While it makes sense to see Scruffy slap his chops and drool at the sight of a tasty steak being placed on the grill, the behavior may leave you perplexed when there's no food in sight. Don't be too fast to ignore the issue and categorize it as one of your dog's odd behavior quirks. If you cannot find a reasonable explanation for this behavior, you'll need to dig deeper into the issue, possibly with the help of a veterinarian or a behavior professional.
Tip #1 - Take a look at the context in which Scruffy licks his chops. If your dog does it only occasionally, such as when he's worried about something, blame it on his nerves. In this case of lip-licking, you're probably looking at calming signals. This is Scruffy's way to avoid and solve conflicts, explains Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist Turid Rugaas. You'll likely see these quick lip flicks when you're upset with him or your tone of voice gets deep and angry. Try to be less harsh to reduce this form of lip licking.
Tip #2 - Determine if the issue lies inside the mouth. Put your rubber exam gloves on and perform an inspection of your dog's oral cavity. You don't need a degree in orthodontics to find out if something is amiss: what you're looking for here are any traces of debris stuck between the teeth, lumps, bumps, signs of tooth problems or any other abnormalities. Don't forget to look under the tongue where Scruffy's salivary glands are located; you want to check here for any unusual swellings.
Tip #3 - Seek your veterinarian's help. Many issues known for causing incessant lip-smacking may stem from a medical problem. Potential causes for excessive lip-licking include digestive issues, exposure to toxins, tooth problems, dehydration, liver or kidney disease, pain and even neurological disorders such as seizures. Taking care of the underlying health problem should take care of reducing the annoying lip-licking behavior, explains veterinarian Robert D. Jake Tedaldi.
Tip #4 - Ask for a referral to a behavior specialist. If your vet determined that Scruffy is healthy as a horse, you may want to determine if your dog may be slapping his chops because of a behavioral problem such as an attention-seeking disorder or a compulsive disorder. Don't worry: Scruffy won't end up on the shrink's couch. He may just require some changes to his lifestyle and perhaps some calming aids and medications.
Warning: Don't scold your dog for excessive lip-licking. Most likely he can't help it and scolding will only make matters worse.
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.