When there is no food around and no delicious scent to smell…but there is a possible threat…does your dog ever lick their lips?
Lip licking, for dogs, is a form of communication. Sometimes when a dog feels there is a threat, they lick their lips to show submission and to diffuse the situation. It shows vulnerability and that they don’t want the situation to escalate.
Turid Rugaas, a dog trainer and behaviorist, refers to lip licking as a “calming signal” or an “appeasement gesture.”
When they feel the need to lick their lips in these situations, it’s because they feel stressed, uncomfortable, or timid about their surroundings.
They want to ward off the unwanted aggression and will do this towards people and animals.
An example in a home setting would be….. coming home to your dog having an accident inside the house and you scold him by yelling in his face. He is excited to see you because you haven’t been home all day and might not connect that the scolding is towards his accident; instead seeing his owner now as a threat. By licking his lips and looking away; the dog is trying to diffuse the situation and show that he is not a threat to his owner.
Another feeling behind a dog licking their lips could come from frustration or confusion.
An example of this is when you are training your dog a new trick. You’re telling him over and over again what you want him to do, but from your point of view he’s being disobedient. If he starts to yawn and lick his lips, he may feel frustrated and confused because how your training him isn’t a way he can understand it.
To get them to start understanding; first take a break. Then try a different teaching method with different signals. If that alone doesn’t work; try changing your environment or surroundings.
The final reason a dog may be licking their lips could be an issue related to their health.
If there is no food, no visible threat, and you don’t believe your dog is confused…they could be feeling nauseous, have a dental disease, or mouth pain. If you believe one of the ladder could be affecting your dog, always take them to a vet to rule it out.
What to do when your dog licks their lips?
Simply back off. Give your dog some space, so you both can calm down.
This is important, because if you miss this signal, the dog may feel like they need to defend themselves.
If you are at the vet or in a public place and this happens; redirect your dogs attention to something else.
Do not comfort your dog when this happens. Comforting them for the behavior reenforces it is okay. Especially at a veterinarians office or in public; you don’t want your dog to feel threaten.
*** Always remember if your dog is a rescue and you don’t know their full history before you got them; something in their environment other than a person or animal could be causing them to feel stressed or uneasy. ***