Dogs don’t have hands, so their mouths are used quite a bit in their day to day lives. You’ve seen your dog consume some of the grossest things in existence, but they also use their mouths to explore their environment. Dogs don’t have the most fine tuned taste buds (which is why they eat almost anything), so they use their tongue in combination with their smell to explore their surroundings.
What does it mean, though, when your dog is happily and almost obsessively licking your couch and furniture?
Compulsive Behavior – The Cause of Couch Licking
This is the number one cause of couch licking. Some dogs are predisposed to compulsive behavior, and it manifests as severe licking. They may lick their paws, other dogs in the house, or any objects they happen to think taste good or feel good on their tongues.
Humans with obsessive compulsive disorder manifest their symptoms with behaviors like obsessive organization, counting, fears, and strict routines. Dogs don’t exactly exhibit compulsion like humans do, but their manifestations are still compulsive, extended, and frequent abnormal variations of normal behaviors.
Licking is a very common manifestation with dogs suffering from compulsion. Licking in itself isn’t abnormal in dogs but when they start licking something obsessively or in situations where you’d consider it abnormal, then it’s time to consider your dog might have a compulsion problem.
What Causes Compulsive Behavior?
The most common trigger for this kind of behavior is stress or a major life change. Maybe you’ve introduced a new pet, a baby, or you’ve recently made a big move. These are all things that trigger enough stress in your dog to elicit compulsive behaviors. Licking releases endorphins in your dog, giving them a sense of relaxation.
When a dog begins to lick during stress, the endorphins start to flow. Very quickly, the dog realizes they get a flood of good feelings during stress when they start licking. If they happened to be licking the couch or other pieces of furniture when they got their endorphin rush, they’ll keep going back to the couch because of their power of association.
How Do You Stop the Couch Licking?
There are two steps to treating compulsive behaviors. You should always start with a veterinary visit. Sometimes the stress can be coming from physical pain or another kind of medical problem, so it’s best to just rule out anything medical to begin with.
Another benefit to a medical visit is you can possibly get your dog started on medications that help with anxiety and compulsion.
If there aren’t any medical issues that are making your dog lick compulsively, then your dog needs behavior modification. This can be done with or without a trainer; how bad the licking is will dictate whether you need a trainer or can do it on your own. Redirecting their anxiety to something more productive and normal like exercise is an ideal treatment.
You’ll eventually notice your dog’s anxiety cues, and you can head off a full blown anxiety spiral if you recognize these cues and stimulate your dog’s brain in other ways. Sometimes a slight increase in activity and socialization is enough to reduce your dog’s stress and help discontinue their stress behaviors because their mind is stimulated.
Couch licking seems benign to start with, but eventually, your dog might start licking things that create other problems. A lot of compulsive dogs end up licking themselves until they develop bald patches, hot spots, and skin infections. When your dog starts exhibiting compulsive licking behavior, nip it in the bud as quickly as possible to keep your dog from developing a lot of hard-to-break habits.