How To Stop A Pug From Licking So Much (And Why They Do It)


Despite there being some behavioral and temperamental similarities between pugs and cats, licking is done for completely different reasons. Dogs don’t lick to clean themselves like cats do. Rather, it’s usually related to some sort of issue that needs to be addressed before they will stop this licking behavior.

While licking can be interpreted as a mark of affection, a pug that excessively licks can also stem from behavioral and health issues. Depending on what it is, it can be stopped with a proper diet, medication, training, and sufficient physical and mental stimulation.

There are several reasons that can explain why a pug might be licking so much. Constant licking in one particular area can signal that something is wrong. Identifying the root cause will help owners understand the types of measures that can be taken in order to stop or prevent their pug’s licking behavior.

Affectionate Licking

For dogs, licking happens from the earliest moments of their lives. As newborns, their mothers will often lick them to keep them clean, encourage breathing, stimulate defecation, and as a sign of affection. Puppies learn to respond by licking their mothers back, thus strengthening their relationship.

This gesture translates to their owners, and a pug may lick your face, hands, legs, and anything in between to express their love to you. They’re fantastic companion dogs that are affectionate and they aren’t afraid to show it. While some people enjoy sloppy kisses from their dog, I would think twice before letting them lick your face and mouth. Not only do dogs lick themselves often, but they eat many things you wouldn’t dare to. There’s a high possibility that these kisses can spread some nasty bacteria to you as a result.

Additionally, if a pug thinks something is wrong with their owners, they may decide to lick and nudge them in an attempt to check on their wellbeing. If they notice unresponsiveness or that they are unconscious, it may trigger them to look for help. Other times, they’re simply licking off the lotion or salty sweat that’s on your skin.

Instinctively, wild dogs use licking to maintain harmony within their pack. Dominant pack members will often get licked by lower-ranking dogs. This is a submissive gesture that is seen as a sign of respect. For your domesticated pug, you may notice ear-licking with other dogs. While it may look like an act of grooming, many believe that this is a gesture of affection. Households with multiple dogs can often be seen doing this. It confirms that they’re comfortable with each other and consider each other as part of the same pack.

Ear licking between dogs is considered normal behavior. However, if your pug is getting excessively licked, it can irritate their ears. Just make sure it doesn’t go on for too long and there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Although, if you do notice an ear infection as a result of the licking, you can treat it with an ointment from your veterinarian. Make sure your pug is isolated from the offending dog until their ears are fully recovered.

Behavioral: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Aside from affection, it can also be an indication that they want something from you or it can even be a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Stress, boredom, and anxiety can cause a pug to lick excessively. For example, they may look like they’re licking the air, but this action helps provide them with comfort. It’s similar to how humans find relief when biting on their finger nails. That’s because licking is believed to have a calming effect on dogs from the endorphins that get released (Animal Planet, 2012).

Lip licking can be used as a coping mechanism by pugs during times of discomfort. In order to help alleviate their stress and anxiety, we must first figure out what is causing it. Owners need to understand that their decisions, no matter how big or small, will have an impact on their pets. For example, lifestyle changes can be very significant for a pug. There are a lot of unknowns that come with new surroundings and environments.

When moving houses, it can be made easier by keeping their toys and blankets close by. These familiar items can make the new space feel more comfortable. I’d recommend exploring the new area together as well to show that this is new surrounding is safe. If there are new and unfamiliar household members (guests, roommates, and babies), work on building a new sense of trust so they aren’t perceiving them as threats. Alternatively, having someone move out can be stressful for a pug as well. Finally, you will want to work on acclimating them to a new schedule slowly so that any changes in their routine is not so drastic.

Separation Anxiety

OCD in the form of licking can also be triggered by separation anxiety. That’s because pugs are known to be quite clingy and are often referred to as “velcro dogs”. This essentially means they’re likely to be stuck to you and will continuously follow you around like they’re your shadow. Because they were bred to be more naturally dependent, providing them with quality attention is all part of the package.

The key difference is that a clingy pug will prefer to be by their owner’s side but will be quite independent when alone. In contrast, a pug suffering from separation anxiety will panic when their owner is not there. At this stage, you’ll likely witness your pug licking excessively as a coping mechanism for this disorder. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and reverse this behavioral problem, and it can be achieved through:

  • Physical and mental stimulation – daily activities that exert energy will help calm your pug for the rest of the day. This can come in the form of walks, jogs, fetch, and playing tug with your pup. Not only is this good for controlling their hyperactivity and maintaining their weight, but it is also great for their mental stimulation as they’ll likely be exposed to new environments. They’ll get tired more quickly and will probably prefer to sleep or relax for the rest of their day. I recommend 20-30 minutes of exercise per day.
  • Desensitizing your dog to specific actions and movements – certain actions and movements of their owner may trigger a dog’s anxiety. Your pug will associate specific actions negatively, and to them, it will mean that you’re about to leave them alone. For example, putting on socks and shoes, or grabbing your keys usually means you’re about to leave home. A great way to desensitize your dog is by performing these everyday actions purposely but without leaving them alone. Eventually, they’ll see it enough times and get tired of responding to these triggers.
  • Give your pug the attention that it needs – it can be as simple as giving it the right amount of attention that’s needed so that it won’t feel neglected. Sometimes, it’s not enough to go on a 30-minute walk. The quality of your interactions makes a big difference too. Take the time to play with your dog and give them a much-deserved belly rub!
  • Setting boundaries – when your dog is exhibiting clingy behaviors like whining, whimpering, pawing at you, or jumping on you, it is advised to ignore them. Giving any attention to them will consequently enable that behavior. They’ll repeatedly do this as they’ll know it’ll catch your attention, and a response will be given to them. Additionally, teaching them to “wait”, “stay”, or “stop” when they follow you is a great way to set boundaries. If they follow your command, make sure to reward them with praise and treats to reinforce this more desired behavior.
  • Create a safe space for them – give your pug an alternative special place to go when you’re looking for some privacy. Rather than deterring them from following you into the bathroom, create a safe and comforting space for them where they can feel at ease. Perhaps it’s their bed or playpen, and you can decorate the area with your dog’s favorite toys, blankets, and long-lasting treats. This would be a great spot to keep them in when you need to leave the house.

Hopefully, these tips can be implemented to successfully manage your pug’s anxieties and to stop the licking behavior. It will certainly take some time and even a combination of these techniques to make your dog feel at ease while left alone. Being patient and disciplined with your approach is essential if you want your pug to become more independent.

Excessive Licking of Surfaces

Pugs are highly motivated by food and will often lick the floor for scraps when made available to them. But if they’re licking consistently surfaces, especially without food being present, then that can be a sign of an issue. Studies have shown that gastrointestinal issues (GI) may be a cause for excessive licking of surfaces (ELS). It can include floors, walls, and furniture. This makes it a health problem rather than a behavioral issue.

A sample group of dogs that excessively licked were monitored for 90 days after they were treated for GI abnormalities like irritable bowl syndrome and more. 59% of ELS dogs showed significant improvement, while 53% completely stopped licking. As a result, GI disorders should be considered when diagnosing ELS in canines.

Try and look out for GI related symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and depression. The best way to prevent this is to ensure that they’re not eating anything they shouldn’t be, like table scraps and toxic foods. Their diet needs to be appropriate for their health and lifestyle to rule out any nutritional deficiencies. It’s recommended that you notify your veterinarian of any ELS or GI related symptoms as soon as they’re noticed.

Another reason why you need to address floor licking immediately is due to the household cleaning products that can potentially be ingested. A lot of these chemicals can be toxic for your pug, so if you have a dog suffering from ELS, you may want to consider some pet-friendly alternatives for your pug to avoid them from getting sick.

Health Problems

Skin Issues

Excessive licking that may look like a cat grooming itself can mean that a pug might be suffering from health issues like sensitive or irritated skin. Check the spots that they’re licking to see if there is any redness or swelling. The vet may prescribe a treatment plan that includes a topical medication and even a diet change. It will be up to them to determine this based on their diagnosis.

A lot of the times, skin issues can be traced back to allergies when coming in contact with bacteria, parasites, and fungus outdoors. These organisms can cause extreme itchiness and inflammation in the areas they infect. It’s a common problem for pugs that spend a lot of time playing outside, so it’s important that worming medication and vaccinations are up to date. Improper de-worming can also lead to digestive disorders that cause excessive saliva production. Licking the air can sometimes be mistaken for your pug trying to swallow the buildup of saliva in their mouth.

Arthritis

Pugs that are suffering from joint conditions like arthritis will likely lick ares that are inflamed, stiff, and causing pain. It’s usually the result of being overly active as younger pups. Stress and pressure on their joints can be caused by years of accumulated actions like jumping on and off objects. Obesity can speed this condition up as the excess weight puts more strain on their joints. Besides licking, other symptoms include limping, restricted movements, tiredness, and muscle atrophy.

Arthritis can also be a byproduct and result of diseases like hip dysplasia and luxating patella. Treatment will usually consist of a joint care plan that includes joint supplementations like canine glucosamine and fish oil. These are particularly great for supporting a pug’s cartilage structure and joint function, while reducing inflammation. An orthopaedic pet bed can really help increase comfort, restore their mobility, help them sleep better, and alleviate some of that pain.

Neurological Conditions

Serious neurological issues like seizures can cause a pug to lick as a response. That’s because abnormal muscle reactions can be triggered from the electrical activity caused by a seizure. After the initial stage of localized twitching, it is likely followed by symptoms including licking, snapping, confusion, and shaking. It’s imperative that you take your dog to the vet immediately if your pug experiences are seizure.

Pugs can develop dog dementia, or Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), as they age. This is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, whereby symptoms are mild before gradually worsening overtime. This cognitive decline leads to lower awareness, memory, and learning abilities. It can also cause new issues like excessive licking and barking to arise. Treatment includes lifelong behavioral therapy, medication, and support. It’s important that you continue to play, train, and exercise your pug regularly.

Dental Problems

Owners that neglect brushing their pug’s teeth can often lead to the formation of dental diseases and even tooth loss. To deal with the pain inside their mouth, dogs will lick their lips, nose, and even the air for comfort. Additional symptoms include weight loss, smelly breath, and drooling. We recommend brushing your pug’s teeth every 2-3 days to remove the buildup of plaque, tartar and bacteria. Good dental hygiene is not only good for their health, but a lost or dislocated tooth can set you back around $850 USD.

If you catch your pug displaying odd licking behaviors, try and open their mouth to see if anything is stuck inside. Air licking is a common reaction when something is lodged in their teeth. Owners that feed peanut butters to their pugs will be privy to this when it gets stuck to the roof of their mouth. This is completely harmless and you can even try and remove the leftover residue yourself. Sometimes, it can be as simple as that, so always investigate before assuming the worst case scenario.

Wounds

Dog saliva contains enzymes that directly attacks bacteria and promotes healing. So when a pug is stung by an insect or has any sort of wound, they’re likely to lick at it to kill the germs. If they can’t reach the area, you may find them licking the air instead for comfort. Bites and stings can come from spiders, mosquitoes, bees, and wasps. Accidents can happen at any moment, so it might be wise to look at some pet insurance options. They can save you financial stress when unforeseen incidents occur, and some insurers even offer it as part of your own personal health insurance plan.

Sensory Information

One of the most important ways for a dog to take in sensory information is from their nose. For optimal function, a pug will lick their nose so that it remains moist. This helps enhance their sense of smell, and will often do this when trying to take in a strong scent. Sometimes, they will look like they are licking the air when they do this.

A pug’s nose is also vital in helping with their temperature control. It acts as a cooling system so it needs to be kept moist to function effectively. Nose licking may seem comical but it’s essential to their wellbeing. That’s because brachycephalic breeds like the pug is prone to overheating in high temperatures and when overexerted.

Requesting Food

From an early age, puppies have instinctively learned to jump on their mother and lick their face as a way to ask for food. While they’re not going to take any food away from her by force, it’s more or less a way to do it submissively. Of course, it can also just be a means to show affection to their mothers too. Your pug will see you as their owner and the alpha of the pack, so jumping up and licking you could mean that they want food.

This is deeply rooted into dogs as it’s known that their ancestors, the wolf, would be greeted by their pups after a hunt with face licking. This was to signal that they are hungry. With that said, I recommend sticking to a routined feeding schedule and ignore any begging behavior. Pugs are highly motivated by food and will try to eat at every chance they get. It’s poor behavior and not great for their weight, so don’t let them associate this form of licking as a means to get treats.

7 Ways To Stop Your Pug From Licking So Much

Constant licking in one spot may lead to a loss of fur in that area. If that happens, you may want to look at ways to stop their obsessive licking. Through methods of positive reinforcement, you can deter your dog from licking without making them feel bad. Some of these have already been covered but below is a summarized list of options that you can take.

  1. Ignore your pug – excessive licking can be a way for your pug to garner a reaction, especially if they’re being neglected or not receiving enough quality attention. If a dog notices that their licking behavior will get them attention, then it’s something they’ll likely repeat. If you do prefer to discourage your pug from licking, simply ignore them and don’t give it any recognition of it. Once they stop, give them treats and praises so they can positively associate this action as something good. If you’re consistent, they’ll eventually stop licking and realise they won’t be rewarded with anything their obsessive compulsive licking.
  2. Exercise – is a fantastic form of physical and mental stimulation for dogs. I recommend 20-30 minutes of daily exercise for your pug. This should be enough to burn off any excess energy and maintain their weight, without overexerting them. Exposing them to new environments and providing social interactions will satisfy their curios nature. If this isn’t part of their daily routine, boredom can really affect their mental state, and lead to excessive licking as a response.
  3. Quality time and attention – as mentioned, exercise is part of their overall care, but sometimes that just isn’t enough. The quality of the time you give them is very important as well. For example, if the same route is taken each day when walking your pug, he/she may not be stimulated enough. Time spent training, playing, cuddling, and doing activities together throughout the day is just as important. Pugs are naturally more dependent, so if they’re not getting quality interactions with their owners, it can lead to stress, boredom, and anxiety.
  4. Training – teaching your pug a command to stop licking can be an option. Sounds like “nah-ah” or “no” can be used when you notice their licking. As soon as they stop licking, reward them with a treat and praises. Eventually, your positive reinforcement will help them recognize that the appropriate action is to stop. You can also teach your pug to seek attention in other ways. For example, when they sit, positively reinforce this action so they continually use it as a way to signal for your attention instead.
  5. Diet – the food that’s being fed to your pug may not be the most suitable. Some can cause an allergic reaction causing dogs to lick themselves to sooth the itchiness. Look for sensitive skin food options or speak with your veterinarian for a recommendation. A nutritionally deficient dog can often be seen licking floors and other surfaces. To prevent this, ensure that high quality foods (4-5 stars) are being fed to your pug.
  6. Chew toys – can be really useful to prevent excessive licking during stages of dental development and problems. A treat filled chew toy is a great option to deal with their destructive chewing. Rather than licking and biting objects around the house, they’ll likely focus on the toy instead.
  7. Medication – if you’ve tried all of the above methods but fail to see any success in getting your pug to stop licking, then speak with your veterinarian. There are medications that can be prescribed to help alleviate their stress and anxieties. You should also ensure that their vaccinations are up to date and are being regularly de-wormed.

Related Questions

Do pugs like to sleep with their owners? Absolutely, pugs love sleeping and cuddling up with their owners. As puppies, you might want to avoid doing this to establish a sense of separation. An overly clingy pug can develop behavioral disorders like separation anxiety.

Are dog licks really kisses? Yes, it can be. Dogs show affection by licking their owners and other dogs. But it really depends on the situation, as they may simply be licking the salty sweat off your skin, or signalling you for food.

What does it mean when your dog stares at you? Constant eye contact from a dog is believed to help release the “love hormone” oxytocin. This chemical signifies their fondness for someone.

Why does my pug follow me everywhere? Pugs are known as “velcro dogs” because they will follow their owners around the house like they’re a shadow. Pugs were bred to be naturally more dependent and clingy. They follow you because they always want to be part of the action.

References

Animal Planet, 2012. Why Dogs Lick, Dogs that Lick, Ask Victoria Stilwell.

Bécuwe-Bonnet, V. et al., 2012. Gastrointestinal disorders in dogs with excessive licking of surfaces.

Education, n.d. Can Dog Drool Kill Germs?.

PetMD, 2021. Dog Dementia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Life Expectancy.

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