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Licking

Shih Tzu Licking

Overview

Excessive or obsessive licking is not an uncommon problem with canines; however, this can be a troubling one. It's a clear sign that something is bothering a Shih Tzu, and continuous licking can lead to other problems including red, raw skin. There may be thinning hair in the areas that are licked a lot. And in some cases, skin can crack and infection can set it. 

The 2 most common reasons for a Shih Tzu having an excessive licking problem is 1) licking that stems from itching and/or irritation which is often itself related to some sort of allergy and 2) excessive dry skin. 

However, there are other possible causes as well. 

Another element to look at is the behavior of a dog excessively licking his human; while doggie kisses are nice, too many can become a problem. 

This section will cover:
  • Lick granuloma
  • Reasons why a Shih Tzu puppy or dog may be obsessively licking themselves
  • Exact steps to remedy self-licking issues
  • What to do if your Shih Tzu licks you too much
  • When a dog compulsively licks furniture or other non-toy items in the house

Lick Granuloma

What this is: Lick granuloma refers to the condition in which sores and lesions develop when a dog excessively licks areas of his body. This will start in one small area and then spread out.

With this, the skin is damaged, with tiny pockets in which bacteria can grow. This typically also affects skin follicles, which can result in thinning hair or balding areas. 

Treatment: For minor to moderate cases, home remedies such as over-the-counter healing lotions and sprays can help quite a bit. We'll cover this up ahead. And while we highly recommend reading about the underlying causes of this, if you want to skip right there, see Treatment

If the skin is completely broken open, is bleeding, or has pus, this is a red flag of bacterial infection. This should be treated by the veterinarian who can prescribe antibiotics.  In very severe cases with large open wounds, more aggressive methods may need to be done including laser surgical treatment. 

In addition to treating the area(s), you'll want to go over the steps you can take to prevent the excessive licking that led to the granuloma, and this is covered next. 

First, Less Common but Possible Reasons for a Shih Tzu Licking Himself

Two Shih Tzu dogs, one white, one black
Sammy and Benny,
photo courtesy of Sadie
Before we dive into the most common reasons for licking (allergies & dry skin), which are indeed curable, though there are quite a few steps, let's go over other causes that you'll want to be sure to rule out first. 

1) Stress - Though all canines in general are intelligent and feel a range of emotions, the Shih Tzu is particularly aware of his surroundings and sensitive to his environment. 

And this means that a Shih Tzu puppy or dog may be feeling stressed due to what is happening in the household. Licking due to stress is a self-soothing mechanism. 
What to do: 

1- You'll want to take an unbiased look at the household. Is it chaotic? Too noisy? 

The fix: If the house is always bustling, be sure to offer your Shih Tzu his own private area. This should be in the corner of a quiet room, but not isolated from the family.

Using a playpen to create a 'den' is a great method. We recommend the IRIS 24'' 4-Panel Pet Playpen with Door, which allows a dog to come and go as they please. Inside, have a quality dog bed, favorite toys, and water. This lets a dog have a nice place to retreat to when things become a bit overwhelming. 
2- Is your Shih Tzu lonely? It's not uncommon for dogs to feel a bit distressed, if owners are home (but busy)... or...
3- If there are times of your Shih Tzu being home alone, this may point to an issue of separation anxiety. A dog that is feeling high levels of anxiety may develop an obsessive licking problem as a coping behavior. And then, as areas of the body become irritated and raw, further licking may happen due to the irritation. 

Take note that if you're not there, you may not realize how stressful being alone is on your dog. As soon as you walk back in through the door, your Shih Tzu may act just fine.

How can you know? If there is a window view of your Shih Tzu's area from outside, try to quietly observe your dog before you enter back inside.

And using a pet cam, which can be a part of fixing anxiety issues, can allow you to see your dog from anywhere. 
Shih Tzu dogs outside
Rupert and Beatrice,
photo courtesy of Margaret Cunningham
Though some pet cams can be a bit pricey, they can be worth it if there's room in your budget. One like the Furbo Dog Camera: Treat Tossing, HD Wifi Cam, and 2-Way Audio is quite amazing. It allows you to see your dog, lets you speak to and hear your dog, and you can toss out tasty treats right from your phone.
The fix for loneliness: There are other methods of fixing separation anxiety, including have the right set-up, toys like treat-release and those that keep a dog engaged, and offering a companion toy like the Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy that mimics another living creature. 
And streaming or looping soothing music has helped countless dogs. Music like Through a Dog's Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion is designed specifically for dogs and can work very well to help them relax. 
You'll also want to treat the areas that have been being licked. Continual licking most likely caused the skin to become irritated, which just further exasperates the problem. We cover this below in treatment for licked areas
Beautiful Shih Tzu
Jasmine,
photo courtesy of Linda
2) Health issue/condition. While licking can be a behavioral issue as mentioned, and can be due certain conditions like allergies and dry skin as discussed ahead, there are other possible causes. So, it's a good idea to have the following ruled out: 

UTI - With a urinary tract infection, a dog often licks at his/her genital area. 

Other signs include frequent urination, trouble peeing, dribbled urine, housebreaking accidents, straining to pee, and/or signs that urination is painful. 

If this is suspected, bring your Shih Tzu to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. 

Thyroid issues -  If there is a thyroid hormonal deficiency, this can cause a dog to excessively lick. 

There will be other symptoms as well including lethargy, weakness, slow reaction to stimuli, weight changes, a dulling of the coat, thinning or balding areas of the coat, and poor coat health (dry, brittle hair). 
Do keep in mind that many of these signs can also point to a problem with severe dry skin, which will be covered here. But, if you suspect a thyroid issue, have the vet rule this out. 
Injury - The saying that a dog 'licks his wounds' is right on point; canines do this. So, if your Shih Tzu seems to favor a certain part of the body or otherwise limps or has impeded movement, this is a valid concern to have ruled out. 

Parasites - From fleas to mange and mites to ticks, overly licking the body can be due to some sort of parasite infestation. With this, there is usually a lot of chewing and scratching going on a well. 

Depending on the exact parasite at play, this may be treated at home with something like SynergyLabs Veterinary Formula Antiparasitic & Antiseborrheic Medicated Shampoo, or may need stronger, prescribed dips or shampoos. 

Licking Due to Dry Skin

What happens and why: Breeds like the Shih Tzu, with hair instead of fur, are very susceptible to dry skin. And when the skin is overly dry, this can cause itching and irritation that leads to a puppy or dog licking the area. Unfortunately, licking increases the dryness problem... and it is a big vicious circle. 
The most common causes of dry skin are the weather and humidity levels. 

In the winter, the air is often very dry and this causes a dog's skin to lose moisture. And in the summer, sun exposure over the course of the season can cause dry skin, often lasting well into autumn if not rectified. 

In addition, inferior shampoos is a huge reason for dry skin. And finally, if a Shih Tzu is quite active on floor-level surfaces but a leave-in spritz is not used, this can lead to contact friction which dries the coat and skin, leading to irritation, and then licking. 
What to do: It'll be time to reassess your Shih Tzu's bathing, skin, and coat products

A combination of shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and leave-ins, can help you fix dry skin and prevent it from reoccurring. 

Here's what we recommend: 
Shih Tzu with American flag shirt
Domino, photo courtesy of Tim and Krystina Ramos
For shampoo and for conditioner, the line of Earthbath is fantastic (this will also be mentioned ahead for licking due to allergies). Both their Oatmeal and Aloe and their Tea Tree Oil and Aloe Vera are great for dry skin (as well as a 'regular' shampoo to keep skin and coat healthy).

And their conditioner is a perfect follow-up. 
For a lotion, DERMagic Skin Rescue Lotion is a very effective choice. If dry skin is so bad that the hair is thinning, this is a great product to use as well. We recommend massaging this into the dry areas 2 to 3 times per day for 2 weeks, and then once a day to prevent the issue from coming back. 
In the summer, for a leave-in to protect against the sun and that works for contact friction, Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Conditioner with Sunscreen is terrific. Spritz this on every 2 to 3 days. 

For Shih Tzu with short coats, you can spray this onto the coat and scrunch the hairs with your hands. For dogs with long coats, work in sections, spritzing about 1 inch from the roots, and then combing down to disperse this to the tips. 
In the winter, to guard against the terribly arid air, and the drying and licking that can manifest from this, a really good leave-in is The Stuff. This also should be spritzed on every 2 to 3 days. 
If the bottom of the paw pads look very dry, and this is an area that your Shih Tzu is licking, start using a quality paw wax like Musher's Secret Paw Wax. This works to heal dry or cracked paws, absorbs quickly, allows paws to breath, and is an important product at any rate to protect paws from hot surfaces in the summer, and ice and snow issues in the winter. 
Also, in the winter work to keep moisture in the house via humidifiers or home remedies such as having plants and leaving out bowls of water. 

And year-round, be sure that your Shih Tzu is staying properly hydrated. A good method of adding extra water to a dog's diet is to toss in some fresh blueberries and/or raspberries into meals. These are packed with antioxidants and have high water content. 
Note: If you additionally see an issue with the licked body areas emitting an odd musty odor or if the hairs have become discolored, this points to a yeast or fungal infection. For more on this, see Treatment

Licking Due to Allergies

How allergies leads to licking: For Shih Tzu in which the only sign of a problem is excessive licking, owners may not immediately think that allergies are at play.

After all, without scratching or chewing, is itchy skin really the problem? 

Well, the thing is that allergies often cause skin reactions. And a dog may then scratch, chew at, and/or lick the area. So, if your Shih Tzu keeps licking certain areas, and you've ruled out other health issues, injury, dry skin, and/or stress, it will be time to get serious about resolving possible allergies. 
Other signs: Aside from paying attention to the body via licking, chewing at, and/or scratching, there is a vast range of other possible signs. These may be subtle, so you'll want to take a close look. 

This can include watery eyes, red eyes, nasal discharge, upset stomach (can be slight enough to just cause a general feeling of queasiness with a less-than-hearty appetite), coughing, wheezing, or other breathing issues, irritation around the anus, and/or digestive upset including vomiting or diarrhea. 

In addition, licking keeps an area wet, and this can lead to a yeast or fungal infection. Signs include an odd odor and/or red or rust coloring of the hairs. 
Shih Tzu mouthing toy
Malibu, photo courtesy of Tim and Krystina Ramos
The 2 steps of resolving this: There are two parts to helping a Shih Tzu that is licking himself raw due to allergies, and both must be done for permanent success. Now is not the time to skim things over or take a half-hearted approach. 

You will want to:

#1 Work to reduce or eliminate the triggers, and
#2 Treat the areas on the body that the Shih Tzu is licking
#1 Reducing triggers: 

1. It is best to bring your Shih Tzu to the vet for an intradermal skin test (often more reliable than ELISA testing) that will help pin-point the exact triggers. In this way, you can know what you're dealing with and work on the 'knowns' first.

If severe, the vet can also prescribe medications to help including topical creams for swelling and irritation on the areas a Shih Tzu is licking and antihistamines for the allergy itself. 
This said, this does not test for everything, and many of the following steps will need to be taken regardless. 
2. Reassess your Shih Tzu's food. If your Shih Tzu is not eating a 4 or 5 star rated food, chances are that your dog is ingesting at least one chemical additive that could be causing a reaction. And it's highly likely that there's more than one.
While inferior foods have many problems, in sticking just to the issue of licking due to a skin reaction, the most common culprits are chemical flavoring, artificial coloring, and/or chemical preservatives. 

And, if your puppy or dog is indeed eating one of the better brands, there is a chance that the type of protein in the formula is causing a problem. Even chicken - a food typically very well-tolerated, can be the trigger. Do, however, work to reduce all other allergens before jumping to this conclusion. 

With reactions to food ingredients, a Shih Tzu may have an immediate reaction, or the chemical may build up in the body, with licking and other signs developing at a certain point of overload. 
What to do: 

1) If you are looking for a great dog food that has zero chemical additives, no by-products, only wholesome ingredients, extras like omega 3s and antioxidants, is made in the USA, and is geared for toy breeds like the Shih Tzu, Wellness CORE Natural Dry Grain-Free for Small Breeds is simply one of the best. 
small brown Shih Tzu dog
Sammy,
photo courtesy of Jennifer Edmonds 
2) If you suspect that chicken may be causing the problem (often a conclusion owners come to once everything else has been ruled out), Merrick Lil Plates Grain-Free for Small Breeds Beef Recipe is a terrific choice. 
3) Don't forget about snacks. Treats can take up 10 to 30% of a dog's diet and these do play an important role for reinforcing good behavior and keeping a Shih Tzu happy in between meals. But, dog treats present the same type of problem that meals do: if there's chemicals in them, they can cause reactions that lead to licking and other issues.

If you're looking for super-wholesome treats for your puppy or dog, check out Old Mother Hubbard Classic Crunchy Mini Biscuits, which are 100% wholesome treats sized perfectly for this breed. 
Cute Shih Tzu in sweater
Prince, photo courtesy of Jennifer Edmonds
3. Work to keep allergens out of the house. 

There are several things you can do, including:
  • Do not keep windows open.
  • If you have central air, run the AC or just the fan while using a certified HEPA filter. To trap pollen and other air-borne allergens, use a filter with an FPR or MERV rating of 10 or more; this will trap 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns in size. 
  • No matter the type of floors you have, vacuum frequently using a HEPA vacuum. As it draws in air, it will do the same as mentioned above. 
  • Wash your Shih Tzu's paws off each time that he enters back into the house. This is easiest using the kitchen sink.
  • Use a body wipe like Earthbath All Natural Grooming Wipes to wipe down your Shih Tzu each time he comes back inside. 
#2 Treatment
Concurrent to working to reduce or eliminate the triggers as covered above, you'll of course want to use some products that will stop the irritation that is causing the excessive licking.

Let's look at what can help. Please note that we'll go over some of the best remedies, and then you can look below if you'd like to check these out further:

1- Hot spray. The right hot spot spray can immediately offer relief. And this is vital. While the right shampoos can work to correct things, a topical spray can offer round-the-clock relief. 

There are 2 types to consider, depending on the severity of your Shih Tzu's licking and underlying issues:

#1, an all-natural hot spot spray that is formulated for itchy, dry, and/or irritated skin. Look for ingredients like tea tree oil, aloe vera, and chamomile, which is a great blend to help with these sorts of problems.  
#2 a medicated spray, if the issue is severe. What you'll want to look for one with hydrocortisone which offers immediate relief from itching and irritation, and also works to keep down swelling, which is quite common when there is excessive licking. 
2- Rescue lotion or salve. This is what we recommend if there are patches of irritated skin and/or thinning areas of hair. 

You may wish to use this in conjunction with a spray. You can spray every few hours during the day, and then at night right before your Shih Tzu goes to sleep, massage a healing lotion, creme, or salve into the skin that's triggering the licking problems. 
3- Doggie socks, if your Shih Tzu is licking his paws. It can be tricky applying a remedy if the licking is severe and your dog goes right for the area as soon as you move away.

So, slipping sock dogs onto your Shih Tzu can help keep the product where it's meant to be. Be sure to choose ones with little anti-slip grips so that your puppy or dog has proper traction. 
4- For yeast or fungal infection of the over-licked areas, an anti-fungal product can help. Yeast or fungus can start to grow on areas that are always moist (similar to the issues seen with tear stains). 
Black and white Shih Tzu puppy
Daisy, at 7 months old,
'first haircut'
photo courtesy of Natalie Behan
For dogs that obsessively lick themselves, the most commonly affected areas are the paws or the genitals. 

Signs of this include an odd, musty smell and/or discoloration of the hairs. For this, an antiparasitic and antiseborrheic medicated shampoo (used once per week) can resolve things. 
The recommended items that we just covered are below. This includes the two types of hot spot sprays, a rescue lotion, and a very effective antiparasitic and antiseborrheic medicated shampoo. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And on mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4. 

Recap

You'll want to:
  • Rule out health issues such as UTI, thyroid issues, injury, and parasitic infection
  • Deal with underlying triggers such as stress and separation anxiety
  • Resolve any dry skin issues
  • Work to resolve allergies, including switching foods and reducing allergens
  • Use quality treatment remedies including shampoos, lotions, and sprays
Next, we'll cover what to do if your Shih Tzu won't stop attacking you with his tongue. 

When a Shih Tzu Won't Stop Licking His Human

Shih Tzu laying on sofa
Susy, at 2 years and 4 months,
Andrea Lalo
(from Buenos Aires)
What's going on? Licks are one way that canines express their love and fondness for their humans. So, licks really are the canine equivalent of a kiss.

And in general, human skin actually gives off a good taste to dogs, due to salts (sodium, chloride, and potassium) that are left on the skin once perspiration evaporates.  

However, while it's nice to get a lick every now and then, if your Shih Tzu won't stop licking you, no doubt you've realized how much of a problem this can become. 

Most licking issues start because an innocent lick is given...and then, due to an owner's reaction, the taste of the salty skin on a dog's tongue, or both, a Shih Tzu may become obsessive about this. 
How to stop this: First, for a Shih Tzu to stop licking you, your dog needs to understand what a lick is. Then, you can train your Shih Tzu that not licking you is beneficial and the better choice. 
#1 Teach your dog what a lick is. While we do not recommend sticking out your face for a lick-feast, which only encourages things, any time that your Shih Tzu licks you say 'Lick' out loud. Do this in a confident, firm voice just like you would use for any command. 

If you are consistent with this, within just 3 to 5 days, your puppy or dog will understand what word is connected to their licking action. 
#2 Prepare to train your Shih Tzu. Just like any other sort of training, you'll want to prepare by having a special treat to give as reward. This should not be a snack that your puppy or dog normally receives. If so, it will have very little meaning. 

So, while you will still want to be very strict about choosing a 100% all-natural treat that is wholesome and healthy, do choose one that is new and novel.

If you already have all the good ones at home (there are, after all, only a few that are top-notch), look into choosing a different flavor of the ones you have.

Some great choices for this are Fruitables Crispy Bacon and Apple Crunchy Dog Treats or the other wonderful flavors in the line including strawberry yogurt, sweet potato & pecan, and pumpkin & blueberry. 

Keep some in a small zipped plastic bag that's kept in your pocket for easy access. 
Two male Shih Tzu dogs with toy
Bobby (black) and Benji (brown),
photo courtesy of Miguel 
#3 Training. The idea of this is to reward your Shih Tzu when he does not lick you. And you'll command this with a 'No lick'. Do this as so:

1. Don't go looking for trouble; however, when your little one starts licking you, move positioning so that your dog cannot reach you with his tongue.

2. As you move away, say 'No Lick' firmly and confidently. 

3. Wait a beat... repeat 'Noooo Lick' in a slower voice, as if you are waiting for something to happen. 

4. If your Shih Tzu simply looks at you and does not lunge at you to lick again, immediately palm and offer 1 treat. 

5. Repeat as needed. Try to keep sessions no longer than 10 minutes. After all, a dog could keep this up forever. Once the lessons are done, direct your Shih Tzu to another activity. However, do work on this each day.

Done consistently, a puppy or dog can learn that not licking you is the favorable action within 2 weeks. 

When a Shih Tzu Compulsively Licks the Sofa or Other Furniture

Does your Shih Tzu lick your recliner, the sheets on your bed, the couch, or other furniture in the house? This is not uncommon. And in many cases, a dog will prefer this to his toys. So, what are you to do? 

In most cases, dogs will lick furniture for one or both of these reasons:

#1 Self-soothing. Working their tongue on certain pieces is a calming experience. This can soon become a strong habit.

#2 Taste. Wait, how can the sofa taste good? Well, tiny specks of perspiration from you end up on your sofa, your bed, etc... , and this is a contributing reason why a Shih Tzu may take to licking your sheets and other items. Often, this does go hand-in-hand with the self-soothing. 

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take: 
White Shih Tzu that licks furniture
Chloe, photo courtesy of Jan Lowery
1. Work to reduce stress. As with self-licking, the stress may be emanating from the household (loud, chaotic, busy house) or separation anxiety. 

If this is applicable, follow the steps mentioned under Stress.
2. Work to reduce loneliness and/or boredom. Even if a dog is not home alone, there can still be a degree of loneliness or sheer boredom. So, if you're in the house but busy, there are things you can do:
  • Have a routine for walks. Stay committed to taking your Shih Tzu out twice per day, for at least 20 minutes. 
  • Engage your dog in some games at least a few times per week. You can play the ol' stand-by of fetch (which dogs never think is 'old') hide n' seek with treats, or even a puzzle game to engage your Shih Tzu's mind. 
  • Have the right toys for your Shih Tzu. If your dog has a huge pile of toys that are being ignored, this typically means it's time to chose just a few really good ones. 
Have some that speak or make silly noises. The Babble Balls shown below are perfect for this. 

And if your Shih Tzu is super lonely, think about getting a companion toy that mimics a living creature via a rhythmic heartbeat and soothing warmth.

Another type of toy that can help is one that is safely flavored; this can become a replacement for licking urges.

* These recommended toys are below. 

3. Work to switch habits. The goal will be to interrupt the licking and encourage your Shih Tzu to mouth a toy instead. Here's what to do: 

1) Interrupt the behavior. Typically, a single, loud hand clap and speaking the dog's name in a firm voice works. If your Shih Tzu tends to ignore this, you may want to use a behavior interrupter. 

Ones that simply emit a very short hissing noise are completely safe and ethical. It not loud or anything like that; but rather, it is a particular noise that work well to make dogs take pause.

2) As soon as you have your Shih Tzu's attention, offer one of the chosen toys to engage him (speaking toy or flavored toy).

3) As soon as he mouths it, give happy praise. 
The 3 types of toys that we've discussed are below, along with the behavior interrupter that we spoke about. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. And on mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4. 
You May Also Like:
Why a harness is best for a Shih Tzu - This breed should not be on leash with a collar. See why, and some great options for safe, comfortable harnesses instead. 
The Best Beds for a Shih Tzu - Due to hip issues commonly seen with this breed, having the right type of bed for your Shih Tzu is important. See what to look for in a bed for proper support. 
Shih Tzu grooming tools - There's no need to have a drawer full of stuff, but you will want the right tools to keep the coat looking great. 
You may also be interested in:

Growling - Usually given as a warning, owners should take steps to intervene if a dog growls in an aggressive manner.
Jumping - Often done by excited dogs, this can be disruptive and if there are young children in the household, jumping should be discouraged. 
Begging - Like licking and jumping, this can be a habit. Once begging starts, it is not easy to train a dog to stop; however it can be done if all members of the household work together. 
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