There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day to cuddles and kisses, and that’s exactly what many Shih Tzu owners assume is happening when their dog licks them; it’s done as a way of showing affection. But is that entirely accurate? Shih Tzus love to lick their humans’ faces, arms, legs, and hands, but it turns out that they do it for various reasons, from anxiety to excitement.
Your dog might also lick itself, and you may have always assumed it’s just about staying clean. But there are many reasons behind excessive licking, whether they’re licking objects, you, or themselves. Below, we’ll discuss the reasons behind this behavior.
The 12 Reasons Why Shih Tzus Lick So Much
1. Excited to See You
One of the most common reasons for your Shih Tzu to lick you is excitement. If your dog greets you with excessive licking at the door, it’s probably because they’re very excited to see you!
Licking you might be a way for your Shih Tzu to show their affection. It’s instinctive and is linked to the comfort they felt when their mother would lick them as a puppy. Licking is an important way of bonding and causes them to release endorphins and dopamine to help them feel relaxed and happy. They might also try to groom you because they see you as part of their pack.
3. We Taste Good
You might have noticed your dog licks you more after you exercise, particularly in the sweatier areas. When we sweat, we release acidic chemicals and salt that are very tasty to dogs. Your dog might lick your hands and fingers if you’ve eaten something yummy. They might also be attracted to nice-smelling moisturizers, but be careful as some creams, like psoriasis creams, can be poisonous to dogs.
4. They’re Showing Empathy
Licking is comforting, so if your dog is concerned about you, it might lick you to care for you and make you feel better. A study in 2012 found that dogs were more likely to nuzzle and lick their owners when they pretended to cry rather than merely talking or humming. It’s possible that dogs were displaying learned behavior and that, to some extent, dogs can actually share and understand our feelings.
5. They’re Hungry
In the wild, a puppy might lick their mother’s lips when they’ve returned from a hunt to show it’s hungry. Your dog might therefore lick you to show they’re in dire need of sustenance thanks to this hardwired instinct.
6. To Get Attention
Licking is a fantastic way to get a human’s attention. If you make a fuss over your dog, stroke them, or give them cuddles when they lick you, this will encourage them to lick you when they want a little bit of attention.
7. They’re Feeling Anxious
Licking can be a soothing behavior and will help your dog feel calm. Licking themselves or you might help them feel less anxious, especially if they’re suffering from something like separation anxiety. You might notice other signs that your dog is feeling anxious, such as:
8. They Have Sensitive Teeth
Excessive licking might indicate that your Shih Tzu’s teeth are sensitive, their gums are sore, or they have a toothache. If it’s a puppy, it could also indicate that it’s teething. If you think your dog is suffering from a toothache, contact your vet. There are other signs of dental pain your dog might exhibit, such as:
9. They’re Healing Themselves
When a dog hurts itself and is bleeding, one of the first things it’ll probably do is lick the wound. Dog saliva contains enzymes that kill bacteria, and licking the wound will reduce healing time. It also releases endorphins as a form of pain relief. Dogs will also lick themselves to get rid of any dead tissue. Some dogs can become carried away and reopen a closed wound or lick to the point of creating sores, in which case you should take them to the vet, where they might use a bandage or an e-collar to discourage licking.
10. They Have Allergies
Allergies are a common reason behind excessive licking. If you notice your dog licking excessively, it could be trying to relieve some of the itchiness. You might see other signs along with the licking if your dog has an allergy, such as:
11. It Could Be OCD
While this is rare, some dogs can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is linked to long-term anxiety or stress, which manifests as them licking objects, themselves, or people. This can eventually lead to bald spots on their fur and sores on their tongues and skin.
You can try interrupting this behavior by distracting them with other activities, like playing games or going for a walk. This behavior should always be treated with kindness, and it might be challenging to break the habit, so speak to your vet or a behaviorist if you’re concerned.
12. They’re Overstimulated
When a dog feels overstimulated, it might lick things obsessively to calm down. You can help your dog relax by placing its toys and bed in a quiet room and spending some time with it away from the rest of the family. If your dog still seems stressed out and the licking persists, contact your vet for some advice and to check if there is a health problem behind the excessive licking.
FAQ About Why Shih Tzu’s Lick So Much
What Can I Do About Excessive Licking?
The action you take will, of course, depend on why your Shih Tzu is licking. Licking is natural, so don’t expect your dog to stop licking completely. If their licking becomes too much and you’ve ruled out a medical reason behind the behavior, there are a few things you can do:
Should You Allow Your Shih Tzu to Lick Your Face?
It’s normal social behavior for a dog to lick another dog’s face or a human’s, and if they can’t reach your face, they’ll lick the closest body part they can. As we’ve covered, there are many reasons why your Shih Tzu will lick you, but you might be wondering if there are any risks to a dog’s lick.
Dog saliva is not dangerous for intact skin; however, it isn’t healthy for your dog to lick an open wound. The belief that dogs can heal human wounds goes back to ancient Egypt. However, while their lick will remove dirt and debris from the injury, which is helpful, they can also slow your healing process because their saliva can cause infections. For this reason, you should avoid letting your dog lick you if you have any broken skin.
There are many reasons why your Shih Tzu licks so much, some of which are innocent, while others might involve a trip to the vet. If this is a new behavior or part of a more worrying pattern of behavior, contact your vet to get your dog checked over. Licking might be a normal behavior, but when it leads to stress, you must step in with distractions or training. If it feels like you can’t break this cycle yourself, your vet or a behaviorist can help reduce the licking.
Featured Image Credit: Kwan Kajornsiri, Shutterstock