Harley the dog licking his lips Harley the dog licking his lips

Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

Read time: 4 mins

29 Sep 2023

If you've ever wondered why your furry companion can't seem to resist the urge to lick himself, you're not alone. Dogs are known for their enthusiastic self-grooming, but excessive licking can raise questions. In this article, we'll explore the reasons behind why dogs lick themselves, shedding light on this common canine behaviour.

Why Is My Dog Licking Himself So Much?

Dogs have an innate tendency to groom themselves, which is a behaviour they share with their wild ancestors. In the wild, a wolf or a dog's ancestor would lick its fur to remove dirt, debris, and potential predators' scent. This self-cleaning process helped them stay hidden from potential threats and maintain their fur's insulation properties.

Even though our domesticated dogs have come a long way from their wild counterparts, this natural instinct remains deeply ingrained in their DNA. Hence, it's perfectly normal to observe your dog indulging in self-grooming sessions.

Do Dogs Lick Themselves When Stressed?

Stress can affect dogs just as it affects humans, and one way it manifests in our canine companions is through increased licking.

Dogs often resort to licking when they're feeling anxious or stressed. This behaviour can be a soothing mechanism for them, similar to how humans might engage in activities like nail-biting or hair-twisting when anxious.

If you've noticed your dog licking himself more than usual and can't identify any other underlying cause, it's worth considering if stress or anxiety might be the culprit. Common stressors for dogs can include changes in their environment, separation anxiety, or even loud noises like thunderstorms or fireworks. To determine if your dog's excessive licking is due to stress, observe their body language and any changes in their routine. 

Signs of stress may include:

  • Pacing or restlessness

  • Excessive panting

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Avoidance behaviour

  • Loss of appetite

  • Whining or whimpering

If you suspect stress is the root cause of your dog's licking behaviour, it's essential to address the underlying anxiety. Consulting with a veterinarian or a professional dog behaviourist can help you develop a tailored plan to alleviate your dog's stress and reduce excessive licking.

Should I Stop My Dog From Licking Himself?

Now that we've explored the reasons behind dogs licking themselves, the next question that may arise is whether you should intervene and stop your dog from indulging in this behaviour.

In most cases, a moderate amount of self-licking is entirely normal and even beneficial for your dog. It helps them maintain proper hygiene by cleaning their fur, wounds, and, in some cases, even reducing pain or discomfort from minor injuries.

Allowing your dog to groom themselves is essential for their well-being, so there's no need to prevent them from doing so, unless:

Excessive licking

If your dog's licking becomes obsessive and interferes with their daily activities or causes physical harm (such as creating hot spots), it's time to intervene.

Allergies or skin issues

Dogs with allergies or skin irritations may excessively lick the affected areas, worsening the condition. In such cases, consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Psychological distress

If your dog is licking due to stress or anxiety, addressing the root cause is crucial. Professional guidance can help you manage their anxiety effectively.

How to Manage Excessive Licking

If you find that your dog's licking has crossed the threshold into excessive territory, there are several strategies you can employ to manage this behaviour:

Redirect their attention

Offer your dog alternative activities, such as interactive toys or puzzle feeders, to redirect their focus away from licking.

Consult a vet

If you suspect a medical issue or allergies, consult your veterinarian for a thorough examination and appropriate treatment.

Behavioural training

Enrol your dog in behaviour training classes to address anxiety or compulsive behaviours that may be driving the excessive licking.

Use of anti-lick devices

Some anti-lick devices like bitter-tasting sprays can deter dogs from licking specific areas.


In severe cases of anxiety or compulsive disorders, your veterinarian may recommend medication to help manage your dog's condition.