Canine Body Language: lip licks and tongue flicks

Do you speak dog?

tongue flick

lip lick

If you notice a dog licking his lips or flicking his tongue out in a social situation, he’s likely either uncomfortable himself or responding to another dog or person’s discomfort.

Both of these are oral self-soothing behaviors, much like thumb-sucking in toddlers.

When a dog licks his lips or flicks his tongue out, he’s giving you valuable information. If you notice your dog looking at you and giving either of these signals, you can signal back to him by licking your own lips, effectively telling him, “I see that you’re unsure, and don’t intend you any harm.”

What situations cause your dog to lick his lips or flick his tongue out?

42 responses to “Canine Body Language: lip licks and tongue flicks

  1. correction! If she feels I am disappointed in her, she throws her ears back, head down, she wags her whole rear end, and licks her lips. It’s a very effective tactic for getting back in my good graces ;)

    Thank you for the post, I had heard a tidbit about this signal elsewhere but didn’t know what it meant. Can you tell other ways it is useful for the trainer?

    • If dog is licking lips, could also be saying “please” help me with my problem. My dog has dry skin & and this is her way of asking that I rub cream on her problem areas. She then also thanks me with a tongue flick after I am done and She then stays relaxed & still on Her blanket, basking in the relief. Hope this is helpful – Marion

  2. Sometimes my dog yawns. Someone told me it is because he doesn’t understand or is confused about something, but I think he rarely licks his lips.

  3. Yes! Good article, people need to pay attention to what their dogs are telling them. My dog licks her lips a lot when she is nervous, especially around other dogs.

  4. My dog does this ALL the time.

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  7. oh, this was helpful. We just adopted a dog from the local shelter and she’s a total sweetie, but sometimes she’ll just sit up and start flicking her tongue for up to five minutes. I hope she settles after a while and she’s not so nervous. :c

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  10. Licking lips is a sign of submission in horses – it appears also to apply to dogs – depending on the situation

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  14. My dog does this when I’m giving him love and attention, especially if my face is close. He will lick my face and when I move my face away he will lick the air and his own lips compulsively. Does that mean he is uncomfortable with my affection? or can it mean anything else?

  15. Lynda Rohr Howard

    My dog, an older Rottie, does the flick whenever I talk to her (sweetly with higher tone). Or sometimes when I just look at her face/eyes and talk. I am not touching her. Never dreamed could be a stress response.

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  19. Sometimes when my male dogs lick me, they leave their tongue on my skin, for several seconds without moving it; just lay their tongues on me. Is that a sign of affection?

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  23. Yes, my Chihuahua does the same thing. When she licks me she leaves her tongue sticked on my skin for a few seconds. It looks like she’s taking a break to continue licking lol…

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    I’ve actually had two dogs do this. It’s a slow movement. Both dogs: anytime im helping them with something like untangling something from fur, nursing a wound, cleaning eyes from goop etc.

  32. My toy aussie flicks her tongue in and out whenever I pet/ tickle/ rub her hind legs. So this makes her uncomfortable?

  33. I came across your website trying to find out more about cramping or muscle spasms in dogs. My dog is a cross jack russel/ pug; is 9yrs old and in good health. He is a licker and loves to groom his brother, himself and even my kids if they will let him. Late last night and again early this morning his tongue, whilst performing his usual lick and flick, appears to spasm / cramp and he can’t move or bring his tongue into his mouth. It spasms curled up the side of his nose and is stiff and unable to move. The cramp / spasm lasts about a minute before subsiding. It has happened about 6times since late last night. When not in spasm he is happy, eats drinks sleeps as normal – but during the spasm is scared and bewildered but not necessarily in pain.
    I took him to our vet – but she says she has never seen anything like it and I should monitor him now to see if it happens again.
    Have you ever seen or heard of a dog cramping or spasming in his tongue?
    Would so appreciate your thoughts

  34. Yorkie 5 yrs old. I saw yorkie tongue sucker out 2am. I just woke up. Just out of blue. I knew it red flag. But I want to know what it is? Does he has fever or just sweat or what? Just let me know.
    I know normal tongue sucker out when it run or play or outside too hot. But in my house little bit chilly during winter.

  35. My dog keeps flicking his tongue a lot idk if its because he got his 4 top teeth removed?

  36. My Dachshund started flicking his tongues in and out kinda fast but wasn’t looking at me. I thought he was in pain, don’t know. He was operated 5 years ago on his neck and sometimes he has experienced odd behavior.

  37. Thanks, that was good help.

  38. Amari Jefferson

    My dog is a border collie lab
    She is 9 yes old for the last couple of days she seems to be a little in active and sleeping a lot. To night l saw her sticking her tongue I and out of her mouth. I believe something is wrong with my dog. Is this action for alarm. Should I take her to the emergency room?

  39. My dog does the appeasement to give flicks when I’m scolding her, also when I scratch her head (she loves head scratches and belly rubs) and she’s dozing off. I believe she’s having a blast and just wants to lie there and enjoy.

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