Why Does My Dog Lick the Ground?
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For dogs, licking is part of their habitual way of interacting with their environment. They do it to other dogs, other animals and even with we humans. Whether due to higher standards or a weaker immune system, licking in this way doesn't come naturally to us. When our dogs do it, their biological make up can tolerate the dirt and microbes which would harm other creatures, even when licking the ground. At AnimalWised we look at some of the reasons why your dog licks the ground.
Monitoring our dog's behavior will also inform us of their general health and well-being. Like all natural canine habits, when a dog licks the ground compulsively or combines it with maladjusted behavior, it could be a sign of an underlying problem.
What does it mean when a dog licks the ground?
The simplest explanation as to why a dog licks the ground is that they are using their tongue as a means of exploring their environment. You may be more familiar with the notion of a dog sniffing their environment to gauge their safety or look for food. Whether they are going into a flowerbed, shunting their nose into another dog's rear or even taking a good sniff of a human crotch, dogs use their nose as a means of understanding. Their highly developed olfactory sense allows them to discern lots of information, much of which we do not fully understand. Sniffing is part of the behavior patterns of a healthy dog. This is evidenced by dogs which have previously suffered abuse inhibited in their sniffing behavior by fear.
As part of this olfactory exploration, when a dog discovers an odor they find particularly interesting, we may observe them licking this area. This is because taste receptors are also something dog's use to explore. Often the dog will lick the ground as many scents descend to this area. Dogs are territorial animals and the presence of another dog is of particular interest to them. A dog's paw pads secrete scent, which is one of the reasons why you may also see a dog scratching the ground. If another dog has been walking in the vicinity, they are likely to leave a smell in their path.
The way in which the dog licks the ground is important. Sometimes they may give a tentative lick. Other times they may obsessively sniff and salivate over the area. It depends on the stimulus and what it is they smell, something they may not be able to communicate to us. It does not necessarily belie obsessive behavior. In summary, the main reason a dog licks the ground is to further explore their environment when smelling is not sufficient.
Dogs licking the ground when they discover something to eat
Another circumstance in which a dog might lick the ground is because they discover something edible. When people walk while eating they may drop bits of sandwich or ice cream, leaving their culinary detritus on the ground. Dogs might sense these scraps and want a taste. They may also lick at the area where food had recently been. You might not be able to see it yourself, but the dog's advanced sense of smell is more perceptive. If the ground is a thick carpet there may also be small pieces of food in the carpet fibers.
Unfortunately, dogs are known to eat a lot of things they shouldn't. If they lick the ground and eat some spoiled or contaminated food, it could upset their stomach. It is advisable to prevent them from doing so. Puppies, especially, need to be careful. They may not be as discerning as older dogs and those which are yet to complete their vaccination schedule are at particular risk. This is why dogs are not recommended to go outside until their initial vaccination schedule is complete.
We also need to be careful at home. If we use aggressive cleaning products on the floor or put pesticides in our garden, we need to ensure they are not consumed. Cleaners, bleaches, detergents and other cleaning products need to be stored safely out of reach.
Why won't my dog stop licking the floor?
Now that you know normal circumstances in which your dog might lick the floor, let's consider when this behavior might be problematic. Usually there is only cause for concern when the dog is licking incessantly and becomes obsessive. If this occurs, it may be a sign that consultation with a veterinarian may be required to determine if there is an underlying health problem. If the problem is not due to a physical ailment, a canine behavioral specialist may need to be consulted.
Licking the floor or ground obsessively may be a stereotypy. These are repeated behaviors which occur outside their usual healthy context and reveal an underlying problem. In humans, verbal ticks or compulsive wrist wringing are such examples. In dogs, licking the ground might be a stereotypy indicating boredom, frustration or stress. They don't lick the ground because they enjoy the taste. In these cases, we will need to find ways to enrich their environment and introduce positive activities to improve their well-being. If you want to further understand this kind of behavior, you can take a look at our article on compulsive behavior in dogs.
Other times, our dog may lick the ground because they are driven by discomfort. In this way it can be a little like throwing your hands up in the air in frustration. Nausea caused by gastrointestinal disorders is one of the most common causes of this behavior. Combined with licking the floor or carpet, the dog may lick their lips, swallow repeatedly or even vomit.
If none of the above reasons why your dog licks the ground seems to qualify with your pooch, it is possible your dog has a form of advanced stereotypy known as Pica syndrome. In addition to obsessive licking, the dog may ingest unusual, often indigestible, objects which are not part of their usual diet. This could include excrement (coprophagia) or stones.
The causes of this condition are not well known and there are several theories about the cause of pica. These include malabsorption, diabetes or intestinal parasites. Psychological problems such as stress, boredom, confinement or others might also contribute to the behavior. Whatever the cause, it is a set of behaviors which needs to be stopped or prevented. Not only are many of the objects a choking hazard, but they are more likely to get parasites or related diseases. The effects on their gastrointestinal system can also be severe.
What do I do when my dog licks the ground?
If your dog licks the ground in a healthy way as part of their natural behavior and daily routine, then you likely won't need to do anything. Their health is not in danger and, as long as they are not eating something they shouldn't, their immune system should provide enough protection.
When the dog licks the ground as a result of stress, anxiety or an underlying health problem, then you need to see a vet. Their examination will rule out a medical issue. If the problem is behavioral, then it is advisable you go to a dog trainer, ethologist or canine behavior specialist. They will help you establish the right routine for your dog to help reduce this behavior.
If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Dog Lick the Ground?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.