Why Do Dogs Lick Themselves?

We all know that cats lick themselves to stay clean, but have you ever noticed your dog doing it too? While dogs do lick themselves for the same purpose, it’s not always a normal behavior. So, why do dogs lick themselves?

Skin Problems

Dogs lick themselves when their skin is irritated or itchy. Have you ever noticed your dog licking their nails if one is chipped or broken? Or maybe they’re gnawing at a red spot on their tummy? 

Skin lesions are one of the most common reasons for excessive licking. It’s part of their instincts and their nature. As their owners, we have to keep an eye on their licking though, as they can cause more harm than good. Their grooming can lead to excessive inflammation, open sores, and infection. 

If you noticed an injury on your pup, take them to the vet to see if any medical attention is required. Sometimes, you may even have to put your dog in “the cone of shame” to keep them from picking at the injury as it heals. 

A dog’s skin can be inflamed for a host of other reasons as well: mites, hormonal disease, food allergies, auto-immune diseases, non-allergy irritation, “hot spots,” and others. A good rule of thumb is to have your pet examined if their skin appears red/irritated, or if they are showing hair thinning or hair loss.

Fleas Cause Dogs to Lick 

Fleas shouldn’t be underestimated! They’re itchy little buggers and your dog hates them. Your dog can also be allergic to them, leading to more discomfort. If your pet is licking the base of their tail, especially to the point of hair thinning or hair loss, they are likely they’re allergic. 

There are plenty over-the-counter and topical flea treatments you can use at home. If the infection is severe, it may require vet intervention. Do yourself a favor and administer superior quality flea control to your pet every month of the year. It only takes one flea! 


Speaking of allergies, have you ever had red and itchy eyes? They’re impossible to not rub! Dogs feel the same way when their allergies start acting up (and yes, dogs do get allergies!). 

Environmental and seasonal allergies are a big thing that causes dogs to lick as well. The bottom line: allergies itch! Environmental allergies can be caused by cleaning supplies, pollen, their diet — pretty much anything that they come into contact with on a near daily basis. 

If you’re worried that your dog has an allergy, you may be able to narrow down the cause yourself based on the symptoms. For example, if they have red spots or are licking their legs a lot after they’ve been outside, they could be either cleaning themselves or allergic to the plants, pesticide/herbicide, or have a bug bite. 


Dogs get bored. When they do, they’ll find ways to fill the time. Sometimes this can be as funny as them chasing their own tail, while other times it can be licking themselves. It’s a benign behavior in most cases and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. If it bothers you, you can try to train that habit out of them by giving your dog attention and distracting them. 

Anxiety or Obsessive Behaviors

If you have an anxious dog, then you’ll know how they handle it. Some of them shake, others don’t let you leave their sight, while some turn to licking. As long as it’s not destructive to themselves, then it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Dogs aren’t able to channel their anxiety into more production avenues like humans are, so this type of behavior is normal. 

However, if you’re concerned about your pup, you can try various relief methods, such as a ThunderShirt, a lot of play time, and long-last chews. 

Be Patient With Your Dog’s Licking Habits

So why do dogs lick themselves? For a lot of reasons. Our pets are individuals who react to the world differently. It may take some time to understand why they’re licking and it will take even longer to turn that habit into something less destructive. You shouldn’t punish your dog for it. Instead, distract them and redirect them until they make the redirection their new go-to habit. 

As their owner, you will have the best sense of whether your pet’s licking is normal. If you have concerns, watch your dog’s signs and body language to figure out what they’re trying to tell you. And if the licking seems strange or worrisome, seek professional help from a veterinarian or dog trainer.