Friday, July 8, 2011

Your obsessed dog: How to helping your dog break the licking habit

Liam the pug using his Kong toy
A diversion can sometimes keep your dog from chewing his feet
There's nothing quite like the sound of a dog licking his or her feet. Smack, smack, smack. It's enough to drive you around the bend, especially if your dog chooses to indulge in this habit in the middle of the night.

Liam is a power licker. If given the opportunity, he would lick all day long. Something about licking seems to soothe him, and it's his absolute favorite hobby. It's not something I encourage, however.

Licking is not only annoying to listen to, it's not healthy for a dog to lick in this way. Dogs who lick their feet obsessively, as Liam used to do, can do real damage.

In Liam's case, his foot licking stopped when we changed his food. I am not certain what he was allergic to in the previous food, but I do know that the hair between his toes was a scarlet red and those feet seemed to itch and drive him wild. Now that he's on an appropriate food, he doesn't lick his feet with nearly the same frequency or intensity.

But his overall habit of licking hasn't decreased. Now, he just targets me or his toys and leaves his own feet alone. His toys end up soggy and I spend the day squirming around in my chair to keep my feet out of his range.

To break him from the habit of licking all day long (and impeding my work), I fill a Kong toy with peanut butter and let him gnaw that out in the morning. It takes him a good 2 hours of solid licking to get that treat out, and when he's done, he seems to have fulfilled his licking quota and he doesn't lick any more for the rest of the day and night.

I like solutions that make both Liam and I happy.

But some obsessions aren't so easily cured.

Some dogs engage in truly obsessive habits like scratching or staring at lights or howling. You can exercise them, play with them, work with them and otherwise provide solutions, but the behavior doesn't stop. For dogs like this, there's a chemical imbalance issue at play. These dogs don't stop their behaviors because they're bad. They can't stop due to a brain problem.

A visit to the vet is the best option for dogs like this. Medications can work wonders to fix those imbalances and help these dogs to live a much more balanced life. If your efforts to fix the problem just aren't working, a trip to the vet might do the trick.