’s especially happy to be near me, he seems to enjoy licking my palms. This sort of licking is common during calm cuddle-time with your pup.

dog-adores-owner

Understanding The Root Cause Of Your Dog’s Licking

You may be thinking, “I don’t care why Fido won’t stop licking me – I just want it to stop!”

I understand that. But it’s far easier to treat a behavior problem if we know the cause. Then we can address the problem at its root and meet your dog’s needs in another way.

Some dogs fit into more than one of these categories. Some don’t fit into any. My own foster dog, Sasha, just licked me when I returned from the gym. She wasn’t asking for food, trying to diffuse tension, or acting on nervous tendencies – I just tasted salty.

If you want to remedy your dog’s licking obsession, it’s essential that you first understand the root cause. If you’re annoyed or concerned with your dog’s licking habits but can’t identify why your dog licks, talk to a vet or trainer.

Even better, take a video of your dog licking and show it to your vet or dog behaviorist.Taking a video of the problem behavior is the best way to show professionals exactly why you’re concerned or frustrated with your dog’s behavior.

How To Stop A Dog From Licking?

Once you’ve identified what motivates your dog’s behavior, it is far easier to take next steps for correcting your dog’s licking issue.

Keep in mind, though, that licking is natural and you likely will never get your dog to completely stop licking!

After identifying why your dog licks, it’s time to figure out how to change the environment so your dog is less likely to lick you at times that drive you nuts.

Here are a few examples:

Example One: Sweat-Licking

If your dog tends to lick you after runs and this grosses you out, try to towel off and then shower right away. Give your dog a stuffed Kong to keep her busy with something else tasty.

Example Two: Compulsive Licking

If your dog really can’t seem to stop licking, it might be compulsive. Talk to your vet about calming chews and behavior medication.

In the meantime, give your dog more Kongs and appropriate things to lick. Take her on more long, decompression-type walks in nature.

dog compulsive licking

Use calming caps, Thundershirts, Zyklene chewable tablets, window film and anything else that might help give your pup a break from what stresses her out. Again, situational medication (such as during thunderstorms) might be your best bet here.

Truly compulsive lickers may need to see a vet, a reputable trainer, or a veterinary behaviorist. They have taken the normal behavior of cleaning, licking to release social tension, or licking to ask for food to an unhealthy extreme. These dogs may lick through carpet, they may give themselves sores.

Dogs that lick couches until the couch is drenched or lick themselves until they’ve got a sore need to see a vet and a trainer to get help.

Example Three: Bored, Affectionate Licking

Some dogs just seem to love licking their people. If you find yourself being licked slobbery while trying to relax after work, give your dog something better to do!

dog-licking-hand

Again, stuffed Kongs are my go-to response for this. You can also simply stand up and walk away – quietly, no fuss – if your dog licks you. Scolding or swatting often makes this problem worse, because then your dog wants to appease you (and in dog language, licking is appeasing).

Some dogs just seem to love licking their people. If you find yourself being licked slobbery while trying to relax after work, give your dog something better to do! Again, stuffed Kongs are my go-to response for this.

You can also simply stand up and walk away – quietly, no fuss – if your dog licks you. Scolding or swatting often makes this problem worse, because then your dog wants to appease you (and in dog language, licking is appeasing).

If your dog is on a bit of a diet, stuff your daily Kongs with boiled carrots, applesauce, and rice soaked in chicken broth – or just with your dog’s regular breakfast kibble and a bit of wet dog food.

The reason I love Kongs for licking problems in dogs is because Kongs let your dogs lick something appropriate. We’re meeting your dog’s apparent need to lick while also meeting your need not to be licked.

Example Four: Food-Begging Lickers

Many dogs will simply grow out of this habit. It is most commonly seen in puppies, but this behavior is closely linked to the nervous and compulsive lickers.

how to stop dog licking

In order to reduce likelihood that this normal behavior becomes a compulsive habit, be sure to avoid rewarding the behavior with attention. Both positive and negative attention to licking should be avoided, but be sure to give your dog lots of love and treats as soon as he shows a behavior you do want.

If you don’t want your dog to keep licking you, you cannot reward her behavior with attention!

Instead, pay attention to your dog when her tongue is inside her chompers. Again, avoid scolding or swatting as this might make your dog try to lick you to calm you down.

Example Five: Clean-Up Lickers

Again, this behavior is largely normal and should not be discouraged.

Dogs lick their paws, bellies – and yes, their butts – as part of normal, healthy grooming. If your dog does lick himself to the point of damaging his fur or skin, see a veterinary behaviorist immediately. Although be aware that what looks like cleaning in some cases may actually be compulsive.

Some dogs only lick certain things at certain times. I have a good friend with a Wheaton Terrier that licks a specific couch cushion during the entirety of every storm that hits their Boston home.

Another dog I know licks his paws bloody if his owner leaves town. These dogs really should be getting professional help.  In the meantime, it’s incredibly important to identify what causes the compulsive licking and attempt to reduce that stressor in your dog’s life.

It’s also important to check your dog for allergies, injuries, or sores if you notice him licking a lot. Last time I was woken up by my dog licking his paws (slurp, slurp, gross), I found a huge cactus spine in his paw! Just today I noticed he was licking his paws more than usual – and I found a little raw patch of skin that is bugging him.

Do you have a major licker in your life? Do you have video proof of your dog being a problem licker? What do you do stop your dog from licking? Let’s talk about it!

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Written by

Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is a dog behavior consultant and freelance writer. She is an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is a member of Dog Writer’s Association of America. She travels full time with her border collie Barley and her boyfriend, Andrew. Before coming to K9 of Mine, Kayla worked at Denver Dumb Friends League as a Behavior Technician. She owns her own dog training business, Journey Dog Training and holds a degree in biology from Colorado College. When she’s not writing or training Barley, Kayla enjoys cross-country skiing, eating sushi, drinking cocktails, and going backpacking.

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29 Comments

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Kimberly

I have a very sweet long-haired chihuahua. He is potty trained to a litter like tray in our bathroom. He loves playing with our other dog and our cat. So, all that to say, really great dog. BUT, he consistantly tries to lick my mouth. He doesn’t want to lick anywhere else. Just my mouth. Anyone else that he sits on, he will try to lick their mouth’s as well. Again, only the mouth. He never licks hands, arms, cheeks, legs, toes, nothing. He only wants to lick a mouth. Sometimes he even pushes back really hard if I am pushing him away. I am going to see if I can order a kong (we currently live in South Korea) but I feel like I will have to wear it around my neck because wherever I go, he goes. Any suggestions? Thanks for the information. And, never listen to the not so nice commenters. 🙂

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Ben Team

Hey, Kimberly.
A lot of dogs seem to focus their licking behavior on mouths, so your little four-footer doesn’t sound that unusual. At any rate, the tips and strategies discussed above should still help.
Best of luck — let us know how it goes!

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karen stein

Use more thought and research into your articles !! Most of us already know why they lick!! And telling my great pyreese no is a JOKE!!! YOU PROMISED IN UOUR HEADLINE HOW TO STOP. NOT WHY THEY LICK!!! MINE had his leg amputated 6 weeks ago and 2 vets don’t know why he won’t leave it s
Alone!!! Stop promising something you can’t give. Investing why is not NOT NOT SAYING HOW TO STOP!!

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Ben Team

Hey, Karen.
I think you must have just missed some portions of the article. Kayla explains that it is important to find the root cause first, and then you can try some of the strategies she outlines.
In your case, it seems that the licking may be related to a recent surgery. As long as your vet thinks the wounds are healing properly, it’s probably wise to just move to management strategies, such as by fitting your dog with an e-collar until the behavior subsides. If that doesn’t work, you simply may have to work with a behaviorist or trainer to address the issue.
Best of luck!

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Reese Ollmann

My rescue pup (pitty cross heeler) we think. Will Not Stop licking his mouth. I mean he does it in his sleep!! He will sit there beside me just constantly licking and the sound ahhhhh! How do I make this stop? I have tried ignoring his when he licks and reinforcing love and pets when stops – but – he doesnt really stop.

He licks after his meal – ok
He licks after his drink – ok
He licks US when hes excited – ok

He never stops licking his lips. The opening sound, then the lick and swallow sound, followed by the closing sound – over and over – I have to wear plugs to be in the same room as him. Help!?!?!?

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Ben Team

That does sound frustrating, Reese.
We’d make sure to mention the issue to your vet, just to be sure it isn’t health-related.
Assuming that it isn’t health related, we’d then recommend consulting with a behaviorist.
Best of luck!

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Kirsty Watson

I need advice! My 18 month old American Bully is really aggressive with people he doesn’t know, when out walking he is fine unless approached (by someone trying to stroke) but if the door opens suddenly and a stranger is present he will run with intent to bite and has nipped someone! Any advice welcome!! Xx

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Ben Team

Hey, Kirsty. That sounds frustrating!
Check out our article about socializing adult dogs. That should provide some good tips and techniques you can employ to help chill out your canine!
But if that doesn’t work, it’d probably be wise to speak with a private trainer.
Best of luck!

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George Hahn

18 month old Corgi is driving us nuts! She was extremely difficult house train. Still will have accidents if not watched carefully.
But now it’s the licking that is driving us over the edge!
It’s us or the furniture to the point of saturation.
Nothing stops it even one kong after anther!
Any help appreciated

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Glenda

My dog does not stop licking. Period. All this info is great, but we cannot get him to stop. He constantly licks anything….from himself, (hot spots) to carpet and floors. Anything. And he won’t stop. No matter what we do. Give him treats. Give him chew toys. Take him to park and walks. He will not stop. Get it. What to do? Is there some medication that will get him to stop and make him mellow….or any for us because he is driving us to the nut house!!

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Ben Team

Hey, Glenda. Sorry your pupper is being such a pill!
If you’ve already tried the strategies Kayla outlined above without success, you’ll probably need to work with a professional trainer or behaviorist. If that fails, then you can speak to your vet about an anxiety medication.
Best of luck!

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Karen

My moms (white) cockapoo started licking her rear end and back heels about 3 months ago. She’d not done this before and now her rear and heels are dark brownish from her licking so much.

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Barb Schwarz

We have a compulsive licker. We adopted him at 10+ yrs. about 7 mos. ago. He is blind and appears to have lost some of his ability to remember the path to different things. He has licked his one paw to below the skin. The vet we’ve taken him to has had much in the way of what the cause may be or what to do about it other than to cover it. We’ve finally found a way of covering it that is relatively humane & he can’t remove. Now however he has started licking on the other paw so I definitely think his is compulsive but I don’t know. We now cover both paws but the minute we take the covers off he’s licking on them again. He also has decided he doesn’t like his kennel. So, I don’t know if these are symptoms of the aging process complicated by his blindness, or what.

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Barb! That does sound compulsive. I’d ask your vet if there are any medications that could reduce anxiety. It’s also possible that there’s some inflammation/itching that’s contributing. Read up about Canine Cognitive Dysfunction as well. In the meantime, try giving him something else to lick (like a stuffed Kong or a licky mat – both easily available on Amazon).

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Tracy

My dog likes to lick, especially me. He licks my mouth area when he can smell what I’ve been eating, he licks my nose or hand just to say hi and he frantically licks my ear if he is trying to get me to play (he can reach my ear as this is when I am on the floor, trying to do Pilates!)
He stops if I say ‘thats enough’ so I don’t mind. My husband hates it and he knows not to lick him.
Oh and when I brush him, he always licks me. He doesn’t mind the brushing so I think he’s just grooming me back.

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Tracy

My dog likes to lick, especially me. He licks my mouth area when he can smell what I’ve been eating, he licks my nose or hand just to say hi and he frantically licks my ear if he is trying to get me to play (he can reach my ear as this is when I am on the floor, trying to do Pilates!)
He stops if I say ‘thats enough’ so I don’t mind. My husband hates it and he knows not to lick him.
Oh and when I brush him, he always licks me. He doesn’t mind the brushing so I think he’s just grooming me back.

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Mike Rusheleau

Whitney, a 16 month old female Golden, can’t stop licking other dogs. Young dogs don’t seem to mind and will lick her back, but it drives older dogs crazy. She’s even been bit by another dog who found it too irritating – but she still didn’t get it. How can I stop her from doing this or is this just something she’ll grow out of?

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Mike! It’s likely that your pup will grow out of the licking, especially with the help of dogs that tell her “no, quit that.” It’s hard for us humans to intervene in canine communication, so it’s probably best to just let her get corrected by other dogs as long as the other dogs are being fair about it. Lip curls, snarls, and snaps are all part of normal canine communication!

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Mike Rusheleau

Whitney, a 16 month old female Golden, can’t stop licking other dogs. Young dogs don’t seem to mind and will lick her back, but it drives older dogs crazy. She’s even been bit by another dog who found it too irritating – but she still didn’t get it. How can I stop her from doing this or is this just something she’ll grow out of?

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Mike! It’s likely that your pup will grow out of the licking, especially with the help of dogs that tell her “no, quit that.” It’s hard for us humans to intervene in canine communication, so it’s probably best to just let her get corrected by other dogs as long as the other dogs are being fair about it. Lip curls, snarls, and snaps are all part of normal canine communication!

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Vincent Rossetti

None of your reasons seem to fit my dog. She also flicks her tongue out even while she sleeps, She does not do it when she wants food, a treat, nor does she lick people. What is the cure for this problem

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Kayla Fratt

Does her tongue just seem a bit too big for her mouth? My dog also sleeps with his tongue sticking out, it’s just because he’s comfier that way. No need to fix that, in my opinion!

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Diane Cardwell

My one year old puppy won’t stop licking. I do all the things I’ve read. I hide my hands, turn my face away, tell her no licking. I’ve smacked her face. Nothing works. Especially when she’s wound up and acting like shes on Crack. Going a hundred miles an hour. Please advise. I just want to cut out her tongue. Just kidding. Thanks

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Kayla Fratt

Hi Diane! I totally get it, sometimes you wish you could just tape her mouth shut. My go-to is to 1) Get up and walk away and after a 30 second time-out 2) Give her something else to lick. My favorite is a Kong stuffed with frozen peanut butter or wet dog food.

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amber randall

my bulldog/beagle mix licks him self or my bed every night when we go to bed. some night he will lick until there is a large spot on my husband’s side of the bed is very wet. I have no idea why he dose it since I adopted him from another woman. I had tried to get him to stop but i am unsure how to go about it.

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Kayla Fratt

What have you tried so far? How long has he been with you? Does anything make it better/worse?

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Cathy

My foster dog comes at me licking when I try to pet her or do anything on her level…ie tie my shoes, pick up something off the floor. She’s fairly high energy, but gets lots of exercise and interacts with other dogs. She’s very treat driven and easy to train, though I’m having a lot of trouble with the licking. I’ve had an easy time teaching her to do things, but a harder time teaching her NOT to do things.

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Kayla Fratt

It’s always a challenge! Try to focus on teaching her what else to do instead of licking – like sitting and giving you a bit of space.

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Julia

Thanks for share the article.
Thank you so much.

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