It starts innocently as a soothing nibble yet morphs into a relentless ritual. Obsessive licking in dogs leads to traumatic injuries, anxiety, and misery for pets and owners alike. While licking serves natural self-grooming and healing purposes, excessive licking stems from an array of medical issues, stressors, and compulsions. Curbing obsessive licking requires unraveling the root causes and employing training, environmental management, and medications. This guide covers the motivations behind problematic licking, techniques to reduce it, and when to seek veterinary support. With diligence helping dogs kick lick addictions, calm and comfort are restored.
What Causes Dogs to Excessively Lick Themselves or Objects?
To change obsessive licking habits, you must know what prompts them. Some common reasons include:
Skin Allergies or Parasitic Infections Causing Itchiness
Dogs lick for self-soothing when facing allergic reactions, flea bites, or mange. Licking brings temporary relief but worsens skin issues over time.
Injuries, Arthritis, Dental Disease or other Pains
Licking frequently targets sore spots. Self-licking releases endorphins that briefly mask discomfort. But perpetual licking prevents healing.
Anxiety, Stress, OCD, and Compulsion Disorders
Some dogs lick or suck themselves, blankets, furniture, or carpeting to calm nerves. The behaviors start as coping mechanisms.
Like demand barking, some dogs learn that obsessive licking increases owner reactions and interaction, even if negative. The response becomes the reward.
Lack of Physical and Mental Stimulation
Insufficient outlets for energy and boredom lead dogs to self-lick due to under-stimulation and the need for an activity.
Nutrient Deficiencies or Inadequate Diets
Diets deficient in crucial vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, or proteins may make dogs lick compulsively, trying to consume missing elements.
Pinpointing what motivates your dog’s specific licking obsession allows you to select tailored training and management remedies to help extinguish this detrimental habit. If causes like allergies go untreated, the cycle perpetuates.
Serious Problems Excessive Licking Creates
While it temporarily relieves anxiety or itches, chronic excessive licking leads to complications:
- Self-Trauma Like Hot Spots, Rashes, Bald Spots, and Calluses – Constant licking, biting, and nibbling of the same body areas abrades protective fur and skin, leaving open sores prone to infection.
- Skin Fold and Ear Infections – Excessive moisture from perpetual licking between folds and inside ears creates yeast and bacterial growth. This prompts painful secondary skin diseases.
- Digestive Issues From Eating Hair or Fabrics – Dogs ingesting excess fur through grooming or ripping up bedding can form trichobezoars intestinal blockages requiring surgery. Vomiting and diarrhea may also erupt.
- Destruction of Household Objects, Bandages, Plasters, and Stitches – Dogs left unsupervised chew, suck, and destroy items trying to self-soothe anxiety. Ingested objects cause internal injury risks.
- Owner Frustration, Confusion, and Mess – Blood and oozing blisters stain furniture and carpets. Ruined objects take time and money to replace. And causes of strange compulsions perplex owners struggling to help their pets.
With strategic interventions, obsessive licking improves dramatically, restoring the dog and owner’s quality of life. But solutions require diligence and, at times, medical support.
Common Triggers and Situations That Spark Obsessive Licking Episodes
To prevent rehearsal of this compulsive behavior, owners must recognize problematic scenarios that ignite frantic licking:
- Being left home alone due to separation anxiety
- Riding in cars to unfamiliar destinations
- Waiting in exam rooms at veterinary offices
- Encountering new dogs, people, or environments
- Loud noises like thunderstorms and fireworks
- Disruptions to their daily routine or household
- Wearing bandages, collars, harnesses, or clothing items
Once owners know their dog’s unique triggers, exposures can be carefully managed to avoid or interrupt the obsessive licking response using training redirection or distraction. For severe issues, medication assists.
Effective Training Techniques For Curbing Obsessive Licking in Dogs
Use the following strategies tailored to what motivates your dog’s licking fixation:
Remove Access to Lickable Items When Left Unattended
Bitter anti-chew sprays applied to furniture, shoes, and bandages help deter licking. Use cone collars to shield injuries and surgical sites. Provide acceptable chews to redirect the oral fixation while away. Limit access if necessary.
Desensitization and Counterconditioning
Gradually expose lickers to anxiety-provoking situations like car rides while rewarding calm behavior with high-value treats. This reconditions the dog’s emotional response to the trigger. It retrains the brain to remain relaxed versus reacting with obsessive licking.
Obedience Cues and Redirection
Use commands like “Leave it!” or “Sit!” to interrupt unwanted licking and redirect energy into positive behaviors, earning rewards and praise. Transfer the fixation onto toys. Distract with training games before anxiety escalates.
Ensure Dogs Get Sufficient Physical and Mental Exercise
Boredom and under-stimulation compel licking habits. Provide interesting toys and puzzles, learning tricks and commands for mental stimulation, and adequate runs and playtime to burn physical energy. Meeting enrichment needs reduces obsessive behaviors.
Confinement When Left Alone
Contain lickers in crates or non-destructible rooms when unattended. This protects them and home furnishings until the behavior improves. Proper crate training prevents confinement distress.
With diligence stopping the rehearsal of this destructive habit through distraction, confinement, and training alternative behaviors, obsessive licking improves dramatically in most dogs. But address the root causes like allergies as well.
What Not to Do When Trying to Stop Obsessive Licking
Certain punishment approaches worsen this compulsive disorder:
- Never Yell at or Punish Dogs for Licking Behaviors
Animals don’t understand discipline for something they did hours or minutes earlier. This merely creates confusion and enhances anxiety.
- Avoid Using Bitter-Tasting Products Meant to Deter Licking
Dogs readily acclimate to bitter anti-chew sprays. Avoid prolonged use as ingestion risks intestinal damage when groomed off the fur.
- Don’t Shave Dogs with Acral Lick Granulomas
Also called lick granulomas, these calloused bald spots result from obsessive licking. Shaving irritates the skin and makes the urge to lick these areas even more intense due to tingling as fur regrows.
- Don’t Assume It’s Just a “Bad Habit” Without Assessing Causes
Compulsive disorders, protozoal infections, pain, and other ailments make dogs self-lick. Take medical origins seriously.
- Never Rub Noses in Soiled Areas
While incontinent senior dogs may lick their thighs, rubbing noses in accidents doesn’t convey the intended message. Take a compassionate approach to aging.
Stay patient and redirect licking urges onto appropriate toys. Identify and address the motivations fueling the obsessive behaviors. But punishment worsens anxiety and delays progress.
When to Seek Veterinary Guidance for Excessive Licking Issues
Consult your vet if licking leads to:
- Injuries like calluses, rashes, bald spots, and skin infections
- Suspected skin allergies or parasitic infections like mange
- Bowel issues from compulsive carpet nibbling and fabric eating
- Identifying sources of pain or sore spots
- Disorders causing intense thirst like diabetes or kidney disease
- Blood work showing nutritional imbalances
Veterinarians help diagnose and treat medical conditions exacerbating obsessive licking. They also refer severe cases to veterinary behaviorists who design customized training and behavior modification medication plans.
Summary on Curbing Problematic Obsessive Licking in Dogs
Licking satisfies natural grooming instincts in dogs but morphs into obsessive destruction when underlying issues go unaddressed. Strategies for combating chronic licking include:
Removing access to triggers.
Redirection using commands.
Ensuring adequate exercise and enrichment.
Confinement when unsupervised and resolving pain and skin irritation problems.
Some cases benefit from anti-anxiety medications or supplements. With diligent management and training, obsessive licking improves dramatically when the root causes are identified and resolved. But have patience – change takes time.