One of the best things about sharing your life with a dog (or dogs) is watching all the interesting and funny things they do.
From zooming around the house in circles to sniffing other dogs’ butts, they do many things that seem weird to us humans.
This website – TheFactualDoggo.com – was created to help understand and explain some of these quirky canine behavior traits.
So, this post will answer the question – why do dogs lick their lips when you pet them?
We will also look at when (if ever) you need to be worried about it.
Let’s jump into the details…
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Lips When You Stroke Them?
Dogs lick you when you pet them because they are relaxed and content, or they may be uncomfortable and trying to soothe themselves.
To know which it is, you should watch the dog’s body language and behavior to check if they seem happy or anxious.
This short video shows examples of a stressed dog licking their lips and a happy dog.
If you watch it, it should help you figure out what is going on with your pooch.
Just click the video to start playing (you don’t need any sound):
Let’s look at this in more detail:
- They are relaxed and happy.
- They are uncomfortable being petted.
- To soothe pain caused by problems in their mouth.
- To alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety.
1. They Are Relaxed and Happy
Sometimes when dogs are really relaxed and happy, they gently lick their lips, like humans letting out a sigh as they relax.
Also, some dogs will drool more when relaxing and lick their lips to control the drooling.
2. They Are Uncomfortable Being Petted
Canine lip licking can be a sign that there is something the dog doesn’t feel comfortable about.
Sometimes dogs will tolerate being petted in a way they don’t like, which will cause them distress.
If a dog licks its lips while you stroke them and they seem uptight or unhappy, you should probably stop it and see how they react.
If they seem happy you have stopped, you have your answer and need to think about why they might not like you petting them.
NOTE – You may also want to read this post asking the question: Why do dogs stick their tongue out?
3. To Soothe Pain Caused By Problems in Their Mouth
If a dog is licking their lips, it could be due to them having some pain or discomfort in their mouth.
It could just be a coincidence that you notice the behavior when you are petting your pup.
If this is the cause, the lip licking will likely be more frantic or obsessive similar to a human scratching their mosquito bites.
If they let you, you should carefully check their mouth and lips for any signs of disease or damage.
Of course, if you are worried about your dog’s health and well-being, you should take them to the vet for a check-up.
4. To Soothe Feelings of Stress or Anxiety
The dog could be suffering from increased levels of stress or anxiety. These feelings might not be related to the petting.
It might just be that this is when you notice it as you are paying much closer attention to your pup.
Dogs use lip-licking as a way of self-soothing, similar to how some humans bite their nails to relieve feelings of stress.
Canine Behavior – It’s Complicated!
When examining the behavior traits of domestic dogs – including asking why they lick their lips when we stroke them – we must remember that a combination of complicated factors drives the ways they act.
To keep it simple, the following principles can sum up these factors:
- Domestic dogs evolved from an ancient species of wolf.
- Humans have selectively bred dogs for thousands of years.
- Every dog is different.
- A dog’s upbringing has an impact on its behavior.
So as you try to understand why your dog does what it does, you can see many things to consider.
Let’s look at that list in more detail.
Domestic Dogs Evolved From an Ancient Species of Wolf
We know that dogs evolved from a species of wolf.
The most likely candidate is the Late Pleistocene wolf, although there is still some debate about this point.
When analyzing your pet dog’s behavior, it’s close enough to say that your dog evolved from a wolf species, which can explain some of your pup’s actions.
Humans Have Selectively Bred Dogs for Thousands of Years
Thousands of years ago, your dog’s ancestors gradually became domesticated.
They probably started hanging around close to human encampments, scavenging, and then begging for scraps.
Over time, the wolves became closer to the humans, who started breeding them to recreate and enhance certain traits such as intelligence or strength.
Over thousands of years, this selective breeding continued until today, and now we can see a wide range of domestic dog breeds.
All this history of selective breeding comes into play when analyzing your dog and why they do the things they do.
Every Dog is Different
Just as every human is different, every dog is also different.
They all have a unique DNA profile, impacting not just their physical characteristics but also their behavior.
Your dog will have behavior quirks that are unique to them, just like the people in your life do.
A Dog’s Upbringing Has an Impact on its Behavior
From how skilled a puppy’s mother is to how early they are separated from each other.
From how well trained the dog is to if they suffer from any trauma such as being attacked by another dog or hit by a car.
Your dog’s life affects their later behavior and must be considered when understanding why they act in the ways they do.
Does it Matter if Your Dog Licks Their Lips When Being Petted?
In most cases, if your dog lips their lips, there is nothing to worry about. It is a normal and healthy part of doggy behavior.
The only time you need to pay attention is if your dog has something wrong with their lips or if they are stressed or sick, in which case you should get them checked out by your vet.
If you are in financial difficulty and are worried about vet bills, this site lists helpful resources for charities to help you pay your bills.
(If you don’t live in the US, you can use Google to find similar help in your country, there is a lot of support out there for dog owners who are in difficulty).
Should You Try to Stop Your Dog from Licking Their Lips When You Stroke Them?
There is no way you can stop your dog from licking their lips while you pet them without causing your dog distress and discomfort.
So it does not make sense to try and stop them from doing it.
However, if you are worried the dog has something wrong with their mouth or is licking their lips due to stress or a medical condition, it is best to speak to a vet for more advice.
Final Notes On Why Dogs Lick Their Lips When You Pet Them?
If your dog licks their lips when you pet them, it is most likely due to one of the following reasons.
- The dog is relaxed and happy.
- The dog is uncomfortable about being petted.
- They are trying to soothe pain or discomfort in their mouth.
- They are trying to soothe feelings of anxiety or stress.
However, it is worth remembering that domestic dog behavior is complicated, and there are multiple factors to be considered, so you may never know why they do the things they do.
Most of the time, you don’t need to worry about this lip-licking, but if your dog has a sore mouth or shows signs of sickness, pain, or stress, you should get them to the vet for a check-up.
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!