Dogs have a tendency to lick just about anything, but the reason why is still largely a mystery. Whilst there are a few theories on why dogs exhibit the behaviour, it’s important to understand that sometimes licking can be an indication of health problems (including canine obsessive compulsive disorder).
Below are a few different theories on why dogs lick themselves, and how you can identify whether your dog’s annoying habit is benign or potentially dangerous.
Often a dog’s licking behaviour is closely linked to boredom. A bored dog may lick himself, the furniture, your shoes, and more often as a form of entertainment. If your dog is only doing this occasionally, it is most likely a harmless activity that can be remedied by giving him more exercise and stimulating toys.
Anxiety of Early Maternal Separation
A recent study found a correlation between dogs who obsessively lick random objects and early separation from their mother. Dogs who were separated too early from their mothers can develop a habit of licking everything, perhaps trying to emulate the way their mother licked them to keep them and their den clean.
In most cases, this type of compulsion doesn’t pose a health risk to your dog, unless they’re licking something dangerous. For the most part, dogs who lick everything due to early separation from their mothers find comfort in this activity and (although annoying) it’s relatively harmless.
Dogs can develop obsessive-compulsive disorders in the same way that humans can. It is not uncommon for some dogs to develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder which causes them to lick anything and everything. This type of licking can be potentially dangerous, as it can not only cause harm to their tongue and mouth, but can also lead to the ingestion of fibers and other inedible substances which can block their digestive tract.
One early sign of whether your dog has ingested something harmful in the process of their licking habit is nausea. If your dog is an obsessive licker of everything and becomes nauseous and unable to keep food down or to eat, take them to the veterinarian for a checkup.
The remedy for excessive compulsive licking mostly comes in the form of pet training and therapy with a professional. If in doubt, always talk to your veterinarian to determine whether your dog’s behaviour is a medical concern or plain old boredom. If your dog is bored, that’s nothing a good Kong toy (or empty water bottle stuffed with treats) can’t fix.
Overall, dogs lick everything for a variety of reasons. Most often, dogs lick things because there may be crumbs of food left unattended. But sometimes the reason for their licking is more serious. If your dog is not obsessive with licking, he’ll be okay.