There’s nothing good that comes from a dog licking a couch or any piece of furniture. There are several behavioral issues tied to this bad habit. You can lick the problem with some simple steps that will make you, your dog, and the couch better for it.
Not all dog licking is bad, it’s more about what they are licking and how often. Dogs lick from Day 1. The mother licks to get her babies breathing and cleaned up. Puppies lick their mom’s mouth hoping for some regurgitated food to come up. Our dogs lick us because we taste all salty and divine. They love to lick wounds on themselves or on people.
When Liking Takes a Bad Turn
When the licking takes a focus, almost compulsively, on an object – that’s when you worry. A dog licking something – anything – is a way to make them feel good as all those endorphins are released. It’s very self-soothing for them.
There are generally three main reasons why a dog will lick anything routinely or even obsessively.
They Are Bored
Think of all the weird things humans do when they get bored. We stare at nothing. We flip through channels not watching a single thing. Dogs have their own ways of handling boredom and licking is one of them.
When a dog starts licking a couch, you’ve got to get to the root cause. To rule out boredom, replace the licking activity with their favorite toy and encourage play. Always reinforce good behavior. Don’t punish bad behavior. Simply shouting “NO!” isn’t going to stop the licking. It will just make them covert lickers.
They Are Stressed or Anxious
Our dogs can’t walk up to us and say, “I am so anxious now that the kids are home from school this summer. Can you help?”. They display their stress and anxiety in a variety of ways and one of those is licking the furniture. You don’t have to understand it. You just have to understand that it’s a problem.
Look at your life recently. Have there been any big changes? If you started or stopped working from home, visitors were there for a family event, or their favorite kid went off to college, dogs will express that emotion sometimes by licking. Any change in their routine is going to add stress or anxiety to their life. Make sure when life changes inevitably happen the dog has a safe space, like a kennel, to go to and relax.
How do you relieve anxiety or stress in a dog whose routine hasn’t changed? Exercise. Lots of it. Mental and physical activities keep them from having any time to be anxious or stressed.
They Have Dog OCD
Yes, that’s a real thing and it’s no different than the human version. There’s still a lot of research to be done on how OCD develops in dogs, but there are some dogs prone to certain obsessive behaviors. One example from the Merck Veterinary Manual is that German Shepherds are prone to chasing their tails or spinning endlessly.
How do you know when licking turns alarming?
|HUMAN||Double-checking to make sure the door is locked when you leave||Checking it 5 times before you even get the car out of the garage|
|DOG||Licking the couch after you’ve had chips and dip, hoping for a snack himself||Licking the couch in the morning, afternoon, evening, and sneaking a few licks in while you sleep|
The Merck Veterinary Manual describes it this way: “The diagnosis is considered to be a compulsive disorder when the behavior interferes with normal function or when it becomes independent of (or emancipated from) the inciting stimulus.”
You should video record your dog’s behavior and show it to your veterinarian. Keep a diary of when the dog licked the furniture and what happened right before it and any life changes your family has been through. This will help determine if the dog is really on the OCD spectrum.
Things to Know about Adopted Dogs that Lick
According to the American Kennel Club, dogs that have once been in a confined area with little stimulation can be more prone to obsessive behaviors. These are the dogs that might have been tied to a tree and left there most of the time, or put in a small space with little human interaction. Their coping mechanism could have been licking.
Even once in a happy, healthy home with plenty of belly rubs and treats – it’s a hard habit to break as it’s now ingrained in their being.
My Older Dog is Licking the Furniture but Never Did Before
Older dogs go through a lot of physical and mental changes. Their eyesight and hearing can be impacted. Their joints get stiff and sore and they don’t move around as fast or as much. Dogs can experience a form of “doggy dementia” known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Licking furniture and random items obsessively is a sign of this cognitive issue.
If the senior dog is licking his or her body parts, like paws, legs, or belly, it could be a way to show they are in pain.
Like with any compulsive licking, a trip to the veterinarian should be scheduled as soon as possible to address the underlying issue.
When Distraction Doesn’t Work
The best way to fix, and troubleshoot, an obsessive licker is to distract them with a toy or some playtime. However, it can be burdensome if the dog is always licking to stop what you are doing and redirect.
Some dogs can also get aggressive when you try to stop the behavior that they perceive as a feel-good habit. This is when you might need medicinal or behavioral help.
There is medication, a form of doggy Xanax, to help the pups along.
Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC offers this advice, “Research has shown that dogs with OCD have an altered serotonin level, so drugs that affect the absorption of serotonin can help reduce some behaviors. This needs to be partnered with teaching new behaviors that interrupt and redirect compulsive behaviors, such as sitting when excited rather than spinning.”
Let Them Know the Licking Boundaries
Dogs need to have consistency in everything they do. That in itself reduces the stress and anxiety of wondering who the pack leader is. It can’t be okay to lick the spoon after you eat dinner, but not okay to lick the couch.
Your dog might greet you with plenty of “kisses” when you get home, and then 10 minutes later you are scolding him or her for licking the lounge chair. The dog is confused and you are frustrated.
If a dog who normally doesn’t lick a lot approaches you with urgent licking, don’t brush it off. Check the water or food bowl to see if they’ve run out. Get the ball from underneath the couch. This behavior usually signals a dog saying “something is wrong.”
If your dog has issues with licking obsessively, just rule out licking from their life (aside from the occasional licking of chops when you forgot to fill the food bowl).
AKC why dogs lick furniture: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/advice/dog-lick-furniture/
Cesar Millan why dogs lick: https://www.cesarsway.com/why-do-dogs-lick/
Relieving dog stress: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/signs-your-dog-is-stressed-and-how-to-relieve-it
Licking boundaries: https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/why-does-my-dog-lick-me#2