Why do Pitbulls Lick so Much?

All dogs are prone to licking things – furniture, themselves, the floor, humans – but some dogs seem to do it more than others. There are many various causes for this behavior, and surprisingly only a few of them are problems which require medical attention. Pitbulls that excessively lick objects around them can already almost completely rule out one of the most common causes of this behavior – fleas. Dogs and animals with longer coats care more prone to getting fleas, as the fur can hide “hotspots” giving the fleas a warm, secluded place to take up residence. The short coat of the Pitbull will make it easier to spot fleas if they are present, thus putting an end to the annoying behavior. Excessive licking in Pitbulls is typically related to another cause such as:

  • Emotional Problems
  • Allergies
  • Injuries
  • Curiosity

“But we spend time with him every day!”

Boredom is one of the main emotional problems that causes dogs to lick. Many animals engage in this behavior after being left alone for hours while their families are away from the home. The dog is so happy to see its people, that it begins to lick them in an attempt to garner attention. Many times,showing affection toward the pet will be enough to deter it from continuing. Teaching the animal from an early age that this behavior is discouraged will help as it ages. Stress is another emotional cause of excessive licking, and can affect other behaviors as well. Moving to a new home, or introducing a new member into the family can change the way a dog will behave, and sometime cause a new behavior to manifest. Fear can make a dog clingy and submissive, and often the animal will lick the hands and feet of their owners looking for comfort and reassurance.

“Is my dog really allergic to that?”

Allergies are common in pets, although not always to the extreme that shows in humans. If a Pitbull is allergic to their food or to something in the air, often they will begin licking because of some hidden discomfort. When exposed to an allergen, these dogs may begin licking themselves or their surroundings as a way of trying to get rid of the smell, or in some cases, the itchiness on their skin. This is also true with fleas, though uncommon in Pitbulls. Many dogs are allergic to fleas and their bites, which will cause them to lick and chew at their own skin. This type of reaction would be something to speak to a veterinarian about, as something in the dog's lifestyle needs to be changed, and a vet can help an owner pinpoint that change.

“The dog doesn't have any sort of injury. There is nothing to see.”

Just because there is no open wound or visible bruise, doesn't mean that the dog is uninjured. A licking dog may be trying to promote blood flow to an injured area, or provide his skin with a type of anesthesia that is left after saliva evaporates. Many dogs will lick sore spots like muscles and joints, so if the dog in question is a very athletic or older animal, this could be the cause. Checking for bruising or swelled sports on the dog's “affected” area is an important way to make sure that the licking is not in response to pain. Since they cannot talk, Pitbulls try to voice their injuries to their owners in other, more direct ways. The dog focusing on one spot is a good indicator of this being the reason for the behavior, and should be looked at closely.

“Does he think he can eat everything he smells?”

Dogs rely on their senses of taste and smell to find food to eat, and licking the air or the objects around them is a way for them to taste the things they smell. Because the air smells so good to them, the food must be close, as well. Excessive licking of an object or person can be due to something on that object – the lotion or sweat (salt) on a person's hands, or the settled in scents in carpets or on furniture. Scents are amplified in the sensitive noses of Pitbulls, and these behaviors may simply be the dog's way of trying to say “Hey, I'm hungry, and I want to taste this because it smells great.”

In very few cases, these licking behaviors can be caused by psychological or medical problems with the dog's body. Dogs, like humans, are habit forming, and if there was some trauma in a puppy's life (like being left alone, or abused), the licking could be a learned behavior which will be hard to break them of. Medical treatment for this behavior should only be given if absolutely necessary, and careful steps should be taken in order to determine if this is the case. Negative reinforcement should never be used to stop the behavior, however if it is seen as a problem by the owner, training and attempting to discourage this from a young age is recommended. Over time, this can be “cured” or at least reduced to the point that it will not be a distraction or a focus of the dog's everyday life.

Female dogs lick puppies to encourage them to eat, as well as to help clean them, which is an instinctual behavior. People often teach their pets to lick their hands or faces as a sign of affection. Dogs that lick, whether excessively or not, are not doing it to be irritating, they are simply doing it because it is all that they can do. In an attempt to become more aware of their surroundings, or to let their owners know that they want attention, Pitbulls use their ability to lick to their advantage. It may be somewhat irritating, and it may even be borderline annoying, but it is not uncommon for this behavior to be present in this breed of dogs. Pet owners that understand the underlying causes of this behavior will better be able to deal with, and even in some cases, help the animal alter it.

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