From puppy to adult Faith, my Shiba Inu, has been a licker but I never understood why. She would rush over to lick my legs dry after the gym or a shower. Here is what I’ve learned.
Licking is an instinctive action for Shiba Inus. It’s a sign of affection, a way for them to bond, a natural stress reliever, and a warning sign of allergies. Due to licking’s multiple uses and benefits, it’s easy for some to develop a bad habit of licking themselves and others compulsively.
I was able to answer why she loved to lick after reading articles, watching several videos, and talking to my vet over a couple of routine visits. Here is what I know.
Why Shiba Inus Lick
Licking is an instinctive action for both dogs and puppies. They learn it at a young age while with their mothers, where licking was used for cleaning, bonding, warming them up when they are cold, and helping them go to the bathroom.
From a young age, your Shiba Inu learns that licking is a vital part of communication and they carry that lesson well into adulthood. But there is always a reason behind it. Some common reasons a dog will lick are:
Licking is a sign of affection for them, it’s one of the ways they can show they love and care about something. They’ll use it to not only try to cheer you up but to also build a bond with you.
Shiba Inu’s can have allergies just like us. Doggy allergies usually show as patches of dry irritated skin. We have a dedicated article going over common Shiba Inu health issues and allergies here.
Licking, like barking, is a great attention grabber. If they want you to do something most dogs will start to make noises and lick you in the hopes that you’ll do what they want you to do. It could be for food, playtime, more water, to go on a walk, affection, or a whole host of other things.
With how useful and helpful licking can be for dogs it’s common for it to become an issue if left unchecked, and potentially become a compulsive behavior. This could be self-grooming, licking their bed, licking your couch, licking you, or really anything for extended periods of time. More on that in the OCD bit coming up.
Shiba Inus are intelligent, independent, high-energy, and hunters. All of those traits together lead to a real disaster when left alone and bored. If you don’t give them things to do or play with they’ll find things to entertain themselves with, such as furniture and carpet chewing.
It’s no surprise that Shiba Inu’s are called “cat-like” due to their rigorous grooming schedule. They’ll use licking and gnawing to clean things like dirt and bugs off themselves.
Dogs are emotional animals, and Shiba Inu’s are no exception. Shiba Inu are family dogs that love to stick to and build bonds with their family members. Licking is a way for them to try and cheer you and others up if they think you are upset.
In extremely rare cases it’s possible your pup has a hormone imbalance. “When a dog doesn’t produce the required thyroid hormones in cases of hypothyroidism (too little) and hyperthyroidism (too much) it can result in hair thinning, shedding, and hair loss. Dogs are more likely to lick exposed skin which results in more common lick granulomas.” Source here: allthingsdogs.com.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is rare in pets, but still possible. This is typically shown as non-stop licking of themself, other pets, carpet, furniture, or even you. Just like in the “bad habit” section listed above, with how helpful licking is for dogs it’s common for it to go out of control if left unchecked.
It can lead to bald patches of fur or even sores on their tongues. Contact your vet to get their professional opinion if your Shiba Inu consistently licks for 5-10+ minutes several times a day, even after redirecting their attention elsewhere.
Similar to soothing allergic reactions, Shiba Inus will use licking to try and soothe any aches or pains that have from cuts, scratches, stings, or wounds.
A Shiba Inu’s nose is one of their best senses. They’ll use it to figure out if you are eating something they want a piece of and lick you in the hopes of getting some. This is used at a young age to get their mothers to regurgitate partially digested food, usually by licking her lips or face while she’s eating.
Stress & Anxiety
Dogs get stressed and anxious just like us and typically turn to licking to calm themselves down. Licking releases dopamine and endorphins in dogs, both being feel-good chemicals that help improve their moods. It’s possible for it to become a nervous tick.
Sweat contains salt and acidic chemicals that taste great to dogs, so they will rush over to you and lick any bare patches of skin they can get to after you’ve exercised. Everybody also has a unique smell and taste to them, some are more interesting to dogs than others.
What Constant Paw And Crotch Licking Means
Licking is used for self-grooming, soothing, and to show they are comfortable in the environment they are in.
Self-licking and grooming are completely normal and natural for dogs unless it goes on for several minutes at a time. Paw and crotch licking can quickly become a bad habit, coping mechanism, or nervous tick for your Shiba Inu.
Constant licking could be caused by many different things, but some common causes are:
– Fleas / Ticks
– Stress / Anxiety
The best thing you can do is interrupt the behavior and do one of the following:
1) Check to see if they have any injuries or skin irritation, if so contact your vet.
2) Redirect their attention towards a walk, play-time, a food puzzle, or even training so it doesn’t become a bad habit.
Some people will even tell their Shiba “leave it” to get them to stop what they are doing, then reward them with a treat for listening.
More on whether or not their licking is a problem in a bit.
Why They Like To Lick Any Part Of You They Can Get
Shiba’s are a very clean breed, they could see cleaning/drying you off as “helping”, “showing affection”, “or seeing what you’ve been up to”. Some things they are thinking are:
We touch almost everything with our hands, and your dog may be trying to see, or taste, what you’ve been up to.
Our feet almost always have a “certain smell” to them, and pets tend to find it interesting. Even better if you just took your socks and shoes off.
Face licking is instinctive for dogs, but not for a loving reason. Puppies learn to lick their mother’s face and lips to get her to vomit her food so they can eat some of it. It’s one of the steps puppies take to transition from milk to hard food.
But you have to be careful with face licking, the skin on your face is thinner and more sensitive than the rest. A dog’s mouth is full of harmful bacteria to us, so be sure to clean up afterward.
Shiba Inus will typically lick your legs, ankles, arms, and so on when there’s something there that interests them. The most common is sweat from exercising, they find it tasty, but water after a shower or even lotion are also favorites for some.
Just like your hands, the clothes you wear are like a record of what you’ve been up to for your dog. They love to sniff and lick the interesting bits, food stains being the common favorite.
Some common situations I’ve been in are:
- Faith will rush over to lick my legs right after I get home from the gym, so instead of letting her I ignore her and immediately lock myself in the bathroom, I wouldn’t leave until I was both clean and dry, then she’d leave me alone.
- Moisturizers, ointments, or other lotion-type products have become an exciting focus at times. Making sure I don’t apply too much while waiting for it to dry some helps, but ultimately “leave it” and keeping Faith a few feet away while it dries has solved that for me.
- Hand licking usually turns into nail cleaning for me, it’s nothing painful but definitely weird. I get around this by making sure my hands are clean, especially after cooking or cleaning then avoid putting my hands near her mouth.
- Faith loves to lick feet and toes, even better if you just took your socks and shoes off near her. I put my used socks in a hamper she can’t get into and us either “no” or “leave it” if she starts getting too curious.
How To Tell If Licking Is A Problem
Each individual dog is different, some lick more or less than others. But If your pet SUDDENLY starts going on massive licking sprees out of nowhere, something is up. Some common causes are:
– Dry Skin
If you are worried your Shiba’s licking is starting to get out of hand there are some steps you can take to remedy it.
1) Find the root cause – Everything with dogs has a cause and effect, finding the reason your pet has started constantly licking will make stopping it exponentially easier. Refer to the sample list of causes above.
2) Pattern interrupt – Once you find the trigger for their licking you want to interrupt the effect, stop them right before or when they actively start to lick. Commands, snapping, whistling, gently touching them, or even standing up are great ways to get your Shiba’s attention.
3) Redirect their attention – Once you have their attention you want to suggest a different action and reward them for it. For example: Tell them “leave it”, give them a treat when they stop, then give them a toy to chew on. The new action can be anything you’d like them to learn or do. Training, tricks, puzzles, or exercise are other great options.
4) Calm consistency is key – You and the people around you have to be consistent with this “attention redirection”. This won’t work if you stop your Shiba’s licking and give them a toy while someone else lets them go and gives them treats. You and the people around you need to work together and be on the same page. This will be a slow process, getting mad or irritated will only stress your pet out and possibly make it worse.
This could take a few days or weeks depending on how strong of a habit it’s become, but you’ll thank yourself for working through it later.
Steady licking from allergies and irritations should immediately be brought up to your vet’s attention.
Other Common Questions
Why morning licks?
Could be their “morning hello” after you’ve both been sleeping.
Why me more than anybody else?
You could be their favorite, or taste the best at the moment.
Why do they lick while I’m petting them?
It’s a sign of affection and thanks.
Why lick my face after I ate?
They want the food you just ate. If they start licking your face and mouth they are trying to get you to throw the food up so they could get some, which is what they do to their mothers at a young age when transitioning from milk to hard food.