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Why Do Shih Tzus Lick So Much? 12 Vet Reviewed Reasons


Mar 24, 2023
shih tzu puppy licking its paw


shih tzu puppy licking its paw
Dr. Lauren Demos Photo

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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!

2. Affection

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.

shih tzu dog on the grass
Image Credit: Dennis Bautista, Pexels

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.

Shih tzu licking its nose
Image Credit: Jumpstory

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.

black and white shih tzu outdoor
Image Credit: JumpStory

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:

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Destructive behavior
  • Drooling
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Repetitive/compulsive behaviors
  • Urinating/defecating in the house

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:

  • Chewing slowly
  • Decreased interest in eating dry food
  • Decreased interest in hard treats
  • Dropping food while chewing
  • Excessive drooling
  • New/worsening resistance to having face/mouth touched
  • Pawing at the mouth
woman carrying her shih tzu
Image Credit: ARTYOORAN, Shutterstock

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:

  • Chronic ear infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Itchiness
  • Itchy ears
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling (face, lips, ears, eyelids, or earflaps)
  • Vomiting
dog breeds shih tzu
Image Credit: Liliya Kulianionak

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.

shih tzu with cataracts
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shuttershock


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:

  • Distract them: Give them something else to focus on, like a chew toy or a food puzzle.
  • Move away: If you are the one being licked, move the part of your body your Shih Tzu is licking, stay neutral, and don’t say anything. Over time your dog will realize you don’t enjoy being licked.
  • Stay clean: If you find your Shih Tzu excessively licks you after exercise, shower before spending time with them.
  • Training: Train them to sit or give a paw and reward them with your affection and attention.
  • Exercise: Make sure your Shih Tzu is stimulated with plenty of exercise to reduce stress and burn off excess energy that could be later directed towards licking you or themselves.
  • Be consistent: Make sure you and everyone else in the family are consistent and clear about what you want your dog to do so they aren’t confused.

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.

divider-dog paw


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

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