Why Do Boston Terriers Lick So Much? How to Prevent It

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by Lily Ferreras


Boston Terriers are known for licking, and while some of us don’t mind being greeted by a lick on the hand each morning – which is a gesture of affection from your dog – it’s a completely different story when you become your dog’s lollipop!

Why do Boston Terriers lick so much? For the Boston Terrier, licking is a form of communication, and there are several reasons behind this: to show affection or submission, to request for food or to get a taste of something, caused by a medical condition, or an instinctive response.

There’s a lot more to your dog’s licking behaviour than you might know, and there are ways to prevent it when it becomes excessive.

Why Do Boston Terriers Lick So Much?

In the canine world, licking is a way of communication and some dog breeds are more expressive than others. As just mentioned, Boston Bull Terrier’s lick for several reasons:

  • Instinctive response.
  • Affection.
  • Submission.
  • Cleaning.
  • Taste.
  • Food request.
  • Medical condition.

Insider Tip: It’s not always possible to attribute your Boston Bull’s licking to a single reason, but you can get a general idea behind your dog’s behaviour and then decide how to respond!

Here is an in-depth look into why your Boston Terrier licks so much:

#1 – Instinctive Response

Licking is deep-rooted behaviour in dogs. In fact, the sensation of being licked is the first experience a new pup has when he’s born, even before opening his eyes!

The mother licks her puppies immediately after they are born to clean off after birth and stimulate their breathing. This licking habit will bond mothers with their pups during the next weeks.

In the following weeks, the dam (the puppies’ mom) continues licking her pups to clean them up. She also licks them to stimulate pooping and peeing.

As puppies grow older, they will start licking their mother’s muzzle. We believe that this behaviour strengthens the bond between mother and offspring.

So, licking comes naturally for dogs; it’s an in-born response.

Puppies will continue licking into adulthood and for all their lives. You might think that your dog is transferring his interactions with his mother over to you, but that’s not the only reason your Boston Terrier licks.


#2 – To Show Affection 

Pups learn about licking from birth and it’s a common interaction between dogs. You might have spotted a lot of licking (especially in the face) when dogs interact and greet each other.

Since your Boston Terrier sees you as part of his pack, he licks you to show his love and affection!

Want to find out the other ways that your pooch shows you love? Check out our Are Boston Terriers Affectionate? Do They Like to Cuddle? blog post to discover 10 Ways Your Dog Tells You “I Love You”.

#3 – To Express Submission

Licking can also be seen as a sign of submission, to show their respect for the dominant one (the alpha).

Since dogs lick other dogs to show respect, it’s likely that they lick their owners for the same reason.

Dog are pack animals and they follow a hierarchy that includes alphas (the leaders: an alpha male and an alpha female), followed by betas and then omegas (the lowest member of the pack).

Your Boston Bull will consider all house members part of his pack and you the leader.

#4 – For Cleaning Purposes

Your Boston Bull Terrier, AKA The American gentleman of the dog world, might lick himself to get rid of dead tissues and clean dirt from his coat and wounds.

Dog saliva has enzymes that kill off bacteria, which helps with his cleaning and grooming habit.

However, you should always follow your vet’s advice on taking care of your dog’s wounds. Because some dogs just won’t stop licking and may actually reopen wounds or even cause more harm.

Also, it’s a myth that dogs have antiseptic tongues. So don’t let your dog lick any open wounds you have.

#5 – To Enjoy the Taste

Dogs are curious creatures and licking is an effective way for them to find out how things and people taste.

For instance, human skin is salty (more so if you have been sweating) and may have substances on it (like lotion or perfume) that your pooch may want to sample.

Your American Gentleman might get carried away and forget his manners because he likes the taste on your skin. Most dogs seem to have a fixation with human feet, and this is because body odour is stronger in this part of our body, and apparently tastier too 🙂

I can still remember my first puppy, a mastiff from the Pyrenees, licking my dad’s feet thoroughly while he was watching TV! At that time, I was clueless and mesmerized by my pup’s odd behaviour.


#6 – Canine Food Request

In the wild, wolves (dogs ancestors) feed their pups by bringing back meat that they killed away from their den.

When they return to feed their young, the puppies lick their parents’ faces (around the mouth area) to let them know that they are hungry.

So, requesting food by licking you is also a deep-rooted habit for dogs.

Your Boston may ask you for food, especially when it’s time for his meal, and dog’s that follow a routine know what’s coming and are able to anticipate.

However, I wouldn’t encourage this behaviour if your dog licks you when you are eating. That will be begging, and it’s not a habit you want to reinforce.

#7 – An Underlying Medical Condition

Another reason for Boston Terriers to lick themselves could be due to an underlying medical condition.

Since your pooch can’t directly tell you what’s wrong, unusual body language and behaviour is how you can find out that something is wrong with your pooch.

So, if your Boston Bull is licking more than usual, especially himself, it’s an indication that you should pay a visit to your vet and find out if he’s in pain or discomfort.

Your pooch might be itchy, have dry skin or something else.

Dogs suffering from arthritis, for example, tend to lick their paws and legs to try to ease the pain. 


Why Your Boston Terrier’s Licking Can Become a Problem?

Licking can be a problem for three reasons:

  • Becoming a compulsive habit.
  • Promoting unwanted behaviours.
  • Jeopardizing their own safety.

#1 – Becoming a Compulsive Habit

Boston Terriers can develop an obsessive-compulsive habit of licking everything and everyone, especially when bored. This habit is distressing for your dog (since he’s being anxious) and also for you.

Bostons are very active dogs, have medium to high energy levels and are known to be vigorous.

If they cannot blow off some steam, they will focus that energy somewhere else. Their boredom can manifest by destructive behaviour, but also by compulsively licking themselves, others, or objects within their reach.

#2 – Promoting Unwanted Behaviours

Puppies are attention seekers, their “hello” licks are usually accompanied by some tail wagging, and in the Boston’s case, some funny body wiggling.

However, as they get older, pups will tend to lick less to seek attention and use various ways to interact with you, unless their licking receives lots of attention.

With this attention, they associate licking as a big part of their greeting behaviour and can remain that way.

The point is…

If you reward your Boston Terrier every time he licks you, he will continue to do so. Your dog’s understanding of a reward equals any attention he gets from you: from treats to a brief eye-contact.

Sometimes, Boston Terrier parents don’t realize that their dog’s licking has become a problem until is too late, i.e., when their dog displays an excessive licking habit that is not welcomed.

Your Boston Bull’s desire to lick can become an annoyance and can actually interfere when playing or exercising your pooch.

Plus, if you have other pets, it can cause bigger problems. For instance, even the friendliest of cats won’t take it kindly when they are being licked constantly.

That’s why is important to decide what is acceptable and what’s not, and behave accordingly (this includes you and everyone that interacts with your pooch).

#3 – Jeopardising Their Own Safety

Boston Terriers’ licking habits can become an issue when they lick things that aren’t safe.

It doesn’t matter that you keep all the dangerous substances (cleaning products, medicines, toxic foods for dogs, etc.) away from them, you cannot always control your dog’s environment, especially when you aren’t at home.

Dogs are opportunists.

Just going for a walk can become a danger to their safety if your dog licks everything. Outdoors, they can come in contact with antifreeze, food leftovers, and something as common as dirt!

Even at home, you can accidentally drop human food that is poisonous for your Boston Bull e.g. chocolate. Also, your Boston licking your shoes’ soles can be dangerous since they contain harmful bacteria and chemicals.


How to Stop Excessive Licking

Does your Boston Terrier exercise his tongue more than any other muscle? Then teach your pooch to hold his tongue before it gets you both into trouble!

If your Boston licks obsessively, here’s the “easiest way” to get him to stop licking:

Ignore your dog’s licking behaviour.

The most effective way to teach your dog that you are not his personal lollipop is to ignore this unwanted behaviour and instead only reward his positive actions, immediately he does the behaviour.

This means that when your doggy licks you, you remove whatever he’s liking and avoid eye-contact until he stops. Immediately he stops, reward his behaviour.

Boston Terriers are sensitive to negative reinforcement, and they can also be stubborn at times, so instead follow a positive-reinforcement training to correct excessive licking.

Yelling or making a big fuss about the licking backfires. Even negative attention can reinforce a behaviour since dogs perceive every action from you towards them as getting attention.

Case #1 – For Attention Seekers

If your dog licks you to get your attention, then teach him another way to get your attention. For example, you can teach your dog to sit and lift his paw when he’s seeking your attention. Then, when he performs the new trick, reward him immediately with healthy treats and caresses.

This will reinforce his good behaviour and he will likely repeat the trick to receive your praise.

If you want to teach your dog other tricks and also swap some unwanted behaviours like licking for positive ones, check out my favourite dog training method.

Use this game to train your dog’s focus, encouraging good behaviour. FREE DOWNLOAD.

Case #2 – For Lollipop Lovers

If your Boston Bull licks everything and everyone…

You may want to try putting lemon juice on your skin or a surface that won’t get damaged by it. When your dog licks your skin, he won’t like the taste and will refrain himself from doing it again.

Alternatively, you can deviate his attention away from licking (similar to Case #1).

Instead of commanding him to stop, refer to the basic commands “sit” and “down,” for example. When he complies, praise him immediately.

Insider Tip: Consistency is key. So, stick to it until your Boston shows results and praise him immediately when he achieves your goal. Also, get everyone on board in order to support your efforts!


If That’s Not Enough…

If you are still having some trouble or training your Boston Terrier is becoming a challenge… I may be able to help with that. Click here to visit our Dog Training Essentials, where you will get a 3-part mini audio series + the everyday resource used by a well-known dog trainer.

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