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Licking is a common dog behavior, and German Shepherds can lick just as much as any other dog breed. In fact, there are certain times when a German Shepherd’s licking can become excessive and too frequent than what is considered normal and healthy for a dog.
But why do some German Shepherds lick so much?
A German Shepherd may engage in excessive licking of themselves or others due to allergies, stress, medical issues, behavioral issues, or as a sensory or attention seeking behavior. In some cases, excessive licking may be their way of showing affection or comfort to their owners or another animal.
In the article below, we’ll look at some of the most common reasons behind why your German Shepherd may be licking excessively, as well as some common misconceptions about why a dog may lick their owner excessively.
We’ll also discuss when your German Shepherd’s licking is a cause for concern, and how to stop them from licking so much.
6 Reasons Why German Shepherds Lick So Much?
While licking is a normal dog behavior, there are certain situations in which the licking can be a result of something abnormal or unique.
Reason 1: Allergies
An allergy to a food or substance is one of the most common reasons a German Shepherd may lick themselves excessively. Chicken, peas, grains, and potatoes are some of the more common food allergens, and excessive paw licking is a primary symptom of those allergies.
Grass allergies are another common culprit of excessive licking of their body (especially their legs and underbelly), as are contact allergies with things like household cleaners, beauty products, or essential oils.
Because allergies are so common in dogs and there are so many possible ones, (and the German Shepherd in particular is known for being sensitive to certain allergens, especially when it comes to food products), it’s important to have your vet conduct some testing to determine the actual allergen that is causing your dog’s excessive licking.
It can be difficult to determine the product that is the root cause of the licking, so working with your vet can help narrow down the suspects so that you can eliminate them from your dog’s diet or living area while leaving in the products that pose no issue for your pup.
Reason 2: Stress
German Shepherds may lick a lot during periods of high stress or anxiety and they are known as a breed that tends to develop anxiety, especially when left alone for long periods.
Licking themselves, their owners, objects, or even another dog can be an indicator that your pup is getting stressed out by something.
Stress licking in dogs can appear compulsive and even obsessive in certain dogs, especially if they are used to using the licking as an outlet for their stress and energy.
If you feel like stress is the root cause of your German Shepherd’s licking habits, speak with your vet or a local reputable trainer about how to help reduce your pup’s stress and redirect them to more appropriate self-soothing behaviors when they are feeling a bit anxious.
Working to identify and remove their stress triggers is also wise and will help them feel more comfortable overall.
Reason 3: Medical Or Behavioral Issue
Aside from allergies, excessive licking is also a common symptom of many other health concerns.
Arthritis, cancers, yeast infections, fungus infections, or bacterial infections can all cause your German Shepherd to lick certain areas more frequently than they normally do, and in a more obsessive manner.
If you notice your pup licking a specific part of their body more often than normal, make sure you inspect the area to see what’s going on and if there’s any rash, lump, or discolored area.
If the area they are licking is a bone or joint area, it’s best to take them to the vet to have the spot scanned to check for arthritis, bone cancers, or dysplasia.
If you live in an area that is occupied by cacti, thorns, splinters, or other spiny things, they can become embedded in your pup’s body and your dog may lick at the area to try and remove them. If in doubt, take your pup to the vet!
Behavioral issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder can also cause excessive licking, and unlike stress licking this type of licking is often present in a variety of situations and environments rather than just when the dog is feeling stressed out or anxious.
It’s also a lot more difficult to stop and prevent compared to stress licking, and veterinary intervention is often required in addition to training and management.
Reason 4: Something Smells Or Tastes Good
Your German Shepherd may lick you a lot if they smell or taste something good on your skin or clothing. Dogs have an incredibly strong sense of smell, and they will often investigate with their mouths if the smell is enticing enough.
Dogs also really like salty things, so human sweat is often a prime reason as to why they are licking you so much. If you’ve got lotion or other skin care products on, they may also try to lick those off.
As many beauty products contain harmful ingredients to dogs, it’s always a good idea to discourage your dog from licking you until your product has fully absorbed into your skin.
Reason 5: Attention Seeking Behavior
German Shepherds like attention from their owners, and they will quickly learn what they need to do to get that attention, sometimes at the expense of their owners.
Dogs primarily learn through association and rewards (or consequences), and if they’ve learned that excessive licking of their owners gets them something they want, they’ll continue to do it!
When your dog goes to lick, they may also engage in other attention seeking behaviors such as pawing at you, staring intently at you, or they may begin barking and whining.
For some dogs, even negative attention is still attention, so you yelling at them to stop or trying to push them away is still giving them the attention they crave.
Certain German Shepherds will continue to lick and lick until their owner gives in and gets them a treat or a toy.
While some licking is just your pup’s way of showing affection, there are other times where the licking becomes so excessive it becomes a true annoyance to the owner.
If this is the case for your German Shepherd, as you can see in the video, it’s important to reach out to a local trainer who can help you redirect your pup and to teach them a more appropriate way of asking for your attention rather than demanding it through their excessive licking.
Reason 6: Comfort Or Affection
Some German Shepherds may engage in excessive licking of others in an attempt to comfort them or to show their affection. They will lick other dogs, other animals, and their owners.
Dogs are very keen on body language, and if you are stressed out or sad your pup may start licking you in their attempt to help you feel better.
Similarly, some German Shepherds may engage in excessive licking of another dog or animal that they are particularly close with.
What Your German Shepherd’s Excessive Licking Probably Isn’t
There are also a few common myths as to why a German Shepherd may lick excessively, but these reasons have no real scientific backing and are unlikely to be the cause of your pup’s licking.
Act of Dominance Or Submission
While dogs do have a social hierarchy and there are dominant and submissive individuals, humans often misconstrue this behavior and apply our own interpretations to it, which are much different than a dog’s interpretation of dominance and submission.
If your German Shepherd is licking you excessively, it’s unlikely that it is their way of trying to dominate your or show you that you are the “alpha” of the relationship.
In these situations, it is more likely that your German Shepherd has learned that excessive licking gets them attention or something they want, rather than their attempts to appease you or indicate their submission to you.
While lip licks can be seen in dogs usually as a sign of uncertainty or appeasement towards another individual, they usually do not lick others and only lick their own lips.
Puppies may lick the mouths of their owners in excitement or as attention seeking behavior, but it is not due to dominance or submission.
Attempt To Bite
Dogs do not often excessively lick before they bite, but they can become overstimulated and mouth their owners after licking them in an attempt to stop the interaction or as an outlet for excessive energy.
Most dogs who have learned good bite inhibition during their critical socialization period will not engage in this unless their owners ignore their body language and work them up too much.
However, those dogs who do not have good bite inhibition may be quicker to mouth and grab at their owners, as do puppies who are still learning appropriate play behavior.
But in general, you do not need to be worried about a dog attempting to bite you if they’ve begun to excessively lick you.
There is an old wives’ tale that a dog licking a wound or bruise could heal it.
As awesome as that might be, the amount of antibacterial properties in a dog’s saliva is not enough to truly “heal” a wound and could cause more harm than good if an infection develops from something in the dog’s mouth.
A dog’s mouth is very dirty, and they often eat a lot of things that could cause bacterial infections in people.
German Shepherds who lick their owners wounds are likely doing it because of the smell or taste of the wound, or because they see that their owner is in discomfort and they are trying to help.
But it is not likely that they are licking in an attempt to heal the wound or injury itself.
Is It Bad If My German Shepherd Licks So Much?
This depends on the reason as to why your German Shepherd is excessively licking. If the excessive licking is due to an allergy, medical condition, or behavioral reason then yes, it’s probably not good for your pup to continue to lick and they should be checked out by the vet.
Similarly, if the excessive licking is due to a training issue, a local dog trainer can help you sort that out. Behavioral issues such as ELS (excessive licking of surfaces) may also need the intervention of an expert.
But if the licking is due to your German Shepherd’s interest in providing comfort or showing their affection to you or another animal, then it’s totally fine if they continue to lick (provided that the recipient of the licking is accepting of it!).
How Do I Get My German Shepherd To Stop Licking Themselves So Much?
If your German Shepherd licks a little too much than you feel is safe for them, a visit to the vet is your first priority to rule out any underlying health issues.
Minor situations may only require some topical sprays to help heal the area and discourage licking until the issue is gone.
A diet change may also be necessary if the underlying cause of the licking is related to a food allergy.
Stress-related licking may require additional intervention from a trainer, and you may need to make bigger changes to help make sure your pup is happy and stress free.
Some dogs can lick so much they open up wounds on their bodies, or they lose their fur around the areas they lick.
So it’s important to first identify why your pup is licking, and then you can figure out how to get the licking to stop.
How Do I Get My German Shepherd To Stop Licking Me So Much?
If your German Shepherd is licking YOU a little too much, it’s best to reach out to a local trainer to try and redirect your dog to a more appropriate outlet for their energy or teach them an alternative way to ask for your attention and express their needs.
Addressing stress-related licking and compulsive licking behaviors is another good idea and may require the intervention of a vet.
Many anti-chew sprays can also be applied safely to your skin, and can discourage your pup from licking you.
Just make sure you are also teaching your dog a more appropriate alternative behavior to licking, or else they’ll go right back to it once the spray has worn off, and/or they may find an even more annoying behavior to engage in!
While licking is a normal dog behavior, there are certain times when your German Shepherd’s excessive licking is a cause for concern.
Allergies, stress, behavioral conditions, medical conditions, and training issues are all possible reasons for excessive licking in a German Shepherd.
The excessive licking may be of themselves, certain objects, their owners, or even other people and animals.
It is unlikely that excessive licking in your German Shepherd is due to a dominance issue, aggression problem, or to heal a wound on your body.
Depending on the reason for the excessive licking, a vet visit or the intervention of a reputable dog trainer may be needed.
In other cases, the licking may just be your German Shepherd’s way of showing affection or providing you with comfort if you are having a bad day!