DEAR JOAN: I hope you can tell me why our adorable maltepoo dog, Rascal, who loves kissing everyone, also enjoys licking my clothing, couch covers, carpets and other fabrics. How can we get him to stop this annoying habit?

We adopted Rascal about a year ago and was told that he was probably 3 years old. We really lucked out getting this darling dog. He never barks and only goes "arf arf" when he is ready to come back in the house after he is let out to do his business first thing in the morning.

He will not stay in the garden by himself, even when the patio door is left open, but will sit on the deck for a little while in the morning before coming in for breakfast. We let him in as soon as he "arfs" so that he will not feel that he is being locked out, but maybe because he was given up by his original owners he wants to be us and follows me from room to room.

-- Barbara Vas Millbrae

DEAR BARBARA: Believe it or not, fabric licking -- or obsessive licking -- is not unusual in dogs. It could be a sign of illness, of stomach upset or a behavior linked to anxiety.

The first step is to talk with Rascal's veterinarian and make sure that your dog isn't suffering from an ailment. Excessive licking can be a symptom of liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, dental problems and other conditions.

Dogs often will lick fabric if they have an upset stomach -- it apparently is their version of Pepto-Bismol.

Talk to your vet about Rascal's diet. Even though you feed him quality, healthful food, it might not be the right food for him. You may have to experiment, but make any change gradually, mixing a little of the new food in with the old until eventually you are feeding him just the new.


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Because Rascal was a rescue dog and shows signs of separation anxiety, that may account for the licking. I'm not sure why licking your carpet is soothing to him, but it could be. Pay attention to when he licks. Do you see more of that behavior after a visit from the grandchildren or if you've had to leave him alone for a few hours?

If the problem isn't physical, then it may take some time to break him of the habit. You could just ignore it, but if he is swallowing fabric fibers it could lead to intestinal issues.

When you see him licking, distract him with a toy and some playtime. My dog tends to lick his paws at night, which I don't mind except that he has a big tongue and little feet, and often gets the chair or my pants leg wet. I gently move his head and tell him "no licking." That usually works, but if he continues, I pick him up for a cuddle, getting his paws out of position for licking.

You also can use a squeaker or a can with a few coins or rocks in it. When Rascal starts licking, squeak the toy or rattle the can as a distraction.

If you just can't solve it, consult an animal trainer.