If your dog licks your pillow, then the chances are that you’d probably rather they didn’t! Dogs do all sorts of things that seem odd to us, and pillow licking is just one of those. In this article, we explore the reasons why your dog might be displaying this strange behavior, and how you can help discourage it.
Why does my dog lick my pillow?
There are several reasons why your dog might lick your pillow; we’ll look at each one in turn.
1. Your dog likes the salty taste
When we sleep, we sweat, leaving a salty residue on our pillow and bedding. This may not be detectable to us, but our dogs might find it irresistible. Couple this with your natural body odor, and your pillow could taste pretty good to your dog.
2. Separation anxiety
Some dogs can suffer from stress when you are not with them, which is known as separation anxiety. These dogs can become quite distressed when left alone, and they may look for things in the house that have a strong scent of you; this helps give them some comfort and reassurance. Licking the pillow as well as sniffing it helps to enhance the smell.
While it might seem quite sweet that your dog misses you so much, this behavior can become problematic. Some dogs will also become distressed and pace around restlessly while waiting for you to come back. They may find destructive ways to vent their frustration, such as chewing furniture or other items, scratching doors, barking or howling, or toileting in the house.
It is worth training your dog to be left alone for short periods from a fairly young age, to get them used to the idea that you can’t always be around. If you are struggling with your dog’s behavior, seek help from a qualified pet behaviorist.
Some dogs will start displaying repetitive behaviors because of an underlying obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This is usually an indicator that your dog is feeling anxious or stressed and is looking for a way to self-soothe. Some dogs will lick themselves repeatedly, especially their paws or forelimbs, and others will lick inanimate objects such as pillows.
4. Change in diet
This is a less common reason, but a change in diet could cause your dog to start licking pillows. If their new diet is deficient in nutrients, dogs may start to look elsewhere; they could even begin to eat non-food items (this is called pica). So just double-check your dog is on a good quality commercial food and they should be fine.
5. The taste of your skincare products
If you apply a skincare product shortly before bedtime, then some of this could rub off on your pillow. If your dog likes the taste of it, then they may start licking traces of it from your bedding. Think about whether you have changed your face cream or shampoo recently and whether this could be the cause for their new pillow licking habit!
6. Your dog’s activity peaks at night
Some dogs become more active at night, so if they sleep in your bedroom this burst of activity will be focused there. This can be annoying if you are trying to get some shut-eye and your dog is busy licking at your face and pillow for attention. Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise and mental stimulation during the day, as a tired and happy dog is more likely to rest when nighttime comes.
7. Attention-seeking behavior
Some dogs will try to grab your attention in any way possible, either positively or negatively. If your dog thinks they aren’t getting enough of your time, then they will draw attention to themselves; even negative attention is better than no attention. So, by shouting at them for licking your pillow, or even clapping and laughing, you will be rewarding this behavior with attention and your dog may keep doing it.
How to discourage your dog from licking your pillow
Most people find pillow licking annoying; after all, who wants to sleep on bedding that has been slobbered on? Here are some practical tips on how you can help stop your dog’s unwanted behavior.
Crate train using positive reinforcement
Some dogs may benefit from having access to a dog crate to sleep in at night rather than your bed. This may encourage them to sleep in their own area and away from your pillow!
The crate you choose must be the right size for your dog. Make sure that it gives them enough space to stand and sit up in as well as lie down and stretch out. The crate must never be used as a place of punishment; otherwise, your dog could develop an aversion to it.
When introducing your dog to a crate, you should do it gradually using the following steps:
- Make the crate welcoming with comfy soft bedding and their favorite toys inside it. Make sure that you position the crate somewhere draft-free.
- Ensure that the door is secured open so that it doesn’t swing shut and scare your dog while they are getting used to the crate.
- Begin by throwing treats inside it, and praise them lots if they enter it.
- You could start to increase the amount of time they spend in the crate by feeding them their meals in there.
- Once your dog is happy to go into their crate, try gently closing the door for very short periods. If they become distressed, stop and let them out. Build up the amount of time gradually.
It is useful to teach your dog to accept the crate door being shut, as you may wish to transport them in it from time to time (e.g. on car journeys). Otherwise, it is likely the crate door will just remain open at home so that they have free access in and out as they please.
Remember, the crate is your dog’s safe space, so don’t allow people to bother them when they’re in there or climb in there with them. Small children will be particularly tempted to do this, so set boundaries early on.
Don’t reinforce the behavior
Try not to accidentally reinforce the behavior; by laughing, shouting, or even stroking your dog you could inadvertently be rewarding them with attention. Instead, you should use a clear command word like “leave”, or perhaps “bed”, to direct them elsewhere. Praise them if they do the right thing.
Consider what was going on when the behavior started
Try and think about when you first noticed the behavior starting. If it coincided with a new skincare regime, then it could be because they like the taste of the face cream you leave behind on your pillow. If it started when your dog was feeling particularly anxious about something, such as a thunderstorm or a new pet in the house, then you may have a behavioral issue on your hands.
Trying to work out what triggered this new habit in the first place may help you when working out how to improve the situation.
Provide dog puzzles with treats
Keeping your dog mentally stimulated with interesting toys or muzzle feeders can help stop anxiety and stress in some animals. Plenty of physical exercise is important too. Making sure your dog receives plenty of positive attention from you will help to avoid them turning to negative behaviors.
Reduce separation anxiety
If your dog has separation anxiety and feels stressed when you aren’t there, then this needs addressing. Dogs suffering from this can become destructive and stressed when left for even relatively short periods. It may be worth seeking help from an animal behaviorist to help you to deal with this issue.
Make sure you are taking your dog for plenty of walks when you are around to ensure they are tired out when you leave them. This can help lessen feelings of stress and anxiety. Providing a cozy bed or crate that they feel safe in can help too, as can leaving the radio on quietly so they have some background noise while you are out.
Check your dog’s diet
Check that your dog is on a good quality commercial diet. Nutrient deficiencies are most likely to occur when dogs are being fed a home-cooked diet, which could cause your dog to exhibit strange habits around non-food items. Make sure your pet is getting enough food to satisfy their appetite too.
Keep your dog out of your bedroom!
A simple one, but often overlooked! Try shutting your dog out of the bedroom so that they no longer have access to your pillow. Provide them with their own comfy bed elsewhere in the house and keep them away from yours.
Dogs may lick your pillow for many reasons, including taste, anxiety, nutrient deficiencies, and attention seeking. It is important to tackle the behavior early on, so that it doesn’t escalate into other unwanted habits. Seek help from a qualified behaviorist if you are struggling with any aspects of your dog’s training or behavior.