All dogs lick and, most often, their licking is part of very normal canine behavior. It’s particularly common in dachshunds, and they often lick their owners, themselves, or even the floor in great excitement. Many people enjoy being licked by their dogs and see it as a sign of affection but, when licking becomes a compulsive habit, then it can pose a problem.
Dachshunds lick everything for many reasons as they explore the world with their tongues. Licking encourages blood flow in newborn puppies, has antibacterial qualities, and can be a soothing and bonding exercise between dogs. It can, however, also signal an underlying issue such as boredom, fear, or health complications, so it’s important to recognize what kind of licking is appropriate and what is not.
In this article, we’ll look at why dogs in general lick and why dachshunds, in particular, seem so partial to licking. We’ll also consider some of the issues that compulsive licking may signal.
Why Do Dogs Lick?
Dogs lick instinctively from birth. A mother dog will lick her puppies to clean them, comfort them, and to stimulate blood flow when they are first born. As they grow, puppies will learn to use licking to clean themselves and other pups in their litter, and this serves to increase bonding among them.
Adult dogs very seldom lick one another, but they continue to use licking to clean themselves and to explore their environment. A dog’s tongue has some antibacterial properties, and licking will be their natural reaction to anything stuck on their fur or a wound they can reach.
Dogs also lick to understand their environment better, using their advanced senses of smell and taste. Licking gives them more information about a new scent and is often how they will explore traces left by other dogs (source).
Dogs tend to lick humans as a learned behavior. They may start as puppies when licking is very natural, but if it continues to get lots of attention, then they will continue to do so in greeting or at other times. They also usually like to lick sweaty skin because it is salty.
Problems That Present as Licking
Licking is a normal behavior in dogs, but when it is excessive, it can also point to underlying issues, such as those outlined below.
Nausea or Upset Stomach
Many dogs may try licking to help settle an upset tummy. Nausea causes dogs to salivate excessively, which in turn triggers licking. Owners should be alert to nausea, and if it is prolonged, then they may need to seek veterinary assistance.
Often excessive licking will provoke a reaction from the owner. As with attention-seeking behavior in toddlers, dogs will often repeat the negative action to receive attention, even if it’s negative.
This can indicate boredom, and it’s essential to recognize it and ensure that you are spending sufficient time with your pet.
Most parasites such as ticks and fleas cause inflammation and itchiness, and dogs will likely lick to relieve these symptoms. If you find these afflict your pet, there are many effective tick and flea treatments available.
Allergies also trigger itchiness and inflammation and can result in licking. Some dogs are allergic to specific food sources, such as chicken, or environmental factors such as grass. You may need to remove some of these triggers to ascertain the cause of your dog’s discomfort.
Fear, stress, or boredom can trigger compulsive behavior in dogs, much as it does in humans. If your pet is not receiving sufficient stimulation or exercise, it may resort to compulsive licking. Owners should be aware of this trigger and address the cause of the issue as soon as possible.
Older dogs sometimes experience dementia, which is a progressive disease. This can trigger repetitive behaviors like licking, which can be managed through medication and other therapies.
What to Do About Problem Licking
If your dog is licking obsessively and you don’t know why, you should have your veterinarian take a look to eliminate any medical causes. Once you have decided that it is a behavioral issue, then you can address the problem.
A common and successful approach is to try and redirect your dog away from licking. As soon as the licking begins, start a new and distracting activity. This could be something like an interactive puzzle that ends with a treat, playing ball, or trick training (source).
In short, any new activity works well to redirect the dog’s attention from licking and forces them to focus on something else. What’s important is to ensure that your dog receives lots of attention and exercise because excessive energy can also trigger licking and other even more destructive behaviors.
With consistent effort, you will gradually teach your pet not to lick without having to employ any negative reinforcement tactics or punishments.
If your pet is licking you as a learned behavior, and because they like the salty taste of your skin, it can work to put lemon juice on your hands and deter them with the sour taste.
If your pet is licking specific objects, then it’s a good idea to remove those as soon as the licking begins. This will send a strong message that you are the boss and do not condone the behavior.
Do Dachshunds Lick More than Other Dogs?
Dachshunds are, historically, pack dogs, and some of their behavior is linked to those roots. In the pack, young dogs would greet adults returning from a hunt by licking around their mouths. This was usually done because the adult dog may regurgitate some of the food for the young pup.
This behavior entrenched the role of the adult dog providing food as a “leader” and helped to instill the pack mentality. When Dachshunds repeat this behavior with their human owners, it’s sometimes seen as them submitting to their owner as “leader,” too.
Dachshunds are naturally curious and affectionate dogs, and they want to explore everything around them. They often do this with their noses and tongues.
This kind of “happy licking” gives dogs a rush of endorphins, which is very pleasant for them. This is similar to what people feel when hugging one another. Studies have shown that dachshunds enjoy giving and receiving attention, often through licking.
Ideally, you shouldn’t let your dachshund lick your face because it’s not hygienic. Dogs are indiscriminate about where they put their faces and tongues and, therefore, carry high levels of bacteria and parasites.
Bacteria is more easily absorbed through your eyes, nose, or mouth, and that’s why you should avoid letting your pet lick this area. You should be careful not to let your dachshund lick your baby or young children because they are even more vulnerable to bacteria.
If your dachshund has developed a habit of licking you or other items and you want to put an end to this, you could try the following tips:
- Change your soap or lotion so that it is less attractive
- Wash your hands after eating to remove scent or taste of food
- Spray walls or furniture with a bitter lemon spray
- Walk away when your dog licks rather than acknowledging the behavior
Dachshunds especially may struggle with the following issues, all of which can cause licking.
Dachshunds lick in much the same way humans bite their fingernails. Examine recent behavior and evaluate if your pet is perhaps being left alone too often or starved of company.
Dachshunds are very social pets, and they need to interact with people. They also suffer from separation anxiety if they are suddenly split from a human they have bonded with.
Dachshunds can struggle with skin ailments and are prone to allergies. Check your pet’s skin for raw or red patches or areas that need grooming. Ensure tick and flea treatments are administered regularly and perhaps give your pet a bath to eliminate any irritants.
Also, consider if any changes in diet or environment could have triggered an allergy. Some dachshunds are allergic to soy or wheat, and too much of it in their food can cause skin flare-ups. They also often react badly to scraps that are very salty or fatty (source).
Older dachshunds are prone to joint pain and may lick to comfort themselves. Hip and elbow dysplasia are fairly common in dachshunds and will need medical intervention.
If your pup is teething or just likes to chew, this can lead to lots of licking. Make sure there are lots of chew toys available to distract from the licking. Rubber dispensing toys that hide a treat inside can work well for this.
Licking is a part of normal, instinctive behavior in dogs. They lick to clean themselves, to comfort themselves, and to communicate. However, licking can also signal that something is wrong.
It is, therefore, critical that you understand why a dog is licking so that any underlying medical or behavioral issues can be identified and addressed.