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When we see our dogs licking their lips, we usually assume it has to do with food. And often times, it does. But in some cases, it's something else altogether, like something behavioral or medical. In general, dogs lick their lips as a form of communication through body language. Knowing what they're trying to say can help you resolve any issue they may be experiencing. Here are some reasons - outside of food - why your dog may be licking his or her lips.
Dogs sometimes lick their lips when they're put in uncomfortable or stressful situations. Some trainers and researchers believe that licking lips is an initial stress response for dogs. Unfortunately, this response can become an obsessive habit over time. So if your dog is licking because he or she is stressed, it's best to redirect your dog in a positive way. For example, give your dog a command and then reward him for obeying. It's tempting to comfort your anxious pup, but this can actually reinforce his feelings.
On a related note, dogs may lick their lips when feeling threatened or fearful. They may be licking them as a submissive behavior or appeasement gesture to a perceived threat, as a way to avoid or avert aggression. Just remember that, while your dog is trying to prevent aggression, he or she is still distressed and may become defensive if the issue persists. Thus it would also be best to redirect your dog in a positive manner in these instances.
Dogs may also lick their lips when they are frustrated or confused. In these situations, lip licking is often viewed as another appeasement gesture. An example of when you may observe this includes when your dog can't figure out what you're asking of him or her. For example, during a training session. When you see your dog licking his or her lips in these instances, it signals that it's time to end your training session. Make sure to end on a positive note, even if it means asking your dog to do something easy.
Sometimes, dogs lick their lips because of a physical ailment. It could be due to nausea, vomiting, mouth pain, sudden dietary changes, gastroesophageal reflux, dental disease, pancreatitis, intestinal obstruction, etc. In addition, lip licking when accompanied by nausea and vomiting could be signs of kidney, liver or Addison's disease. If you see any abrupt or odd changes in your dog's behavior, including an onset of lip licking, it's best to call the vet.