What Does It Mean When a Dog Licks Their Lips

Does your dog lick their lips before they are given their dinner, or when you are eating yours?

You know this is simply because they are drooling over food and want to eat it.

However, what about when they lick their lips when there is no food around?

Does this mean they are hungry, thirsty or sick?

What does lip licking mean?

Discover what it really means when your dog is licking their lips.

dog licking lips

What is Means

When a dog licks their lips when there is no food present, they are usually trying to send a message of how they are feeling. Lip licking is known as a calming signal in a dog’s behaviour. A dog will lick their lips if they are stressed or uncomfortable with a situation where they may feel a threat. They will lick their lips to show another animal or person that they may see as a threat to ward off aggression.

An example of this may be when a dog has been disciplined for doing something wrong and in return licks their lips at their owner because they see them as a threat. Their owner may be yelling at them so the dog will lick their lips to try and reconcile.

Your dog may also be licking their lips when they are frustrated or confused. Many owners will witness this when they are trying to teach their dog a trick as the dog will be having trouble understanding what is being taught and get frustrated.

Another reason a dog may be licking their lips is if they have a health-related issue. This will usually be an excessive lick, which could mean that they have nausea, a dental disease, or mouth pain. Look for other signs of illness associated with the excessive licking if you are worried.

dog licking lips

What to Do 

While lip licking is considered a submissive gesture that is meant to prevent aggression from escalating, it can still be a sign that a dog is feeling uncomfortable with a situation or stressed.

Your dog licking their lips while you are yelling at them is their first attempt to stop your aggressive behaviour. If this behaviour continues and your dogs attempts to lick their lips don’t stop you from yelling at them, they may become defensive and aggressive in the future. So, if you see your dog licking their lips, it is best to stop any aggressive behaviour toward them and let them have some space to get comfortable again.

If your dog is licking their lips due to a situation that makes them nervous (like the vet or in the car) it is best to try redirect them in a positive manner. You could ask them to perform and trick and reward them. Avoid comforting them in these situations as it may reinforce their fear or anxiety.

If you are trying to train your dog to do something and they are licking their lips due to confusion, you should try to quickly end on a positive note. Ask your dog to do something they already know how to do to make them feel more comfortable. Next time, try to break, down the action/behaviour into smaller segments to make it easier for your dog to understand. 

If your dog is exhibiting and excessive licking behaviour when there is no food or clear threat around, you should try to assess why. There may be something in their environment that is stressing them out, or they could have a health problem. Look for other signs of illness/discomfort and if you are still unsure, take a trip to the vet.

dog licking lips

If you’d like more vet approved pet health advice, sign up to our monthly newsletter here, or visit www.vetshopaustralia.com.au/Pet-Health.

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