You are here:

Canine Behavior/one dog constantly licks the other


I have two dogs. Sarge is a lab/boxer mix rescued from a shelter at about 6 months of age. He is a very laid back, well behaved, inside and outside dog. My other dog, Todd, is a black Lab/ Golden retriever mix, brought home from my grandmother's at 6 months. He was brought home about 2 days before Sarge. He is pretty jumpy, but he is also well behaved. They are protective of territory but are not aggressive and have never attacked another animal. The dogs were fixed on the same day, after they had lived in my home about a week. Sarge used to be very dominant but as they've aged it has become a very equal relationship. My grandmother brings over her Boston Terrier occasionally, he is about 2 years old and is also fixed. He is awfully behaved. However, on their first meeting, my dogs very quickly established a visible hierarchy (Sarge, Todd, then the terrier) that has been in place ever since. My dogs are about 5 years old now and they are pretty inseparable (even when they escape the yard in a blizzard and are missing for two days). Like many dog pairs, they do everything in sync and always keep each other in sight. They don't really like to play or exercise at all. They won't chase each other or me through the yard, they don't fetch or chase toys, and they would rather lay at your feet and watch you than participate in anything. They are never aggressive and they love to cuddle with me, each other, or guests. Both dogs were diagnosed with heartworms last year and are on medication.In the last 8 months or so, Sarge has begun licking Todd incessantly. He always licks the same general area, from the base of the tail to about halfway up Todd's back, and occasionally down the side a bit. Todd seems indifferent to it, never inviting it, and only once have I ever seen him reject it (with a growl). I have checked Todd all over, looking at the skin for any signs of trouble. I can't find anything. Todd doesn't object to pressure on that area and the skin is clear of any rash or injury. It has happened so much that the hair in that area has changed from black to red, as if Sarge is licking out the color! It happens at almost any time, as if Sarge just notices Todd there when he's walking by, or if both are laying at my feet. Sarge also licks his front paw, which he injured on a stick. That injury has long since healed but the licking continues. Otherwise, they both lick themselves as an occasional grooming, no more than any other dog I've known. There is no mounting or dominance behavior between them or toward my family (4 adults). The licking seemed to decrease about 3 weeks ago, but still happens several times a day. He licks til he is out of breath, takes a break, and does some more. I've tried pushing him off of Todd, telling him no, distracting him with toys, and even a few drops of lemon juice on the skin. Nothing deters him. He does it a while, then just walks away and lays down somewhere else. I'm wondering if there is something I'm missing, if this is a kind of cry for help for either of them, and if there is some way to make him stop.

There's a very clear social hierarchy here (as proven by the visiting Terrier's quick placement at the bottom!)  Sarge is making a statement of submission and affiliation to Todd.  The odd location of this licking might be associated with impacted anal glands.  Are your dogs groomed?  Are their anal glands expressed regularly?

Normally, this sort of grooming behavior is directed at places where the dog higher in social status cannot reach (ears, face, head).  If Todd is not disturbed by this behavior, and when Todd IS disturbed his immediate response (a growl) STOPS Sarge, there's no problem.  There is a way to extinguish this but it is involved.  It requires creating a conditioned response in Todd that is rewarding to a sound or action (clap of hands) while, at the same time (and in separate rooms), Sarge acquires a conditioned response of avoidance.  I would suggest this only if this licking precipitated problems (aggression).

As for Sarge licking his formerly injured paw, this appears to be an acquired self appeasement behavior (like biting your nails, a child sucking his thumb) and is most likely a reaction that calms him (as he associates it with comfort from the injury, although not remembering the injury); as such, it can be a way he manages stress or simply boredom.

You CAN stop the self licking of the paw (which can easily turn into a obsessive behavior and cause lick granuloma) by telling him to "STOP licking".  He will look up.  Praise him and continue as normal.  It will take many repetitions of this to extinguish it IN YOUR PRESENCE but, once a dog has developed this sort of self soothing behavior, totally extinguishing it is quite difficult.

Canine Behavior

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

©2016 All rights reserved.