We have a seven-pound Chihuahua mix that we found roaming the streets six years ago. We absolutely love our dog, but he has one particular habit that absolutely drives us crazy. He constantly licks. If he’s on any piece of furniture, he licks. When not sleeping, he licks. I’ve brought this to the attention of several veterinarians, but no one has an answer on how to resolve this habit. It seems like it has gotten worse the older he gets. If you have any suggestions, it would be very much appreciated.
– Vicki, La Grange, Illinois
While dogs naturally lick themselves, excessively licking can indicate a health or behavior problem. If your veterinarian ruled out health issues, then licking is likely the result of boredom or stress, and manifested into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are a few things you can try.
First, tell your dog “no lick,” and give him a treat if he responds to your command. Then replace the old behavior with a new one to give his mind something new to do. Puzzle and treat toys are excellent sources of mental stimulation for your dog that might help break his licking habit. (It’s like a smoker chewing on a lollypop when they are trying to quit smoking.)
Next, introduce exercise, like a walk around the block, or a 10- to 15-minute playtime session daily to relieve some of his boredom or stress. Keeping your dog active throughout the day can reduce obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Finally, there are products, like Bitter Apple, that you can spray onto your dog’s paws to discourage licking, or you can talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications. Keep in mind, it’s not usually one strategy, but a combination of strategies that eventually changes a bad habit.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal