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What do dogs like all day?

Why Dogs Lick Themselves, and What to To About It

There are a few key canine behaviors most people think of. One is wagging their tail when happy and another is licking humans to give us “kisses.” But dogs also lick themselves. Some licking is normal, but you don’t want your pup to do so excessively. Discover why dogs lick themselves and what to do about it.

For dogs that are intent on licking, chewing, or biting at themselves, while there are many reasons for this behavior, most of them include grooming, boredom, dry skin, or allergies. Sometimes it is environmentally or food based.

Keep reading to learn the reasons why dogs lick themselves:

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Reasons Dogs Lick Themselves

So, why do dogs lick themselves? There is no single answer to why dogs lick themselves. It comes down to several different factors, and more than one of them may be at play. Dogs lick themselves for any number of reasons including:


While most people associate licking as a way to groom cats, dogs also do this. It is one way that they try to keep themselves clean. Of course, dogs aren’t as effective at cleaning with their tongues as cats are, so you still have to give them baths.

One of the more common examples of licking to groom is right after your dog pees. You may notice him giving the area a quick once- or twice-over after. (This is a lot less common after bowel movements.)

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One of the very common reasons that dogs lick themselves is to promote healing. You may not realize it, but your pooch’s saliva has enzymes that kill bacteria. In addition to those enzymes, licking can remove dead tissue or just clean wounds.

Boredom or Anxiety

Another potential reason that dogs lick themselves is if they are bored or anxious. You can work to overcome the boredom problem by giving your dog more toys or going on longer walks than normal. In the case of anxiety, you will have to figure out what the trigger is, so you can avoid it.


Sometimes, your pup will lick himself as a way to calm down or self-soothe. If you want to stop the licking, you should give him other ways to soothe himself.


If your dog licks himself enough, it can start to become a habit. When that happens, even if you address the underlying cause of the licking, your dog may continue to do so. In this case, you will have to refocus his attention on something else.


No matter what part of his body he licks, it is possible that your dog’s licking is due to allergies. These can be food allergies or environmental ones. In either case, you will have to work with a vet to figure out what your dog is allergic to so that you can eliminate it.

why do dogs lick themselves

Skin Infections

If your dog has a skin infection, he will likely lick his skin in the affected area. He may even bite it to help remove the itching. This is the case whether it is a yeast or bacterial infection. Remember that if the issue is an infection, your dog likely has other symptoms as well. Look for discoloration or an odor and take your pup to the vet.


When your dog has parasites, they will cause his skin to itch. Licking is a way for him to relieve this. That is why one of the most common things vets check when someone asks why dogs lick themselves is whether they have parasites.


Some dogs that are in pain will lick themselves as a way to soothe. This works because licking will release endorphins, natural pain killers. If your dog has arthritis and is licking, this is a good indication that his pain is not under control.

Anal Gland Issues

If your dog’s licking is focused around his anal area, then you may need to take a closer look at his anal glands. There may be an issue, and the glands may need to be drained because they are impacted or over-filled. While you can technically drain your dog’s anal glands yourself, it is best left to your vet.

Urinary Tract Infection, Bladder Stones, or Other Medical Issues

Another specific area that your dog may lick excessively is the genital area. Excessive licking in this area likely indicates an underlying issue of some sort. For example, your dog may have bladder stones or crystals or a urinary tract infection.

If your dog licks this area more than normal, take a closer look at the area in question or consider other recent behavioral changes. Your dog likely has more than one symptom pointing at the issue.

Bonus: Why Does Your Dog Lick You (and Other Animals)?

Now that we’ve covered why dogs lick themselves, why do they lick other dogs or their humans?

Showing Affection

One good reason is that this is your dog’s way of showing his affection. When your dog licks you affectionately, his body releases endorphins that calm, comfort, and please him.

Enjoying Your Taste

There’s also the fact that sometimes humans just taste good. There are likely teeny tiny traces of food on your skin, and your dog likes that flavor. Even if there isn’t food, dogs like the saltiness of human skin.


Dogs also lick as another way to communicate. Your dog might lick you as a way to say anything from “please fill my water bowl” to “I love you.” He may lick other dogs or animals to ask to be friends or for another reason.

Why dogs lick themselves

Should I Let My Dog Lick Himself? When Should I Be Concerned?

If your dog licks a little bit, there is nothing to worry about. But there are two main situations when you are right to be concerned.

The first is if your dog starts licking more than normal. This can indicate that something is wrong. Take a closer look at the area he is licking to see if there is a wound, skin irritation, parasites, or something else. If necessary, take him to the vet.

The other situation when you need to be concerned is if your dog licks to the point of causing damage to himself. This can be simple redness and inflammation. In extreme cases, your pup may accidentally reopen a healed wound with his licking. Or he may even cause a new wound or cause bald patches to form on his fur.

If your dog is licking to the point of accidental self-harm, do your best to stop this habit and get him to a vet as soon as you can.

Some signs that your dog needs to see the vet include if your pup:

  • Lost fur
  • Has red skin
  • Has matts close to his skin
  • Frequently pauses playtime to lick
  • Can’t sleep because of the urge to lick
  • Licking is interfering with his life

How to Stop My Dog from Licking Himself

Before you stop your dog from licking himself, you need to figure out the cause. Because there are so many answers to the question of why dogs lick themselves, each cause will have a different solution.

Treat the Underlying Issue

In the case of licking due to an underlying issue, the first thing to do is treat that underlying problem. So, if your dog is licking his anal glands because they are impacted, have the vet express them. If your dog is licking because of a urinary tract infection, treat the infection.

Your vet will be a significant help in this.

Prevent and Eliminate Parasites

If you suspect that the licking is from parasites, then take steps to eliminate them and prevent them from returning. For example, you can use flea shampoo on your dog or get a flea collar for him.

Get Him a Licking Mat

For situations when the licking has become a habit or is a soothing mechanism, consider giving your dog something else to lick instead of himself. The best solution is to get a licking mat.

Train Away the Behavior

You can also try to train away your dog’s licking behavior. For example, tell him to stop licking by saying “Leave it” and when he listens, give him a treat.

Prevent Boredom with Puzzle Toys

If you suspect the licking is because your dog is bored, get some more toys to entertain him. One great option is a dog puzzle that dispenses treats. These are an excellent way of maintaining your pup’s interest.

why do dogs lick themselves

Switch to Allergy-Free Food

When you suspect that the licking is due to allergies, one of the first things to do is swap out your dog’s food. You may want to look at limited ingredient foods or those specifically designed for allergies.

If you suspect environmental allergies, do your best to get rid of the trigger. Maybe you will have to change the cleaning products you use. Or maybe you’ll just have to get in the habit of giving your dog a thorough bath after he rolls in the grass. You can even keep dog wipes on hand to give him a quick clean after contact with the allergen if a bath isn’t an option.


Most dogs will occasionally lick themselves. Some of this is just normal grooming behavior, but it is also soothing, can relieve itching, and eliminates pain.

Start by treating the cause of the licking behavior and work to distract your pup by offering other options, such as licking mats.

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Why Do Dogs Lick You? Is This Normal?

why do dogs lick you - dog licking man

Q: My dog licks my hands and face a lot. They will also lick the water off my legs when I get out of the shower and try to lick the lotion off my skin. Is this licking behavior normal?

A: When your dog is licking you occasionally or to show affection, it is completely normal. But when licking becomes excessive or obsessive, there could be behavioral issues to blame.

Most dog owners don’t mind it when their four-legged best friend gives them the occasional lick. After all, is there anything more adorable than getting attacked with dog kisses when you walk in the door after a long day at work? If you’re simply getting licked by your pup when you get home, that’s totally normal and, if you ask us, a very sweet gesture. However, there are a few other reasons why your dog could be licking you.

Reasons Why Dogs Lick People

To Show Affection or Empathy

Licking can also be your dog’s way of showing empathy. A study published in the journal Animal Cognition showed that some dogs lick humans when trying to comfort them, which is a dog behavior that’s consistent with empathy and concern. If you’ve ever had a bad day and noticed that your dog licked your face or tears when you were crying, you’re not imagining their concern—they really do care about your feelings! (Ok, now we are crying.)

They’re Curious

“Just like humans often explore the world by using our hands to touch or pick up items, dogs explore the world with their mouths,” says dog trainer Chelsea Murray, CPDT-KA KPA-CTP CTDI. Sniffing and licking is just your pup’s way of gathering intel about where you were and which dogs you’ve petted (yep, they know when you’ve “cheated” on them).

They Want Attention

Licking can also be an attention-seeking behavior.

“Dogs are social creatures, and they respond to our behaviors,” says Dr. Burch. “If you squeal and laugh and act like you are enjoying canine ‘kisses,’ there is a good chance your dog will continue to lick you.”

Even if you AREN’T a fan of slobbery dog kisses, Murray says you might accidentally provide “exciting attention or stimuli like saying, ‘ahhh, stop it!’ and waving an arm each time the tongue touches the skin.” While you may not think of this as positive reinforcement, “this reaction from the human can accidentally reinforce the behavior of licking, and the dog learns this is a great way to get the human’s attention.”

Remember that not everyone loves dog slobber, so you may want to consider training your dog to stop licking on command (more on how to do that later).

They’re Stressed Out

So if your pup is in a new or stressful environment (think: in the waiting room at the vet) and is fervently licking their paws or giving your legs nonstop kisses, “your dog could be licking to calm themselves down,” says Dr. Rice.

Should I get my dog a salt lick?

Some companies make salt licks for dogs (they’re essentially a block made from pure salt), but Dr. Rice cautions against giving them to your pup. Though dogs need some sodium in their diets just like we do (and most commercial foods have enough to meet their daily requirements), too much salt can actually harm your dog.

“I wouldn’t recommend [salt licks], since salt can actually be an issue (it can exacerbate kidney disease and heart disease),” Dr. Rice says. “Horses need salt licks to encourage drinking and get minerals, but dogs do not.”

The Bottom Line

There are many possible reasons for dog licking, but usually it’s because they want to show affection or it’s a learned behavior. If your dog’s licking is happening within normal limits, then there’s typically nothing to worry about (and you should enjoy the free doggy kisses!). However, if your dog’s licking has become excessive or interferes with their daily activities, it may be worth taking them to the vet to rule out any underlying health conditions such as anxiety or OCD.

Dog care in summer

Here are some steps you can take to ensure your dog stays cool during the summer months.

  • Never leave dogs in hot cars, conservatories, outbuildings or caravans on a warm day (even if only for a short while). When it’s 22°C outside, temperatures can quickly rise to 47°C (117°F) in these environments, which can be fatal.
  • Use pet-safe sun cream on exposed parts of your pet’s skin, such as the tips of their ears and nose, to avoid sunburn. This is especially important if your dog has white or light-coloured fur, as they can be very vulnerable to getting burnt. If you’re unsure which is the right product to use, please ask your vet.
  • Ensure pets always have access to shade and fresh drinking water to help keep them cool.
  • Check every day for flystrike — this can be fatal.
  • Put ice cubes into your dog’s water bowl or make some tasty ice cube treats. You could also freeze a kong with treats and water!
  • Give your pet damp towels to lie on (never place a damp towel over your dog as this can trap in heat) or an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Both simple methods could provide welcome relief from the heat
  • If you’re planning a day out with your dog, check before leaving home whether dogs are allowed. If they’re not, arrange a pet-sitter or choose another, dog-friendly attraction.
  • Groom them regularly — regular grooming in warmer weather can help brush away any dead or excess hair, leaving your dog with a less dense coat — much better for staying cool!
  • Dogs may also appreciate a paddling pool to splash around in, although not all dogs like water, so there’s no need to force them if they don’t want to!

Take a look at one of the dogs in our care enjoying a dip in the water.

Walking your dog in hot weather

Dogs need exercise, even when it’s hot. We recommend walking your dog in the morning or evening when it’s cooler to reduce the risk of heatstroke and burning their paws on the pavement.

Do you know the signs of heatstroke and what to do if you spot them?

Signs of burned pads

Try the 5-second test — if it’s too hot for your hands, it’s too hot for paws!

You can also look out for:

  • Limping or refusing to walk
  • Licking or chewing at the feet
  • Pads darker in colour
  • Missing part of pad
  • Blisters or redness

Signs of heatstroke

  • Heavy panting and difficulty breathing
  • Excessively drooling
  • The dog appears lethargic, drowsy or uncoordinated
  • Collapsed or vomiting

If you suspect your dog has the signs of heat stroke you must act quickly.

We’ve worked with The Outdoor Guide to give you tips for keeping your dog happy and healthy in the hot weather.

We’ve also teamed up to offer our favourite dog-friendly walks throughout the summer.

Find out more about caring for dogs.

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