Someone once told me that her dog, Barney, was clearly anxious because she “lip licked” every time she asked him to sit or lie down. That’s seemed to be a reasonable conclusion, except that the dog’s tongue always flicked out laterally to sop up a stream of drool every time he heard the cue. I suggested that Barney was anticipating the food, and was salivating and licking in anticipation.
This incident is a great example of the pitfalls of acquired knowledge: As we improve our ability to “read” dogs, it is easy to worry about expressions or movements that might, or might not, be indicative of distress in our best friends. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to look at all the contexts in which dogs lick, and our best guesses about what it means when they do.
ANTICIPATION OF FOOD: This would seem to be a no-brainer, but can take some time to distinguish from other types. Usually, (but not always) licking in anticipation of food involves the tongue moving laterally, to the side of the dog’s mouth, while in other types of lip licks the tongue moves straight forward. Usually associated with an increase in salivation (á la Pavlov), we humans tend to do the same thing when anticipating something wonderful about to pop into our mouth. Be aware that context is key here, because I’ve seen tongues go all over the place–to the side or the front, in all possible contexts. (I do wonder sometimes if dog are lip licking both in anticipation and with one of the motivations listed below, but I’m just speculating…)
APPEASEMENT (aka Submission aka Calming Signals): In this case, the tongue usually moves out straight forward from the mouth, sometimes so far that the nose itself is licked. Often seen in social interactions, this is described as a “pacifying behavior” by Roger Abrantes (Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior), or an “appeasement signal one canid uses to let others know he means no harm” by Barbara Handelman (Canine Behavior – A Photo Illustrated Handbook). Pat Goodman’s quote in Handelman’s book is one of my favorite lines about lip licking: “The canid equivalent to human fidgeting.” Many authors suggest (as do the two listed here) that this behavior originated in neonatal nursing behavior. Makes sense to me, although we are just speculating here. (Thanks to Marty Sloan from Wolf Park for this photograph.)
Here’s a good video example in a dog, making the excellent point that her dog is NOT illustrating guilt (a la the viral videos in years past), but is illustrating what the author labels as appeasement.
I think that the attribution of “appeasement” is a good one, but would add that the context and the dog’s behavior are also indicative of:
LOW LEVEL ANXIETY Lip licking is a behavior seen in many species of mammals, including horses (common) and sheep. You can find a lot of speculation about the internal state that it signifies, but low level anxiety or nervousness are common explanations. There is some good research behind this: Schilder and Borg (2004) found it to be common reaction to a shock collar in dogs, along with yelps, squeals and avoidance. In addition, Deldalle & Gaunet (2014) found that negative reinforcement (or the disappearance of an aversive stimulus) elicited more lip licks than positive reinforcement. In other species, see this blog that lists “nervousness” as one of the causes of lip licking in horses. In addition, a study on sheep’s responses to the presence of a dog (ie, potential predator) a goat, or human found that lip licking was more common in the presence of a dog.
In dogs, Rehn and Keeling (2011) looked at greeting behavior after dogs were separated from their owners for 30 minutes, two hours and four hours, and found that the longer the separation, the more lip licking and body shaking was observed when the owners returned. Body shaking is also believed to be a sign of stress reduction, and is often seen with lip licking. (As it is in the video seen above.) However, lip licking (in horses for example) is often described as occurring “after stress is relieved,” or when an animal has accepted a social hierarchy. Hmmmm…..
I find these last two categories–appeasement & anxiety– interesting, because they overlap so much. Could it be that they are expressions of similar internal states in dogs, and we just label them differently because of the context? One explanation that might cover both categories is “being in conflict.” Is that more helpful, or just more confusing? I’ll ask more about what we mean by appeasement/anxiety/conflict later in this article, because I think it’s an important question. But for now, some more categories:
REPETITIVE LICKING ONTO SUBSTRATES: “Excessive” licking be an important symptom of gastrointestinal problems. Tootsie is the poster child for this–she licks her paws and any surface (especially hard and cool ones like the floor or a wood cabinet) if I run out of Ginger-Mint drops for her tummy. There is no evidence that she has a serious medical problem, but her licking is perfectly correlated with a noisy stomach and repetitive licking of her paws or another substrate. It was a veterinary behaviorist who first told me about the link between licking and gastrointestinal problems. At that time Tootsie’s paws were salmon-colored from her licking them. We’d taken images of her paws and found some minor arthritis, and my vet thought perhaps they were causing her some pain. But once we gave her Ginger-Mint drops, the licking ceased. (The drops, labeled for dogs and cats, are from Animal’s Apawthecary.) When I run out, it begins again. A perfect correlation. There’s good research behind this: See the study by Bécuwe-Bonnet et al that found a strong correlation between dogs licking surfaces like walls and floors and gastrointestinal disturbances. But, sometimes dogs are licking themselves for other reasons besides an upset tummy…
REPETITIVE LICKING ON THE BODY: Beyond the obvious licking to clean the body, as done by all healthy cats and fastidious canines, repetitive body licking can also be related to pain or irritation. Sometimes the skin itches because of an allergy. Sometimes a minor procedure or injury has led to irritation, or perhaps it is arthritis that is bothering a dog. If your dog licks his paws or another body part often and doesn’t lick on anything else, I’d make an appointment with my veterinarian right away. We know now that “acral lick dermatitis” is often caused some type of internal discomfort (not “boredom or neurosis” as so often diagnosed in years past). Keep in mind that it can be hard to determine the cause of pain, and a “negative result” (ie, your vet can’t find anything) doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no physical cause. If the licking continues, and you are suspicious that something is causing pain or irritation, talk to your vet about trying a pain reliever on an experimental basis.
I’d love to hear your examples of how paying attention to your dog’s licking (in any context) has helped you. I wish all dog owners knew how important it was to pay attention to licking behavior. To get you started, here’s my example: I began hydrating Cool Hand Luke myself when he was dying from kidney failure, but after I did he began lip licking when I called his name. He had never done that before, and I knew that he was beginning to associate me with the discomfort of hydration, so I called the vet immediately and had them do it. That way Luke and I could spend our last few days together in peace, rather than him worrying when I was about to poke him and insert an IV into him.
One last thing that this example raises: I only knew Luke was becoming uncomfortable around me because he almost never lip licked in my presence. Willie, however, lip licks constantly, while my other Border Collie rarely does. I suspect that is because Willie is a more nervous, insecure individual than Maggie. Thus, for lip licking to be meaningful, we all need to know an individual’s “baseline.” Question for you: Beyond sharing your examples of how attending to licking has helped you understand your dog, what do you think of the “appeasement/anxiety/in conflict/out of conflict” labels. Are they helpful? Or should we be good ethologists and behaviorists and not make any attributions until we know more? I look forward to your contributions!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Just back on the farm actually, after a lovely long weekend in Oregon visiting grandchildren. Lucky us, the fall colors have faded here, but were in stunning in Eugene.
The main event at the farm this week is the arrival of Little Big Man. The ram arrived on Sunday, and got busy immediately. Lady Godiva was more than ready. I have a good photos of what happened next, but, uh, decided they were a tad too graphic. But I suspect you can make a guess. See the red on Little Big Man’s chest? That’s marking paint to let us know when each ewe gets bred. Suffice it to say that Lady Godiva’s rump was bright red this morning. Good boy, Little Big Man!
Are the ginger mint drops specifically for dogs? What brand do you give your dogs. I’d like to try giving to one of our dogs.
Excellent article! A few other examples of licking that I could add would be due to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, however, after reading what you wrote about licking substrates being linked to nausea, I wonder if sometimes this behavior is only misinterpreted as OCD? I think that’s very interesting! Licking and gulping can be a precursor to vomiting, so again that ties in with nausea. Also, though we are doing everything we can to improve her diet, one of our dogs is still prone to getting yeasty ear infections. I have noticed that she lifts her nose straight up in the air and licks her nose repeatedly, sometimes yawning, and am wondering if she is trying to “pop” her ears when she does this? Or perhaps it’s just her way of expressing her discomfort? All I know is it’s important to keep an eye on repetitive licking, especially if it shows up out of the blue. Years ago I had a golden retriever who started to lick her front right paw relentlessly, and it turned out she had a tumor on one of her toes, which had to be removed entirely. As for the appeasement/anxiety/in conflict/out of conflict labels, I’ll admit that I do begin to gloss over a little, though I do think it’s important. I think Einstein’s quote might be fitting here- “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” An interesting article, thanks for the great info!
deanie heller says
What about when a dog licks me continuously?
Lindsay Baker says
I have one dog who shoves her entire nose down into our other dogs’ ears and licks like it’s her greatest joy in life. Everyone seems to love it, and we’ve only had one ear infection in five years, so I guess it’s okay! I sure hope it is! Also, she doesn’t seem to be interested in doing this with dogs she doesn’t live with. I’ve always been baffled by this behavior! And thanks for another great article!
Penny Kirk says
This is very interesting !
My dog licks the cushions is this the same as REPETITIVE LICKING ONTO SUBSTRATES?
I usually find them damp when I arrive home after leaving him and I have only seen him do it a couple of times when I am actually home.
Scruffy Dog was a poorly-socialized stray who came to us at about 3 years old. He loved being around dogs he knew, but found meeting boisterous new dogs stressful. When an exuberant new dog would approach, Scruffy Dog would put on an impressive threat display – exposing his (yellowed) fangs, growling, and air-snapping – all the while rapidly licking his nose.
Basically (in Barney Fife voice, or the Cowardly Lion, if you prefer), “Don’t make me come over there! I mean it!”
The lip-lick helped us understand that he was stressed, so we worked with him on reinforcement (treats) and letting him observe new dogs from a distance until he became comfortable. The more new dogs he met, the more quickly he became comfortable. Sometimes he would just keep his distance, settle down in a comfortable spot, and occasionally bark at the pack when they raced past his spot.
One time we went to a “bark-in-the-park” event, with hundreds of dogs in attendance. Apparently the sheer number of canines confounded Scruffy Dog’s usual meeting-a-new-dog response, and he transformed into Mr. Sociable. His sister, normally the sociable one, dug in her heels and had to be dragged into the fray (where she had a great time).
Perhaps Scruffy Dog’s response to meeting hundreds of dogs at once is an example of flooding?
Great article. What about a dog who excessively licks a human? In this case, I’m talking about a rescue dog who has now been living with someone for a few weeks after a troubled life. Any opportunity the dog gets, he is licking the human who is fostering him. Is this a sign of appeasement? Will it dissipate as he feels more secure that he is now in a safe environment? What do you think? There is nothing possessive about his licking, in that he does not guard the human when someone else approaches. He almost seems to do it as a source of comfort perhaps?
Kim Kuenlen says
Excessive licking may cause lick granuloma – a whole different story! Thanks for this article, never thought about gastro intestinal problems.
Dieta Decker says
My Greyhound started licking herself excessively when she was about seven years old. We tried a few different things, but in the end a hormone injection did the trick.
One bit missing though – our dogs licking us. I have always thought it was their equivalent of us stroking them
Wonderful, informative article, as always.
I do wonder if “in conflict”/”out of conflict” is too binary a concept to be truly useful. Stress levels vary, and stress can be a part of both good and bad experiences for a dog. “Conflict”, expressed in such stark terms, implies that there’s some sort of problem that needs to be resolved, when that may not always be the case.
I recently finished Brenda Aloff’s body language book and it was great, but given how hard it is to attribute intention and internal state to a dog’s appearance and actions, I’m thinking I should check out the Abrantes and Handelman books too. Can’t have too many informed sources!
Our dog does a lot more lip licking (straight forward) around my husband than me. She’s a very licky dog in general and will gladly crazily lick your face if you lay on the floor. I wonder sometimes if the lip lick is a shorthand for a full lick with contact, the way puppies would do to mama. A human equivalent would be the way humans shorthand ventral contact depending on the receiver, adjusting from facing an interviewer and leaning slightly forward to bear hugging a sibling. (Not that hugging and licking are the same signal, it’s just an example of shorthand.) In my own dog, I’m pretty comfortable using the word “uncertain” to describe how I imagine she’s feeling when she lip licks, which is a lot like your term “in conflict.” I imagine it feels a little like “I don’t know if I have the coping skills for this situation.” My human parallel would be feeling socially awkward at a party. It makes me wonder if dogs can imagine various outcomes to situations and if they vary in their ability to do so. Dogs certainly act surprised when there is an unusual event in a scenario they’ve been exposed to before. I wonder if lip licking means “this feels too open ended, I can’t predict what will happen” or if it means “I’m feeling like it’s possible this won’t go my way.” Since dogs become reactive in situations where events did not go well before (a white dog attacked me, I’ll bark at white dogs… ) I wonder if their uncertainty is about a concrete worry or about just not knowing. Fun to ponder.
Thank you, it’s nice to know i’m not alone in questioning lip licking!
My 2.5 year old girl licks at bed time. Usually I’ll yawn and tell her “sleep time” so she’ll settle down and go to sleep. (she goes to sleep when told because she knows the alternative is “crate time”) But she’s a confident girl and doesn’t really lip lick often.
My boy stretches when he’s nervous. I can’t think of him lip licking outside of meal time, but now i’m going to have to watch and really look for it.
I’ve currently got a foster in my house and he seems to be a nervous lip licker. It’s been less and less as time goes on – but i’ve been very aware of it because i don’t know him or his history, so i’m watching intently for any kind of clue on how he’s feeling – both physically and emotionally. He has Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis, the first few days the antibiotics really upset his gut and he would drool profusely – clearly in pain, but i don’t recall him licking at that time.
My Papillon lip licks in what seems like appeasement when being petted. I’ve had a friend stop me and say, “He doesn’t like that. He keeps lip licking when you pet him.” I’ve noticed this before and experimented. When I stop, he leans in or rubs up against my hands to elicit more petting.
Is he conflicted about being petted? Or is this just something he does that doesn’t mean what our acquired knowledge thinks it means? I really need to get a video.
Our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has, from puppyhood, occasionally licks the couch (a furry surface) for about 5 minutes AND at night often licks the sheet (a cover sheet I put on the bed to keep the other blanket clean) for about 5 minutes. I’ve always wondered why he does it. Perhaps a habit to sooth him?
Dr. Jan Hankins says
Thanks for this post! I have a real issue when people look at “one” dog body language signal and decide the dog is ______ (anxious, fearful, happy, or whatever). You have to look not only the whole dog, but also the context. I have two Great Danes who often play together. If I were to record them (especially with sound), some people would declare they were trying to kill one another. Nope. They are playing with plenty of play bows and dogs taking turns flopping on their back exposing their belly to let the other know “hey, I’m still playing”. I don’t think you can tell much from static picture, either. I could snap picture after picture of all my dogs “lip licking”. Guess what? They just finished eating their meal, just finished a treat, or just had a pill (wrapped in something yummy). Just because a dog lip licks doesn’t mean the dog is necessarily uncomfortable. Ear carriage? Think of breed. This is a hard one for many people. Not only do I have Danes, but I have Wolfhounds as well. Wolfhounds naturally carry their ears back much further than many other breeds (so do many other sighthounds–look at a relaxed Greyhound and note where the ears are–well back). Just because my IW’s “ears are back” doesn’t mean he’s about to eat you. It mean’s he’s relaxed. Now if my Dane’s ears were in the same position, I’d be more convinced the dog was about to eat you.
Interesting – one of my dogs, Daisy, lip licks a lot, for no apparent reason, although she does do it more when she’s feeling anxious. And she is an extremely anxious dog, so I’ve always assumed that’s why it’s such a coomon behaviour for her. She will be lying in her bed, seeming completely relaxed, and lip-lick.. She’s actually standing and staring at my oblivious husband right now and doing it! Our other dog, who is definitely not anxious, very rarely lip-licks – with her I expect it would be treat anticipation!!
Mary @ StaleCheerios says
I love your point about “baselines.”
When examining behaviors, whether lip licking or other behaviors, I find most people try to compare their dog to other dogs.
However, when trying to figure out why a particular dog might be licking (or doing some other sort of behavior), it can be much more productive to examine the context of the behavior and compare the frequency of current behavior to how often that dog has done that behavior in the past, rather than making comparisons to other dogs.
Linda Freeman says
Thank you! I would love to hear more on this topic. Our pug frequently licks fabric. When we got her, she was quite an anxious little thing and did it a whole lot more than she does now. She was a puppy mill puppy that we adopted when her owner passed away and she had loads of issues including excessive barking, anxiety, fear of eating from a bowl, lack of understanding of “dog language” and lack of interaction with people and dogs. Thanks to our efforts combined with the patience and help of our other pug, she has become a much more well-adjusted animal and lives happily in a house with her Pug brother and Rottweiler sister. The fabric licking persists but much less frequently – she seems to use it as a self-soothing behavior. I suspect she was weaned and separated early as well. She is oddly fearful of beeping sounds, could this be a result of being put on a plane at six weeks old? Argghhh, it makes me angry.
Now if you could only explain why all pugs it seem to lick their owners like crazy in the morning when they wake up.
So about a year ago when I had my dogs in a local pet store, my dog Jack approached a Dalmatian. The Dalmatian’s owner had asked if they could greet each other. Jack approached with very confident body posture – standing tall, head and tail up, and ears forward. The Dalmatian was crouched so that he was slightly below Jack’s head and he looked, to me, nervous and uncertain. He and Jack stood muzzle to muzzle, then Jack turned his head and licked the other’s dogs muzzle once. I recall thinking that the Dalmatian relaxed slightly, but as I don’t know the dog I couldn’t really say. Afterwards the other lady and I went on with our shopping.
I’ve always thought that Jack’s licking would be described as an appeasement gesture, even though I’ve not come across any information about the more confident dog using an appeasement gesture.
I’m also interested in the ginger mint drops. I have a BSD who started obsessive licking 2.5 years ago- surfaces, walls, etc. Thought it might be anxiety driven but now I wonder if its gastrointestinal.
Well, I already note that I missed a huge category of ‘licking behavior.’ Thanks to many of you for asking about dogs licking us, sometimes seemingly obsessively. I’ve had many a licker myself, Lassie did it so much when I got her than I had to teach her an alternative behavior lest my skin be licked off of my body. This might be a great topic for a blog unto itself, but in general I see it as grooming behavior, but also in some cases as a way of dogs self-soothing themselves. A kind of stereotypy. Makes sense?
Also, a few have asked about the ginger/mint drops that I give Tootsie. They are from Animals’ Apawthecary. Questions are directed to Animal Essentials, Inc, http://www.animalessentials.com or 888 551-0416. Please don’t tell anyone I said this, but I’ve used them myself for an upset stomach and they worked beautifully.
Thanks Patricia, I have understood much kicking in behavior and vet setting but my own golden licks me (or any bare leg or elbow nearby) after drinking?? Stomach upset??
Linda Helding says
My 13 yr old dog gets the tummy rumble…doesn’t want dinner…goes outside to relieve herself repeatedly and licks her paws. I give her nexium and it puts it to sleep. She wakes up feeling much better.
My Papillon, Sophy, is a happy, confident little dog, but when she was a puppy she hated the car. She was violently sick on the short journey home from her breeder, and that developed into trembling, drooling and misery even before I started the engine. With lots and lots of desensitising, counterconditioning, ginger nuts and extra careful driving on my part she improved considerably, and now settles down comfortably in the crate in the car with Poppy, but she always has to be lifted in, always makes a small show of reluctance, and always gives a lip lick when car travel is finally inevitable. I keep things low key, praise her for being good, and continue to drive very carefully around corners – I think the only real solution is a Star Trek type portal…
She is also the one that licks me most, and I can never decide whether it means “Please continue!” or “I am getting a bit worried”, although sometimes it is obviously “Ooooh! You taste of chicken!”. She slipped a disc a couple of years ago, and I watch her lower back with great care as a result – she also loves massage, especially around her head and shoulders. If my hands move to her hindquarters she will start to lick, but that may just be because she can reach them more easily there than when I am massaging her shoulders (blissful yawns) or her ears (doubly blissful, with half shut eyes). If I pause she arranges herself to encourage me to continue, but with a definite preference for shoulders and ears! I am always very aware that when she was in extreme pain from the trapped nerve she let me handle her in ways which turned her into a whirling, snapping dervish when the vet attempted something similar, so I am constantly alert for tiny signals that might mean she is in discomfort. But I think most of it is that she likes licking – she will lick me dry after a shower, and licks her paws to wash her face like a cat.
Wow – talk about timely! I have started fostering an anxious, shy, undersocialized foster dog who has spent the last year in a shelter – she is so sweet, and very soft, but, is easily scared. She will come to us and solicit affection but gets scared when we approach her. She will often shake and lip lick, and go belly-up. We know she is stressed but the message we are receiving even stronger is “Please don’t hurt me.” She will let us pet her, and even pick her up, but, she is clearly scared and we’re working hard to build her confidence and help her move beyond her fears (she is also very sound-phobic and is very overwhelmed outside).
She also is constantly licking us during our snuggle sessions – she loves to lick our hands and loves to chew toys, she is a very oral dog.
Lori S. says
I love this stuff! Regarding this: “I find these last two categories–appeasement & anxiety– interesting, because they overlap so much. Could it be that they are expressions of similar internal states in dogs, and we just label them differently because of the context? One explanation that might cover both categories is ‘being in conflict.’ Is that more helpful, or just more confusing?” I think of appeasement and anxiety/being in conflict as two very different things. Anxiety or being in conflict seems like an internal state, while appeasement is a social and communicative behavior. Thus, licking because one is anxious could just be a reflection of the anxiety, or an epiphenomenon, or a way to help oneself change one’s internal state (like self-calming) – in other words, it may have nothing to do with the *social* nature of the behavior. Appeasement, though, is all about what you are communicating to the other creature present. These could both be true at the same time; the licking could be a refection of anxiety (the way a limp is a reflection of an injury) or a self-calming response to anxiety AND be a communication of appeasement. It helps me to keep the internal state (and its physical manifestation) distinct from what is being communicated. I think of communications as being less about internal states and more of: here is what I want from you. Especially since communications can involve lies about internal states, such as the way cats behaviorally hide their injuries and illnesses (“move along, nothing to see here”).
Claire-dog used to lick people she likes almost obsessively and frequently rather violently, particularly when she first saw the person that day. Since she had separation anxiety, I always assumed it was related to her relief at no longer being separated. After I got the second dog, the behavior lessened and I only see it when she’s been separated from me for an unusual amount of time or under unusual circumstances. Now that she is entering the senior phase (she’s 14), she is beginning to lick furniture, but always in the evening as it is beginning to get dark, which is when she starts to get anxious.
My male dog Yuki licks for so many reasons. He has skin issues and GI issues, both managed usually by regular doses of probiotics and seasonal allergy meds. If he’s licking and red/pink – or if he’s licking and my nose is stuffy- I know it’s allergies. I’ve also seen him and several of the foster dogs do the appeasement lick towards other dogs.
When I first registered Yuki with Delta Pet Partners, I noticed that he would be his bouncy loving self for about 45 minutes at the nursing home and then would start licking the floor and furniture. After a few times, I realized that was his sign that he was done and it was time to go home. I guess you could put this in your anxiety category?
Manette Kohler says
I’ve just started doing “Scent work” classes with one of my dogs. It’s loads of fun and he loves it. Something interesting I noticed, when working outdoors where other dogs may have “marked”, is that when the dogs are searching for the odor, they sniff and snuffle as they make their way around the search field but when they find a spot where another dog has marked, they flick out their tongue and touch it. I’ve wondered if it has to do with vomeronasal organ – i.e. tongue grabs some odor and flicks it up to the vomernasal organ?
What a great name for you ram! Cracked me up. 🙂
Very interesting. Thanks Patricia.
I do a lot of trick training with my Aussie girl, and it is with relative frequency that I see quick lip licks before performing a cued behaviour. Here’s a recent example of some lip licks caught on camera (the 2nd and 3rd clips, roughly 6 seconds in and 13 seconds in).:
I’ve always thought of these licks as being akin to a child sticking his or her tongue out while solving a math problem. I imagine that there is some stress or anxiety at the root of it, but not something that I consider unduly harsh or troublesome. I would welcome your thoughts on the matter.
Beverly Hebert says
Would you please tell me more about the Ginger-Mint drops, where they are available, how much you give per the dog’s weight, etc. I googled this but didn’t find out much.
My Border collie has developed an excessive licking problem – she mostly licks the leather furniture but she will also lick walls and other furniture. She does not lick herself. She is not quite 3 years old and I am not sure when this problem started but I began to notice it a few months ago as it became more frequent.
At first I assumed it was an OCD behavior but after hearing it could be a sign of a gastric problem I took her to my vet. Her examination was normal but we did not do any extensive testing. Instead we decided I would try to increase her exercise and use positive interrupts and then if that didn’t work we would try her on a medication. So far the licking has not lessened. Apart from the licking she has no other other symptoms. Before starting her on medication I would like to try the Ginger-mint drops to see if that would make any difference. Thanks a bunch. BH
Beverly Hebert says
P.S. Sorry, I wrote my question before reading through all the comments and now I see that you already answered this. Again, thanks, Beverly
I had a client dog who compulsively licked the (uncarpeted wood) dining room floor at times. The trigger was specifically being corrected or even gently blocked or deterred from jumping/barking/snapping at people’s faces. He mostly did this to visitors. She he started licking, he would continue to exhaustion, about 6 hours, and the floor was too slippery to walk on.
This placed me, on the first visit, in a double bind. Let him jump and wind up at me, or force him to lick. (If I’d had a clearer picture before the visit I would have had him leashed or crated!!). In the event, I just sat very still and ignored him. For 2.75 hours. Occasionally he would back off and stand still and I’d click and throw a treat behind him. (He sat often but it was a pretty fixed precursor to stare/lunge.). Suddenly in the last 15 minutes he started offering downs and with quick shaping I had him backing up onto his bed, a dozen feet away. The look of relief on his face… That was a tortured soul. BTW, owner was not an idiot. He was a very difficult dog!
That was my most extreme licking case!!
glauber ribeiro says
Pat, excellent article as always. I am also curious about what ginger mint drops you use, and if they make them for primates too. 🙂 My dog licks her paw a lot, and i’m curious about this hypothesis of gastro-intestinal distress. I would like to try the ginger mint drops on her.
My youngest, a 3 yr old Mini American Shepherd (aka mini-Aussie) will solicit petting from strangers, then start lip licking. If the person keeps petting him, he will soon snap at them to increase distance. If I call him away and let him go back, he will enjoy being petted for several minutes and there will be no lip licking. I interpret that to mean that he needs to feel like he can leave the situation if he wants to, so we have been working on the “go say hi” behavior where he comes back to me after sniffing the person, or I will call him away after the first lip lick.
He also lip licks when he jumps in my lap for petting, but he’s never snapped at me. I stop petting when he does that and wait for him to ask to be petted again and then the licking stops. Poor conflicted doggie!
The lip licking is the *only* cue he gives that he is uncomfortable (he goes right from lip licking to snapping) so I wonder what the circumstances were in his first home that might have caused him to be nervous about being petted. He is generally a pretty confident dog, but he is an Aussie… 😉
A completely different type of licking: a friend’s dog will lick the sliding glass door, or the car windows when she is left inside and the friend is on the outside. I’ve seen this in other dogs, too. Looks like they are trying to wash the window – almost compulsive. Again, this is a very confident dog, but she does love her Mom!
So many great observations here! Kim made a good point too–that excessive licking can cause ‘lick granulomas.’ But wasn’t there a study that found it was usually the other way around.. that sharp micro-structures inside the dog’s body were causing irritation and motivating the licking? Argh, can’t remember who did that study. Anybody?
Greta, your cause of the digital dog (leap up or lick for hours) is fascinating. What an outrageously lucky dog and client to have you helping them. Amazing image of the look of relief on the dog’s face when he discovered he had another alternative!
I didn’t talk much about the compulsive aspect of licking behavior, and think it deserves more attention than it got in my article. I do agree absolutely that repetitive licking can be a self-soothing behavior (which would make it a stereotypy, like pacing in a cage) or could be truly compulsive and out of dog’s control. I have found that it’s very difficult to sort out what’s going on here, although I am 100% positive I have seen dogs who licked to self-soothe. However, in my experience, it seems that OCD or “neurosis” is a common diagnosis for many ‘excessive’ lickers. So often my client’s dogs did end up having a physical or medical issue, so I am quick to suggest talking at length to a veterinarian who will work hard to eliminate any possible physical cause.
One more comment about Ginger-mint drops (I should have bought stock…). I use ones from Animal Apawthecary, from Animal Essentials. I’ll add that now to the article since so many would like to know how to obtain them.
Not exactly lip licking but since this comment thread has already gone down the road of other types of licking: I really like the lick to dismiss/kiss to dismiss theory that I think you have blogged about before. I’m pretty sure I’ve witnessed this behaviour in my own dog, unless I’m misreading her intentions. I’ve also seen her lick me as a sort of “hey stop it” – I poke her foot, she gives me a dirty look and then licks my hand. I don’t think she’s licking me lovingly, I think it’s more of a passive aggressive lick.
Also: This could be considered a “stress” lip lick as well if you wanted to generalize it, but she seems to do really pronounced, tongue way out, licking the side of the mouth very obviously when she wants something. She’ll come to the couch where I’m sitting, stare at me and repeatedly lick her chops. Sometimes it might be because she wants food, but it could be anything: Attention, playtime, walk, water in her bowl, bathroom break – Loud obvious lip licking while staring intently at my face seems to be her way to request my attention.
One of our dogs is a lick, lick, licker of people. Someone asked me once why she licks so much and I said I though it was a kind of a passive-aggressive behavior. Some dogs will butt your hand or nudge you or step on your feet or side bump another dog out of the way to get attention. Phoebe will lick you. It is effective in getting people’s attention or trying to divert an action while not causing too much strife with the lickees (at least in most cases). I think of it as her obsequious way of saying, “Hey, my turn, move aside or I don’t like what you’re doing and I am going to lick you until you stop.”
One of her many wonderful, neurotic quirks.
I really like the observation that there is overlap between anxiety and appeasement. For a dog to want to appease, it seems to make sense (though we have to be careful not to jump to conclusions) that there may be some level of anxiety about what will happen if they do not show deference in a particular circumstance.
I also find it interesting that high-status Jack almost never tongue-flicks and low-status Maddie does so much more frequently. Usually she licks her own nose. I have regularly seen socially savvy Jack do look-aways, “I don’t want any trouble, buddy” ground-sniffing around dog-aggressive or high-prey-drive dogs, yawns (especially when following a rule, which is important to him, is in direct conflict with getting something he wants– say a sandwich on the coffee table), and stress-relieving shakes. All 4 of those signals are also classified as calming signals. But the one that also indicates appeasement— tongue-flicking — is the one he almost never does.
It makes me wonder if the tongue-flick as a social signal nearly always signals a mix of appeasement and low-level anxiety? Of course, two dogs hardly makes a case study, but the difference is pretty striking.
I wanted to make a separate comment about self-licking and licking objects. I agree self-licking often starts as some mild discomfort, though I think it can become a habit. Jack likes to lick his feet and I’m not sure if he has some minor allergies and they itch or if he is just cleaning. He mostly does it when he’s bored, but that does not mean boredom is the cause. After all, if you have Level 2 discomfort on the classic 1-10 pain scale, you will not notice the discomfort if you are involved in activities, but will notice it if you are not doing anything else. In fact, whether or not activity distracts you from pain, or if the pain prevents you from doing activities, is part of the definition of the pain scale.
Maddie obsessively licks the couch on a regular basis. She always used to occasionally but now does so regularly. She has DM and has lost much of her function behind, so it could be displacement behavior for physical comfort OR self-soothing for stress relief. I read somewhere that licking and/or mouthing soft objects was more likely to be a self-soothing activity but I don’t know if that is true or not. She is on a painkiller.
Margaret McLaughlin says
Nina is an “obsessive” licker–just came over to greet me, & continued to lick my arm until I pulled it away. She licks any human who will hold still for it, regularly washes my Siamese, Bramble (he flops down in front of her, with purr set at 9) & licks other dogs. In October I had 3 of my alumni (career-changed guide puppies I had raised, who were adopted locally) visiting. There were a few days overlap, but mostly they were here one at a time. Breezy (younger female black Lab) got only a few token licks, Stella (older female Golden) almost had the hair scrubbed off her, & Seymour (younger male black Lab) licked HER. She mostly licks heads & faces, sometimes flanks. I have always assumed it was a somewhat-over-the-top grooming behavior, with a dash of appeasement thrown in, maybe more of a care-seeking behavior. She only licks herself if there’s an obvious itchy, & generally substrate only with food residue.
Last Friday I showed her in Obedience (finished her CD, shameless brag) & when the judge approached her for the Stand for Examination–by far the most difficult exercise for her; took months to teach her to hold her ground, keep her feet down, & not kiss the judge, taught by putting her on a platform, & clicking any head movement away from the judge–I saw a LOT of tongue, but the judge escaped unslurped.
Years ago I was showing Elly in UKC Obedience, & when I returned from the Open out-of-sight honor down (instead of a group long down, as in AKC, each dog does as individual down in the middle of the ring while the next dog heels around him) the judge asked me if I trained with food. Me, “Yes, of course. Why?” Judge, “When your dog saw you come through the door she not only started wagging her tail, she licked her lips.” Correctly interpreted by judge to mean anticipation of reward, but i have seen appeasement tongue-flicking from dogs who are anticipating a correction when their handlers return. It is all about the context–& the history.
My Welsh Terrier Gimmel licks my face thoroughly sometimes.She seems very purposeful, but not compulsive or anxious. She will occasionally do this to my husband too, or go back and forth between us. She is a high-octane and and very expressive critter. The only other licking I’ve noticed is in situations where she wants to do something, or go in a particular direction, and I prevent it by asking her for something else, she will give a quick lip lick as she changes her intent from what she wanted to what I’ve asked her to do. Sort of an “OK”*sigh* I try to keep track of the frequency of this behavior and give her some sort of balance between following her own terrier interests and complying with mine.
Kerry M. says
Manette Kohler, I’ve got a dog who licks the smelly trees, too. I’m torn between my human reaction (ew) and my desire to let him be a dog especially since I have no clue why he does it or what he gets out of it. Do you let your dog lick? I’m assuming there is some risk of disease transmission there but I really have no idea. Hmm. I suppose I could google but I’m kind of scared about what that might bring up on my screen.
It’s so true that a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I’m often told by people who are meeting Ranger for the first time what a submissive dog he is because he rolls over to show his tummy. Ranger happens to really love tummy rubs and he’s learned that rolling over and asking for them is almost a sure fired way to get them. He’s also learned that when he’s not sure what to do asking for a tummy rub is a good move since it puts everything back in a context he understands because people almost always respond by rubbing his tummy. He’s not submissive at all. He’s a very high status dog with lots of confidence who has found a very effective way of getting what he wants. But if all you know is that a submissive dog will expose their tummy to a higher status dog you don’t read him right at all.
It’s interesting about the gastrointestinal upset link with licking. Finna licks the inside of her bin (crate) when she’s stressed. We’ve always thought of it as a self-soothing behavior. It makes sense though that there would be a gastrointestinal component. I know how much my stomach churns when I’m stressed and upset so it makes sense that hers would be as well. She very well might be licking because the stress is making her stomach hurt and the licking is helping to soothe her and her churning stomach. Perhaps I’ll experiment with some ginger mint drops or a little ginger tea.
What a great piece Patricia. I have often wondered about the context in which a dog lip-licks and how that plays into how we interpret it. I also like the terminology of “being in conflict”. I may be wrong, but I think it would be much easier to explain a behavior to someone who is not knowledgeable about dog body language by saying “being in conflict” than saying “appeasement signals.”
I have also paid attention to my dogs and their lip-licking in a wide-variety of situations. I decided to hand off the nail clipping with Jasper because he seemed to be lip-licking whenever he saw me go near the drawer where I keep the clippers. It’s less stressful for him (and me) when I let the groomer do it.
Thanks for the connection to the ginger-mint drops. Daisy has gastrointestinal issues and takes an omeprazole pill every day, but I am open to trying something else. She also licked her paws and got that salmon-coloring on her feet.
I also forgot to mention that I have often seen lip-licking in other animals and wondered if it meant the same thing. I just saw it with some deer I was photographing this weekend.
C. Anderson says
I can certainly vouch for the lip licking being linked to internal problems. We had a Malamute who only lip licked in the rarest of occasions – about 60 seconds before she throws up. If we noticed her licking her lips out of the blue, we knew to get her to the bathroom as quickly as we could – we’d taught her how to throw up in the toilet, something the rest of our dogs never figured out. We had a husky too that licked a lot, eventually we figured out that it was her arthritis that was bothering her (it was always joints she was licking). Our current Mal recently went through a bout of excessive licking with a paw. Upon inspection, we found it to be swollen and irritated between two of the “knuckles”. Two days after cleaning it, draining it, and reminding him to not lick it, it’s now gone and returned to normal color. Other than the licking though, not once did he complain, which is odd because he’s the biggest wuss I’ve ever owned.
I have one dog who spends a lot of time licking one of my other dogs. The “lickee” loves this and will actually lie down across the front legs of the “licker” and whine until she starts licking. The lickee has a history of skin issues, so maybe this feels good to him, or maybe he likes the attention? I’m not sure what’s in it for the licker; sometimes it does seem almost obsessive.
My dog tongue flicks whwn she’s nervous or excited. I have also noticed she does it when she wants to go a specific direction on a walk. She will turn her head to me, make direct eye contact, flick her tongue, then turn back, hunker down into what I call her ‘cart pulling stance’ and mush toward her desired goal. I think in that case she’s just saying something like ‘we should go this way now, kapiche?’
I have an excessive/obsessive licking dog – of his hind legs, but not always the same leg or area, it moves about. This has been attributed to stress in the past but then over a few weeks it became overwhelmingly bad and was seriously interfering with his quality of life (he wouldn’t even stop licking to eat). Painkillers of various kinds didn’t help. I thought he was developing neurological problems including focal seizures, confusion and memory loss, but the neurologist we went to disagreed.
To cut a long story short, as a last resort we finally ended up at the vet behaviourist (a very very rare species over here in the UK!) and he was diagnosed with delayed brain damage and focal epilepsy. On epilepsy meds the licking is vastly reduced, and the focal seizures eliminated as are the confusion/memory loss.
We had three dogs for a while, two males and a female. The female was pushy, annoying, and had poor social skills with other dogs, and as a result one of the males wouldn’t play with her at all. The other one, however, fell deeply in love with her (yes, I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but it’s true. We have a lot of evidence.) and he would lie at right angles to her for 10 minutes at a time licking her ears until they were drenched. She would close her eyes and sigh with total contentment. When he was done, they would fall asleep intertwined together. It was really lovely.
Jennifer Zaayer says
This was so interesting! Thank you for this: “We know now that “acral lick dermatitis” is often caused some type of internal discomfort (not “boredom or neurosis” as so often diagnosed in years past). Keep in mind that it can be hard to determine the cause of pain, and a “negative result” (ie, your vet can’t find anything) doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no physical cause. – See more at: https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/what-does-licking-mean#sthash.tEEZYULI.dpuf”
My first Gordon Setter licked his forearms when he got older, and the vets always insisted it was because he was bored or stressed. I was convinced that he had some kind of internal pain. I think he had some arthritis in his carpus, and that was why he did it. Glad to know that the veterinary community recognizes that now.
I have two female litter mates, now 10.5 yrs old. The E dog was always the shy/fearful more aloof puppy. When she would come to say hi to a familiar human, her sister would lick the inside of her ear. No evidence of infection. She still does. E stands there and seems to enjoy it and attention from whatever human she targets. At one point I wondered if we could consider it dog-dog positive reinforcement for being social to family members. E usually comes because she wants something (to go outside) so when the door is opened both dogs benefit. Then, not long ago, there was an interesting article (or more than one and I don’t remember who wrote the original) using the term “kiss to dismiss” to describe this licking of canine housemates and human children. N isn’t relaxed when she’s licking like this. E doesn’t lick N’s ears. N comes across as the more dominant dog, but they change roles depending on the situation.
Katie Gilliland says
I have been grooming dogs forever, and I have a rule of thumb when it comes to lip licking and dog grooming. When I have a “new” dog on my table and they begin to lip lick it’s a sure sign of fear and anxiety. The minute I see this licking start I am on “alert”. Usually after “the pup” becomes comfortable, the licking stops. In my world licking means to Watch Out. Be calm. Try to emit vibes that make they dog feel comfortable and loved. Letting a dog feel my feelings is very easy for me to do. I love them, and they pick up on that quickly. I am blessed for being able to work with these amazing creatures on a daily basis. Loved the article. Gave me a lot of food for thought.
Malinda Carlson says
I think there are other licking types –
Above there are several examples of licking to groom – the dog licking the other dog’s ears.
My dog will rub her eyes on the sofa and then lick the sofa – often she is getting some mucous type debris out of her tear ducts.
I would also consider Compulsive Disorder.
My dog’s compulsive licking happens when she is greeting friends who arrive. It lasts for many minutes. She is not showing any other appeasement body language and is happy to see her people friends. If discouraged from licking their legs/hands (always skin), she’ll sit in front of them and lick the air. She has done this most of her adult life. She doesn’t do this when greeting me when I come home. She loves to lick my hands in the morning before we get out of bed – I take this as grooming.
Trisha, you had me laughing out loud with your first observation. I used to frequent a Dutch dog forum but lately it is dominated by people who explain EVERYTHING as “stress”, every dog behaviour is stress related, dogs need to be kept below stress level, long walks are not good for them and running is not good because to much input can make a dog so unhappy. Sorry, I’m ranting a bit but sometimes it is irritating when dogs are constantly described as victims of outt stressful human society…
Back on topic: I also sometimes see lip licking when the dogs smell something very exciting. The water is coming from their noses then, and they lick it off.
As for the label: as Lori S wrote, I also wonder about the difference between expressing an internal state (anxiety) and the use of it as communication. I remembered a discussion I had with someone about yawning & stressed dogs & calming other dogs. I know that some people advocate yawning as a method to calm your stressed dog since it is a ‘calming sign”. But I wonder if this is how it works. Because if it is not a communication signal but and expression of an inner state, you just started telling your dog that you are not comfy in the situation either…
I guess with lip licking it can be both but somehow I feel that it is an almost reflexive behaviour and not an intentional communication. It would also explain that soms dogs back off when they see / sense another dog being uncomfortable but other dogs don’t and just press on (nice guy vs bully dog ?)
When Chenak started licking his back paws, we went to the vet and he probably had paraesthesia in his paw because of back problems. When Chenak started licking Janouk, we found out that he had a chafing wound from his backpack. Sweet Chenak always groomed his “younger brother” (even if het had infectious diarrhoea, he would clean him.. and fall ill himself shortly afterwards) . So yes, I agree with the licking & go see a vet.
Funny anecdote: a friend of mine had two siberians, at times one of the dogs would help her with finding ticks on the other dog. He would snif them out and start licking and then she would find & remove the tick!
To Kathy, with her dewy-eyed-in-love dogs. Thank you for the description of your two dogs who go to sleep entwined after a long licking session. It made me feel all melty.
I had never thought about tummy issues! My 4 year old BC mix is a big licker of people, so much we have to correct her often (she used to be compulsive about chasing her tail, but we cleared that up). I wonder if this is indicative of tummy issues too? Someone mentioned it as grooming – she does this to both my partner and I. I’ve never thought of that.
Interesting post. I noticed my dog lifts his leg, urinates, and then lip licks…pretty consistent behavior when marking. I am, perhaps, an example of over-interpretation, because I first thought he was marking, then showing submissive behavior…something like “I was here…but maybe I shouldn’t be”. He is a shy dog. However, when I thought about it in simpler terms, he may just licking to be take in more scent after urinating…maybe to check if he properly covered the other dog’s scent. Isn’t there a gland at the roof of their mouths that allows larger scent molecules to be processed? Anyway, I have no idea, but I’ve changed my mind on my initial thought.
Just another note on this interesting subject: when I take Spot to the chiropracter and she gets to a sensitive part, he licks his lips, does not trie to move away and then sighs with relief. I guess he knows that it is going to feel uncomfortable but it is going to help him. So internal conflict ? “I do not like it but will endure it” (he truly loves going there, at the vets he hates being on the table, there he jumps up himself and he leans this way and that to help her find the “right spot”)
Maggie Moss says
My female Basenji also lip licks when leaving her mark, mostly when there has been a prolonged investigation of a scent site.
My now-6yo Aussie girl has been a licker most of her life. I taught her not to lick me all the time because I don’t care for it. She was so funny on her first morning home. She had flown from Texas to Washington state the day before so a huge climate change. When I took her out that first morning the grass was wet with dew, and she went berserk licking as much of it as she could. I had to tell her she wasn’t going to have dry grass all the time. To this day, if we walk in the rain and get in the car, she will lick as much of my jacket dry as she can reach. Both she and my 2yo Aussie boy (her uncle genetically) will lick hard if I’m handling a body part they don’t want handled. Can be anything from nail clipping to removing hair tangles to checking out a potential injury. They will lick, often hard enough to move my hand. They’re careful not to use their teeth, but they let me know they would rather I move my hand away.
We have a terrier-shih-tzu cross who is a lip-licker. She’s also a very nervous girl in general (we got her as a puppy, and she was part of an “oops” litter, but raised in a home, not a puppy mill environment, so I think it’s just part of her personality). She will lick her lips when I approach/pet her sometimes, even though if I stop she leans in for more. She also has a pretty full “beard/moustache”, so I’ve wondered if it has something to do with getting all that hair out of the way? She will also lick her paws if she is bored (and we’ve redirected her from tipping the trash cans over 🙁 ) and will lick whoever is petting her if you are sitting on the ground. I do think it has something to do with anxiety, as she is a nervous girl. I consider it karma, because I struggle with anxiety too… ;D.
This is fascinating stuff. Some of us on a local nose work FB group exchange info about licking, because many of us who compete in nose work have noticed that the dogs will lip lick at the start line. Both of my male mini Aussies do this very consistently. I’ve read a couple of your articles about licking, and based on those and what we see, we guess this is anticipation: of the search, of finding the hide, and of the reward at the end. You can see the dogs get focused, flick out their tongues and lick, and then when they are released, go gangbusters into the area to search. Great fun to see how often these licks are caught by trial photographers, who are looking for good shots of the dog with its owner! I have some fun lick shots of both my boys.
Larry Caldwell says
All of my dogs occasionally lick me when I pet them. It’s grooming behavior. I have had a couple of dogs who took it to extremes. One was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the other is a English Springer. In both cases I just taught them a “don’t lick” command by gently moving their nose away while continuing to pet them. The Springer also likes to lick the leather couch. He was a rescue who I think was a little orally deprived before I got him. After giving him a chew he doesn’t show licking behavior for hours.
I think licking the face is different. Licking the corners of their mother’s mouth is how wolf pups trigger the regurgitation reflex to get food.
Kathy Stepp says
My dog and I do nosework. I know a comment was made earlier about the lip licking before a search. It is so common in the nosework pictures and the behavior is a definite swipe of the tongue over the nose. With my dog it seems to just be one swipe across his nose before he begins his search. I am convinced this is to help him smell the odor. I certainly could be wrong, but his whole manner is very calm and businesslike. He doesn’t seem anxious or excited at all. Just focused on the search. I read that the dog’s nose can find odor best if it is wet. There are so many photos of these dogs and all of them are clearly licking their nose – not the usual anxious lip licking. What do you think?
Is there a thank you lick? Finna is dealing with a partially torn cruiciate ligament on her left and to compensate she walks with her right tucked more to the midline of her body rather than at the corner as would be normal. This, obviously, pulls things out of alignment and causes muscle strain in her lower back. She’ll come over to me regularly and solicit deep massage in this area. Periodically when I get just the right spot and it feels good she’ll let out a soft sigh of relaxing tension and turn and lick my hand, one quick short lick. It feels like she’s saying thanks, that’s better. Then she leans in and solicits more massage. Clearly she doesn’t want me to stop since she’s begging for more and the reaction doesn’t seem to be to any sort of pain but more to the end of pain.
Jenny H says
Not lip licking — I’ve seen it n other people dogs when they are anxious, but ever in my own.
But talking of appeasement behaviours.
I now have a funny little dog (Cocker/Beagle cross)– she came to me because of ‘freaking out’ (Too long to describe.)
She is doing really well now, but she is an obsessive/compulsive tail-wagger. Never mind what side does she wag to — she thumps both of her own sides with her tail, and wags it so hard that it is uncomfortable to be I the way of her tail.
My sister who used to own Milly describes her, when she was visiting recently, as ‘wagging her tail when she was angry — “like a cat”.
This made me really think as I’ve NEVER seen Milly angry. She has wonderful ‘dog manners, but seems to be very, very anxious about people. I’ve decided that her tail wagging is a sign of anxiety/distress and should be seen as an appeasement signal.
Can you do a post on dogs licking humans? My 2 year old intact setter loves to lick my ears and face. He gets super wiggly loose body when he does it.
Barbara Finch says
I only just came across this and thought I’d share a different example of licking. My rescue hound is a poor communicator who tends to stare at me when he wants something, leaving me to figure out what he wants. Recently, I had problems sourcing his usual kibble and got a bag of another brand. The discerning hound was less than enthusiastic and, unusually, he stopped finishing his meals.
Shortly after, I got some kitten food to feed a feral kitten someone dumped in my garden. The kitten disappeared and I still had the pate, so I added a small amount to each of Echo’s meals, mixing it well with the kibble. Echo got very excited and his bowl was licked incredibly clean! Once he’d finished, he sat down and stared at me, put his tongue out and slowly licked his lips and nose from right to left in an absolutely suggestive way, which was a very clear request for more delicious food. This was repeated at each meal until there was no kitten food left. I’m now adding plain yoghurt to his kibble instead and he clearly likes it, but not enough to carry on with that lip licking behaviour.