I had a Maltese growing up. Her name was Angel and she was my parent’s pride and joy. I was always amazed at how long her tongue was. It seemed like she could reach anything with that slimy pink thing. As young kids do I would sometimes tease her by holding out something yummy to lick and pulling it away to see how she would react. Of course in the end I would always reward her by letting her lick it.
My reminiscing made me think about all the reasons a Maltese likes to lick and why some of them seem to do it obsessively? So I decided to dive deep into the topic and find out all I could about it. I spent a lot of time researching, talking to Maltese owners and vets. Here is what I found out.
Maltese lick because of instinct, it can be a sign of affection, stress, boredom, or allergies. Licking can be soothing and therapeutic because it releases endorphins. Maltese may try to lick other dogs as a show of dominance, and they may lick your skin because they like the taste of salt.
So for the most part licking is normal, but when does it become abnormal and something to be concerned about? Let’s take a deeper dive into this behavior to see what we can learn.
Reasons Maltese Lick
Even before dogs were domesticated licking has been a part of their language. Puppies start out in the first stages of life being licked clean by their mothers. Their mothers lick them to clean them, keep them warm, bond with them, and to help keep their den clean and free of disease.
As they grow into their pack, licking each other is a way for them to communicate. Licking the pack leader for example is a way for a dog to ask if he can get in on the next meal or that he is submitting to the Alpha dogs leadership. So not only are Maltese introduced at a very young age to the licking behavior they also have an instinct to continue to do it throughout their life. Let’s look at some other reasons why dogs love to lick.
Your Maltese is showing you affection
When your Maltese licks you he is showing you affection. This is probably the most common reason that we think about when wondering why our dogs lick us. It was also the most common answer I got from Maltese owners when I asked them for reasons why they thought their Maltese licked.
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Like we talked about earlier mothers lick their puppies to show them love and affection so your dog has learned that this is one way to show you he loves and cares for you. When your Maltese licks you it could be a sign that he is trying to groom you, which is also a form of affection and care.
When asking other Maltese owners if their dogs lick a lot there were quite a few replies that said most definitely yes. Some Maltese owners said that’s how their dogs show love, and some said that their dog will just sit and lick the air.
Your Maltese is submitting to You
Another reason your Maltese may lick your face is that he is trying to appease you and submit to your dominance over him. Dogs are pack creatures and will often greet members of their pack with a nice wet lick in the face. Their body position will be slightly lower than the pack leader and with this gesture, they are showing that they submit.
Your Maltese may do this with another dog or pet in your house or when he just meets them if he has chosen to be submissive to that animal’s dominance over him.
Another reason has to do with pacifying or subservient behaviors. You probably already know dogs are pack creatures, and there is a “pack leader.” Hopefully, in your house, that’s you! When a dog greets other members of its pack, it will often lick faces. When one dog is pacifying or showing submissive behavior, they will often lick another dog’s face, all while staying a little lower.
Your Maltese Wants Your Attention
Maltese were made for companionship. They love to stare at you and most could cuddle you all day if you let them. (Click here to find out just how cuddly Maltese really are!) There are a lot of ways your Maltese can try to get your attention such as whining, barking, or licking you. One of the more subtle ways for him to get your attention and probably less annoying than barking or crying is to lick you.
Your dog is smart and probably knows that licking you will be better received than barking in your face. If your Maltese is trying to tell you something he may lick you as a sign that he wants something. That something could be as simple as to say he loves you, or it could mean that he’s hungry, needs to go to the bathroom, or wants you to play.
Either way, we need to work on getting good at reading our dog’s body language so that we can understand them better and provide for their needs accordingly.
If you respond to your Maltese licking by patting his head, giving him a cuddle, or talking sweet calming words then his way of getting your attention by licking you worked! This will reinforce this behavior and he will continue to do it. If you find this behavior annoying and want them to stop licking you to get your attention then ignoring them is your best step forward.
Decide if you should reward his licking behavior with attention or not. If you don’t like it and want it to stop, then ignore and redirect. If you don’t mind it or want to encourage your dog to continue to get your attention by licking you them reward them with your attention.
Your Maltese is Bored
Maltese are working breeds they were bred to herd and move livestock they thrive on building their skill and working towards a goal. If they don’t have much to do they can be pretty creative in finding something to keep their minds occupied, and that can include some heavy-duty licking! If you have noticed your Maltese randomly licking your furniture, the walls, your floors or other random things it’s possible that they are bored and need some mental stimulation.
Channeling that boredom into something more constructive will help to release some energy and create those feel good endorphins your dog is trying to create by licking. Working on training together or taking an extra walk sometime in your day may just be the thing your dog needs to get him focused on something else.
A lot of owners have also had great success with getting something like this lick mat or snuffle mat Amazon (affiliate link). This will give them something to lick on that won’t leave a yucky film of slobber all over your floors and furniture.
Fun Fact: Dogs have fewer taste buds on their tongues than humans but more than cats. Researchers think that dogs have fewer taste buds because they use their powerful noses and sense of smell to enjoy food more than tasting it. Why cats have even less…… well that’s a mystery.
Your Maltese is Stressed or Anxious
You will be able to tell if your Maltese is stressed by paying close attention to his body language. If you notice your dog has whale eyes (wide eyes where you can see the white part), tucked ears, tucked tail, and a lot of lip-licking this is is a sign of stress. Your Maltese may start to lick as a coping mechanism in order to calm himself down.
Licking can be very self-soothing to dogs, it releases chemicals called endorphins that trigger a positive feeling and lowers stress. Some Maltese owners told me that their dogs like to lick themselves before curling up in a ball to go to sleep it was somewhat of a ritual to them and it seemed to help them calm and fall asleep more quickly. Licking may also remind them of when they were young and their mother licked them a lot. It brings them to a place of comfort and calm.
Some dogs have specific triggers that cause them stress and anxiety, so if you are able to pinpoint the stress trigger then getting to the root of that problem and trying to fix it is the best long-term plan for your pup.
For example, if your dog always starts licking at a certain time of day, try to figure out what is happening at that time of day that is stressing him out. Is it when the mail delivery comes, or when traffic gets louder outside? If so work on solutions to help address these fears in your dog.
Licking Tastes Good
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If something smells yummy your dog is going to lick it to see how it tastes. Mayne their random licking of the floor or furniture can be explained by some sweet-smelling something that spilled there last week?
If your Maltese is licking you a lot he also probably likes the taste of salt from your skin. Your smell and taste are unique to you and licking you can help cement that into your Maltese mind which will build a stronger bond between you both.
Something Hurts or Itches
If your Maltese is licking himself a lot he may be trying to self-groom, or it could be a sign of allergies or a sore or wound.
Maltese Wound Care:
When your dog gets hurt its instinct will be to lick the wound. Licking does a few things for their wounds, the warmth and moistness of their tounges can help to make the pain lessen, and their saliva may also help to clean the area and have some healing capacity. There is a belief that dog saliva can heal wounds, which dates back to Egyptian times. Studies have found that while this is mostly true it’s not sufficient enough to actually heal wounds.
Most veterinarians and experts agree that you should not allow your dog to lick its wounds. While licking their wounds may initially get rid of debris and dirt continued licking will cause irritation to the wound which can reopen it and not allow it to heal properly. There are also other germs and bacteria in your dog’s saliva that will do more harm than good and could cause an infection.
If your dog has a wound please take them to your vet to get a thorough check done. Your vet may suggest something like this cone (Amazon affiliate link) to keep your dog from licking its wound so it can properly heal.
Is your Maltese limping? To find out why click here now!
If your dog is licking their fur a lot, particularly their feet it could be a sign of allergies, if you have checked their paws for injuries or wounds and they look normal the licking could indicate a skin condition called dermatitis, which is often the result of bacterial problems, allergies, or food sensitivities.
“Canine atopic dermatitis (allergic dermatitis, canine atopy) is an inherited predisposition to develop allergic symptoms following repeated exposure to some otherwise harmless substance, an “allergen”. Most dogs begin to show their allergic signs between 1 and 3 years of age.”See full article on Animal Med Center
Your Maltese may have developed an allergy to chemicals used in your yard like grass or weed killers, or any other harsh chemicals or products used in or around your home. Your dog may also have a severe reaction to fleas, or an overreaction to a common staph bacteria that is normal to be on your dog’s skin.
Your dog’s food could also be causing itchiness. Even if your dog has been eating the same food all its life, it is possible for there to be an ingredient in it that your dog has developed a sensitivity to over time.
Some owners would suggest that you try a grain-free diet for your dog if he is itching a lot, but I would caution you that there have been studies shown linking this diet to heart problems. It’s best to talk to your vet to get safe recommendations tailored to your specific situation.
It can also be helpful to keep a bucket or bowl with water or something like this highly rated dog paw washer from Amazon (affiliate link) next to your door to clean your dog’s paws off when they come in the house.
If your Maltese suffers from seasonal or airborne allergies then having a good air purifier (affiliate link) can help to remove allergens from the air.
Having filtered water can also help reduce the number of toxins your dog takes in. Not only can it help your dog, but it can also be really good for you. Even ‘filtered’ tap water can contain traces of chemicals or metals that can build up in our dogs and us and cause problems.
My family has this Berkey water filter, (affiliate link) and we love it for us and our little pooch!
If Your Maltese is Obsessive About Licking
If your Maltese is obsessively licking you will want to do your best to figure out why and do what you can to correct the problem.
Your Maltese licking is considered obsessive when they continue to do it for a long period of time (more than 5-10 minutes), and they repeatedly do it throughout the day.
If when you distract your Maltese from their licking they just go right back to it after a few minutes, they are constantly licking all day, they are licking themselves and leaving patches of raw skin, then it could be considered a compulsive problem for your dog.
Added to the reasons we already talked about above a few other things that could be causing your Maltese to lick obsessively is dry skin. A variety of things, including dry winter weather and fatty acid deficiencies, can cause dry skin in dogs. Your dog may scratch or lick their fur or skin so much that it starts to get red and raw and they may lose hair and have bald patches.
Hormonal imbalances can also cause problems. If your Maltese body is not producing enough thyroid hormone or putting out too much of the hormone cortisol, superficial skin infections can occur. You might start to see bald spots, and your dog may scratch or lick as if bothered by allergies.
Obsessive licking is more than just licking out of affection and boredom. If not addressed it can cause your dog to be compulsive about it and may keep them in an anxious stressed state.
If you suspect your dog has obsessive licking and it is lowering its quality of life, it’s best to work with a vet and a behaviorist. To give you an idea of what your vet may do, they may offer some medications such as over-the-counter Benadryl, or prescribe something stronger. Your vet will know if your dog needs to be treated with an ointment, antibiotics, or medicated shampoo to treat fungal and yeast infections.
Why Does My Maltese Lick Me in the Face, and Should I Allow it?
If you have wondered why your dog always tries to lick you in the face it the answer is none too pleasing. The face-licking behavior goes back to before dogs were domesticated and they would lick the mouths of adult dogs to prompt the regurgitation of partially digested food. This is how puppies transition from suckling their mother’s milk to eating partially digested food to more solid food.
This is not to say that your dog expects you to give her some partially chewed food when she licks your face, but if you are trying to eat something and your dog all of a sudden attacks you with licks this would explain that!
Most of the time your dog will try and lick you on the face when they are excited and want to show you affection.
For most healthy people getting licked by your dog will not cause any problems, but dogs do harbor certain germs and bacteria that could be harmful to some.
“When dog saliva touches intact human skin, especially in a healthy person, it is extremely unlikely to cause any problems, as there will be very little absorption through the skin,” (See full article from the New York Times)Dr. Leni K. Kaplan at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine told the New York Times
If you think about some of the behaviors of your dog like licking their bottoms or eating nasty things including their own poop (If your Maltese eats strange things this article I wrote is a must-read!!) then its no wonder that they harbor a lot of bacteria and germs in their mouths.
Many medical professionals as well as vets recommend that you avoid letting your dog lick your mouth, eyes, nose, or any open wound as this is more likely to cause an infection or illness. If you enjoy the doggy kisses a good alternative is to let your dog lick your neck and then clean it off afterward.
If you prefer your dog to not lick you then distracting them with another behavior like petting or playing and rewarding them for that will reinforce them to choose that behavior as a form of affection rather than the licking. Just remember that for some dogs who have a very strong instinct to lick, it may take some time and patience to consistently get them to redirect.