One dog would lick another because they are:
- Grooming the other dog
- Bonding with one another
- Soothing the second dog
- Making up after a fight
- Experiencing health problems or sensing health problems with the other dog
- Lacking in socialization with other dogs
Unfortunately, there are many people who still believe in dominance theory when it comes to dogs. While you may be told that your dogs licking one another is problematic due to them trying to be dominant, it’s been disproven that this is the way dogs interact.
In this article, I’ll discuss why dogs lick one another, what normal licking looks like, and how to tell if it’s a problem.
Grooming the Other Dog
The main reason that dogs lick one another is for grooming purposes. Dogs self-groom, which is why many breeds only need to be bathed as-needed. (Though some breeds, especially long-haired ones, need regular bathing instead.)
We don’t need to bathe our dogs every day like we do ourselves, because most dogs are continually grooming themselves throughout the day.
For the most part, your dog will clean themselves up after a mess by licking their coats clean. They might lick their paws after going outside or their genitals after using the bathroom.
Of course, you can help your dog out (and keep your house clean) by wiping their paws down after they’ve been out in the mud or by bathing them if they’re especially messy.
If you have more than one dog, they’re likely to help each other as well! They might especially focus on the hard-to-reach places such as the other dog’s back, neck, or ears.
Most of the time, dogs grooming each other is very normal and no reason to be concerned. There are exceptions, however, such as if the licking is excessive or your dog seems obsessed with licking other dogs.
Bonding By Grooming, and Licks Are Like KissesDogs bond by grooming one another, and they might also lick each other just for bonding purposes or because they’re close with one another.
It’s like when your dog gives you kisses!
If your dogs regularly lick one another, it means they feel comfortable around each other. They love one another and are showing that through mutual grooming and “kisses.”
It’s a Respectful Greeting
Dogs sometimes lick other dog’s faces when greeting them. This is normal and might stem from the way they licked their mother’s snouts as puppies.
We can’t know what exactly this means for dogs because they can’t tell us in human language and we can’t read their minds!
However, most people seem to think it’s a respectful greeting due to the connection to a dog’s mother.
We do know that licking as a greeting isn’t harmful so long as it’s not obsessive. If your dog won’t stop licking the other dog, that’s when you should worry—and I’ll discuss that more in-depth below.
Making Up After a Fight
Many people will report dogs licking one another after fighting. This is another instance where we can’t read our dog’s minds, so we don’t know exactly what they’re signaling to one another.
However, it seems to be the way that they make up with one another. It might even signify one dog giving up on the argument or saying sorry.
If your dogs fight in a way that isn’t playful, you should keep them separate before one of them is seriously injured. Then, you can slowly reintroduce them in a safe way.
You don’t want to wait until you have a huge dog fight on your hands. While play fighting and even little disagreements are okay and normal, a full-on dog fight definitely isn’t! Your dogs shouldn’t be hurting one another.
Be sure to also check each of your dogs for injuries and bring them to the veterinarian if needed.
They Do It to Get Attention
Your dogs might also lick one another because they want attention! Maybe they want to play with the other dog, or want the other dog to lick them.
Dogs are very social animals and they communicate well with one another. By observation and how your other dog reacts to the licking, you might be able to figure out what they want as well!
For instance, maybe your dog always licks the other one when they want to play, and then they grab a toy and have a fun game of tug of war!
To Try and Soothe the Other Dog
A mother dog will lick her puppies to soothe them. This might be where dogs first learn to soothe one another through licking.
If one of your dogs is anxious, hurt, or upset, your other dog might lick them in an attempt to calm them down.
Many things can cause a dog to be upset or uncomfortable and need soothing. Perhaps a big life change has happened, and they are stressed. You’ve brought home a new pet, just moved into a new home, or have had a change in schedule that’s causing stress for your dog.
Maybe your dog licks your other dog when they’ve just gotten into a bit of trouble and are upset that you’re angry with them!
Perhaps fireworks are going on outside and your dog is afraid, so your other dog is comforting them.
Of course, this comfort may be given due to health problems the dog being licked is experiencing as well.
For instance, your dog might lick your other dog’s wound. If your dog is ill, your other dog might comfort them through licking.
It could also be a sign of mental illnesses in the dog being licked, such as depression or anxiety, or in the dog doing the licking, such as Canine Compulsive Disorder.
We’ll talk more about wounds and medical issues below.
Wounds or Medical Issues
Dogs licking other dogs is very normal. While it’s typically not a problem, some signs that you have problem licking on your hands are:
- The licking is constant or seems compulsive
- The dog being licked is upset, but the other dog won’t stop licking
- Fur is being removed from the area that’s being licked
- Your dog is focusing on one spot on the other dog
- Nothing can distract your dog from licking, or they go right back to it after a distraction
- The dog being licked has a known injury or medical condition
One medical reason for licking that tends to be easy to see is wounds. These could either be open wounds, such as a cut, or other injuries such as a broken leg.
Your dog might lick that area or even just lick generally in an attempt to soothe their friend.
It’s a good idea to check your dogs over regularly, observing and feeling their entire coat. This will help you spot any wounds as well as any lumps or other abnormalities.
Some more signs the dog being licked is injured include:
- Twitching or shaking
- Excessive panting
- Hanging their head down
- Arched back
- Changes in behavior
- They react poorly to being touched, especially in a particular area (where the injury occurred)
If your dog has recently had a fall or other accident, or you’ve noticed symptoms of injury, bring them to a veterinarian.
If it’s just a small cut and you’d like to monitor them at home, be sure to keep an eye on the wound for signs of infection. It may be best to cover the wound so that it can heal better, stay clean, and so your other dog can’t continue to lick it.
If your dog is licking your other dog’s ears, this could be normal grooming. It could also be a sign of an ear infection, especially if they are licking or sniffing the ear more than usual.
My dog Charlie used to get ear infections very regularly, and we’ve noticed him sweetly checking our cats’ and other dogs’ ears to make sure they were okay!
Other dogs have also seemed more interested in his ears when he’s had an infection.
Some other signs of ear infections include:
- Redness or swelling inside the ears
- Yeasty smell coming from the ears
- Shaking the head
- Itching the ear
- Dark discharge from the ear
If you think your dog has an ear infection, bring them to the veterinarian for a check-up. They can tell you if the ear is infected and prescribe antibiotics or other treatments as needed.
Don’t try to treat ear infections at home, but do ask your veterinarian how to clean your dog’s ears, as this can reduce their chances of developing new infections.
Anal Gland Problems
We never want to see our dogs licking each other’s butts, or even their own! This very normal behavior for dogs grosses most people out!
If your dog is licking your other dog’s butt, it might be that the other dog has some anal gland issues.
Anal glands are located just inside your dog’s rear. They usually clean themselves out when your dog goes poop, but swollen or impacted glands can cause problems, including pain during bowel movements.
Some symptoms of anal sac disease include:
- Scooting their butt on the floor
- The affected dog licks their rear a lot as well
- Your dog’s butt smells bad
- They seem to be in pain while pooping
If your dog has Anal sac disease, or their glands are impacted, they’ll need to see a veterinarian. Your vet will likely “express” or empty your dog’s anal glands for them.
This can also be done at home if you know how, or have your veterinarian teach you. Don’t attempt this at home if you haven’t been taught by a professional, however.
Your veterinarian might also prescribe additional treatment depending on the severity of your dog’s problem, such as antibiotics if they’ve developed an infection.
As I discussed above, licking can be a way that dogs soothe one another. If your dog is anxious, the other dog might lick them to try to calm them down.
Some dogs have anxiety just like some people do, for seemingly no reason. Other dogs might have separation anxiety when you leave home.
Traumatic events or major life changes can also cause anxiety in dogs.
Of course, all of this is different than your dog just feeling anxious when something scary happens, which is normal.
Symptoms of anxiety in dogs include:
- Potty training regression
- Excessive panting or drooling
- Repetitive behaviors such as pacing
- Excessive barking or whining
If you think your dog has anxiety, bring them to a veterinarian for a diagnosis. Your vet will likely rule out physical illness first, then suggest treatment options for anxiety such as desensitization, counterconditioning, or medication.
Depression is another mental disorder that could cause your dog to feel upset and not like themselves. Your other dog might pick up on this and lick them in order to soothe them.
Depression might occur after a big change in your dog’s life, such as a previous owner or another pet passing away. Your dog could also be depressed as a symptom of a physical ailment.
Symptoms of depression in dogs include:
- Change in appetite
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, such as toys or activities
Your veterinarian will likely rule out physical conditions before diagnosing your dog with depression and recommending treatments.
Canine Compulsive Disorder
Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD) in dogs is like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in humans. If your dog is licking your other dog obsessively, this might be the reason why.
Unlike the other medical issues on this list, this one affects the dog doing the licking—not the dog being licked.
Some symptoms of canine compulsive disorder include:
- Obsessive, repetitive behaviors
If the behaviors are negatively impacting either of your dog’s lives, talk to your veterinarian. They might first want to rule out physical illnesses, then prescribe treatment for your dog.
Lack of Socialization
If your dog licks obsessively, especially at other dogs’ mouths, this can be a sign that they weren’t properly socialized.
Dogs lick their mother’s muzzles as puppies to signal that they’d like some food. This behavior continues into adulthood for many dogs and can be used as a greeting.
The problem only arises when the behavior is obsessive. This might mean that your dog never learned how to interact with others properly, so they’re just reusing behavior that they know.
Socialization starts when a dog is a puppy with their mother and siblings, and continues after you bring them home. Puppies should be introduced to a variety of experiences, including other dogs.
If you adopt a puppy too early, they’re more likely to have problems socializing later in life. They might also have behavioral problems such as hard biting, because they never learned bite inhibition through play with their mother and siblings.
Dogs who don’t live with other dogs might also have difficulty socializing, especially if they aren’t regularly able to interact with others. Think about how socially awkward you would be if you couldn’t interact with other people!
I don’t know much about my rescue dog’s backstory, but I do know he had some trouble interacting with other dogs when we first brought him home. He’s always been incredibly friendly, but he was a little awkward (and still is sometimes!).
I’ve always thought this likely had something to do with him not being around other dogs very much when he was young, although of course I can’t know for sure!
Licking has little to do with Dominance
Many people will say that licking is a sign of dominance in dogs. However, dogs don’t really do things to be dominant over others in the way that most people understand.
This myth comes from the dominance theory of dog training, which basically says that you must dominate your dog and let them know that you are the “alpha” or the boss.
The theory itself comes from observation of captive wolves—which is already flawed, because domesticated dog breeds are so much different from wolves!
However, it gets worse when you realize that even wolf packs don’t function in the way that this theory suggests.
Because it was formed through observation of captive wolves, they acted much differently than they do in the wild. They fought one another for dominance because they had limited space and were forced to interact in ways they typically wouldn’t.
In the wild, wolf packs aren’t formed at random. Instead, they are families—a mom, dad, and pups. There is a hierarchy in place, with the mom and dad leading and caring for the group, but it isn’t established through violence.
It’s much like a human family where the parents are in charge because, well, they’re the parents!
When the wolf pups grow up, they mate and form their own packs.
By understanding all of this, we can see that dogs don’t think about dominance nearly as much as some people give them credit for!
Not only is dominance theory based on disproven myths, but we can hurt our dogs when we try to be the “alpha dog.”
This can quickly lead to abusive training methods. Even if it doesn’t, it can promote fear and aggression in dogs.
Luckily, positive training methods are becoming more popular today. Still, many myths persist as people hang onto these old, inaccurate ways of viewing dog behaviors.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus