Why Does My Dog Lick The Air?

The most common reasons for this strange canine behavior

By Megan Kriss | Dog Behaviour

Licking the air

Does your dog lick the air? This behavior can be adorable, but also concerning if you aren’t sure what’s causing it. Let’s talk about some possible reasons that your dog licks the air and what you can do about them.

Sometimes it seems like dogs will lick just about anything. They lick themselves, you, their doggy friends, and even the floor. You may have even seen your dog licking the air around them.

Like most things our dogs do, licking the air can be funny and adorable, but it can also be disconcerting when the cause for the odd behavior isn’t apparent. So why do dogs lick the air?

Let’s take a closer look.

Reasons Your Dog Licks the Air

Like pretty much all dog behaviors, there are several reasons your dog might lick at the air. Some are nothing to worry about, while others may be cause for concern.

Of course, if you’re not sure about the cause of an unusual behavior, if the behavior is persistent or obsessive, or if your dog appears distressed, immediately consult a vet.

It’s also worth noting that “air licking” is different to “lip licking.” The difference isn’t always obvious, but air licking usually involves an extended tongue and looking up into the air, while lip licking is subtler.

Excitement

Licking the air is commonly a response to a strong emotion, like excitement, in dogs. If it happens when your dog is happy, like during play, on walks, or when favorite people arrive, then this is probably the cause.

In this case, there’s generally no need to worry, but if you find the licking annoying or gross, you can try strategies to calm your dog.

During play or a walk, take time out and have your dog sit or lie down. Use calm handling techniques to reduce anxiety and stress.

If it’s in response to people, have the people around them speak calmly and quietly or even ignore your dog until they relax. If it’s in response to other dogs, have your dog sit where they can’t interact with the dog, then stroke and speak soothingly to them until they relax. Of course, if this seems to be causing more frustration because your pet can’t get to the other dog, you may need to increase the separation distance.

For particularly excitable dogs, keeping them in another room or on the opposite side of a fence from humans or other dogs until they calm down can help.

Keeping the dog in the same room or area but on a leash so they can be controlled can also be effective, especially as a strategy to transition an excitable dog into the room with everyone else. However, many dogs are leash reactive, so avoid using this strategy around other dogs, especially if they’re off leash.

A dog licking the air outside

Stress or Anxiety

On the flip side, licking the air can also be a sign that the dog is stressed or anxious. If the licking is in response to a particular stressful event, it’s usually pretty easy to spot because that’s the only time the air licking occurs.

Then you can focus on training and other methods to help your dog deal with the stressful event.

If your dog is licking the air in response to chronic anxiety, it can be a little bit more difficult to tell since the behavior occurs regularly.

Look for signs of anxiety like:

  • Excessive drooling or shedding
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive or increased vocalisation
  • Paw sweating
  • Changed eating habits
  • Relieving indoors despite house-training
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Increased demand for attention, especially physical affection
  • Submissive behaviors, such as a tucked tail or submissive grin

If the licking is in response to stress or anxiety, it’s essential to stop it before it becomes a compulsive, self-reinforcing habit, similar to nail biting or skin picking in humans.

Unfortunately, the cause of generalized anxiety isn’t as easy to identify and can often be health related, so you should consult with your vet as soon as possible to try to determine the cause and what you need to do.

You can also help your dog out by making time each day to play with and exercise your dog, creating a space in your home where your dog can escape to feel safe, and making sure they’re on a high quality pet food.

Various Health Problems

Most commonly, dogs lick the air because of a physical health problem. But don’t panic yet – that doesn’t necessarily mean that something’s seriously wrong or that your dog can’t be treated.

As many as 75% of dogs that experience excessive licking (though not necessarily of just the air) have some kind of gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, like acid reflux, esophagitis, or pancreatitis. Other signs of a GI problem include abdominal pain, changes in appetite, and digestive issues like vomiting and diarrhea.

Oral health issues are another common reason that dogs appear to be licking the air. Licking can be in response to dental pain, a sore in the mouth, or something lodged in the roof of the mouth. It can also be due to something as simple as an object stuck to the tongue, lip, or roof of the mouth, so check their mouth for anything they may want removed.

In rare cases, licking the air can be due to a seizure or cognitive disorder.

Summary

As we’ve seen, there are several reasons that your dog may lick the air, including excitement, stress, and physical health problems.

A veterinary appointment is needed to determine the exact cause of the licking behavior, but you can help your vet by keeping a record of when, how long, and under what conditions your dog licks the air, as well as if you are able to stop it by distracting your pet.

And remember, punishment is not an effective response to compulsive behaviors and will only create stress for both you and your dog.

Have a question about why dogs lick the air or know of another possible cause? Have additional advice for dog owners dealing with this behavior? Drop a comment below to let us know!

About the Author

Megan Kriss has been a writer and editor for about five years and a lover of dogs for her whole life. She lives in Georgia with her Border Collie and Chow Chow mix, Ginger, her two cats, Pepper and Misha, and her fiance, Matthew.