Dogs can exhibit a wide number of behaviors, some more common, some less so, and some which are utterly bizarre like air licking which often leads dog owners to ask themselves the question of why does my dog lick the air?
Well, the most common answer to the question of why your dog licks the air is him trying to get a better reading on a scent that he may have picked up and is trying to lead said scent to the roof of his mouth to amplify it.
It may sound odd, but dog noses work in mysterious ways and they’re powerful tools for dogs to better interact with and understand the world around them.
Though, that’s not always the case as this particular act can also signify a few other things like anxiety, an inability to reach an irritated area on their body or even submission, among other potential reasons.
As with all canine behavior, it really depends on the context in which it’s done and what other forms of body language are incorporated in the act which can help you better discern the actual cause.
The behavior is normally nothing to worry about, but there are a few instances in which a dog licking the air can relate to a potential health issue.
If you’d like to find out most of the common reasons behind your pupper licking away at the air, be sure to read on.
Why Does My Dog Lick The Air: The 9 Top Reasons
1. Enhancing His Sense Of Smell
Despite being the most common reason, it’s certainly one that sounds the weirdest and most nonsensical of the bunch, but the truth is that it’s very real.
Their sense of smell is incredibly advanced and much sharper than that of humans, even going as far as allowing the dogs to recognize the emotional state of the person close to them by picking up on the pheromones excreted by the person.
This is all thanks to the vomeronasal organ (also known as Jacobsen’s organ if you’re looking it up), which opens up around the roof of their mouths.
It’s the one used to process the chemicals in the air to get a better read on what can be found in the surrounding area, and the way dogs put that organ to work even better is by scooping up some of the particles in the air with their tongue to bring it closer to the roof of the mouth.
This brings it to the organ quicker and allows for a faster and more detailed processing of said information, allowing dogs to make a decision and act faster on the given information.
This behavior can be particularly common in hunting dogs who are tracking particularly difficult prey or for search dogs looking for missing humans.
2. He Can’t Reach A Skin Irritation
Dog’s like to scratch the itch using their mouth sometimes, either by biting or gnawing at the affected area to try and calm it down.
However, dogs who simply can’t reach the affected area because they’re not flexible enough or it’s in a really awkward and hard to reach place will often end up being stuck trying to stick their tongue out to try and reach it, leaving them just licking at the air.
The same is true for dogs who can reach the spot, but were trained to not do this sort of behavior so they end up stuck in choice paralysis resulting in air licking once more.
The cause of it is clear at the very least, likely some form of infection or some pest like a flea or tick annoying your canine companion.
The best way of resolving this one is by getting some topical flea or tick ointment, or a medicated shampoo, depending on the reason behind the itch, and helping your big boy out with his problem.
3. He Has Food Stuck Between His Teeth
Once again, a behavior similar to ours, albeit much more pronounced, is when your dog ends up having some kibble or a few strands of tasty meat stuck between his teeth that annoy him and that he wants to get out.
He’ll try using his tongue for this, much like we would, but his will often end up sliding out and make it appear as if he was licking the air when really he was just trying to get a bit of extra food for himself.
That said, make sure to check his mouth out regardless, particularly if he’s doing this right after gnawing on a bone or some of the harder foods as they can end up hurting his mouth and he may be trying to pry a stuck splinter out to prevent it.
You can lend him a helping hand here, just be careful so you don’t get bit in response to a sudden wiggle.
4. He’s Suffering From A Tooth Infection Or Other Dental Problem
Another common reason for your dog to be licking the air would be if his biting power has been compromised in any way.
Things like irritations and abscesses in his mouth are likely to cause that which is why you’ll see him lick away at the air seemingly while he’s just trying to lick against the injured area to try and get it to go away so he can eat normally again.
If you notice him have a reduced appetite or an outright refusal to eat the dry stuff, as well as drooling excessively or dealing with a particularly stinky breath, he may be suffering from one such injury or infection.
Should that be the case, get him to a vet as quickly as you can so he can diagnose the problem and remedy it to the best of his ability.
5. Your Dog Is Stressed Out
A common cause of your dog licking the air is tied to forms of anxiety and stress as well. When he’s afraid of something or nervous about a particular event, you’ll see him licking at the air on top of likely restless or submissive behavior, depending on the trigger.
The best thing you can do here is to try and get him to calm down by being there for him.
If you’re the cause of the problem, pinpoint what the trigger is and try changing that behavior up if at all possible, or at least reducing its intensity.
If that doesn’t work, then consult a vet or pet behavior specialist on the matter to see what else can be done.
If the problem persists, your last resort may be anti-anxiety medication, but it’s not recommended unless absolutely necessary.
6. It’s A Compulsion
The anxiety of some dogs may have gotten so severe that it has left a lasting impact on their psyche which manifested itself as a compulsion to lick the air even when there’s seemingly no trigger.
If this seems to be the case, a talk with the vet may be necessary to try and find ways to treat this and hopefully cure it even though there aren’t any bad long term issues with this.
7. An Act Of Submission
In some cases, the submissive dog will lick at the air as a sign of submission to the dominant dog or the dog owner in question, acknowledging his superiority and bowing his head to them.
This can, however, lead to the anxiety bit mentioned above, so if your dog is doing this whenever you’re around, you may want to try being a bit friendlier to him or determining the trigger for this behavior and nipping it in the bud.
8. Issues With Digestion
Oftentimes, when we’re experiencing some form of stomach cramp or nausea, we’ll be making faces, the same goes for your dog in this case when he’s dealing with a particular tummy problem.
Licking the air is one of the methods he might use to help deal with the onset of the problem, but he too may cringe and form pained expressions if it’s a particularly nasty bout of constipation or stomach cramp.
Those are the milder ones at least, but if the air licking is followed up with more severe symptoms like diarrhea, lack of an appetite or severe vomiting episodes, he may be dealing with a bigger problem.
Regardless of the severity of the issue, you’ll likely still need a visit to the vet to determine the exact cause of the problem and how to fix it.
Usually it’ll revolve around moving to a different diet, at least temporarily, but in the more severe cases, your dog may be prescribed some medication to help remedy the issue at hand.
9. It’s A Way Of Expressing Gratitude
To end on a positive note, you may notice your dog licking the air when you’re giving him a back scratch or a belly rub.
Alongside the usual leg thumping, it’s a way of showing his thanks for you helping him out and showing that you care for him, though don’t be surprised if the air licking turns into you yourself getting a few licks on the arm in question or the face.
Is Air Licking A Bad Thing Then?
Not really, not in most cases, and even in the cases where it’s bad, the act is simply an indicator of a problem, not the problem itself.
Once the actual problem is gone, the licking will cease and your dog will be back to his old self. And for the cases where it’s a good sign, it’s usually an essential part of the process like with the enhanced sniffing one in particular.
Why does my dog lick the air? The question on many pet parents’ minds that is often boiled down to the fact that their dog is trying to track something tasty down.
In rarer cases it’s also a sign of anxiety or a potential issue with either something in their mouth or their GI tract which will warrant a visit to the vet, but know that most of the problems with air licking as a symptom are easily remedied.
The hardest one is arguably the one related to anxiety as that may require resocialization or added behavioral training from an expert depending on how deep rooted it is, but should still be fine in the long run.
Whatever the case may be, I trust that you’ll do what’s in your power to help your furry friend out.
Until next time, pet parents.
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