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Why Do Dogs Smack Their Lips When Petted? It May Not Be What You Think

why dogs smack their lips when petted

Dogs are known for their unique behaviors, so you must have wondered why dogs lick and smack their lips when petted. This behavior can be puzzling for some dog owners, who may wonder why their furry friend is doing it.

There may be various reasons why dogs smack their lips. Lip-smacking mostly communicates what your pup is feeling. It can also occasionally mean their nose and mouth are dry and in need of a doggy balm for their nose and hydration and a canine dental water additive to prevent dental issues that may cause drooling.

Despite being deeply bonded, humans and canines speak different languages. Therefore, almost each body language your pup engages in communicates something. We’ve consulted expert books like Matthew Hoffman’s Dog Speak to decode dogs smacking their lips.

How do you know if a dog is smacking their lips from stress or because they enjoy it? There are two major signals. A stressed or nervous dog will have their ears pinned back, you may see the whites of their eyes, and their mouth may be tight. You can see more in our article on how to know if a dog is scared of you

But a happy dog will have a soft gaze with a relaxed face and ears. See more on why dog’s pupils dilate when they look at you

Pro tip: If you still aren’t sure if your dog is comfortable being petted or not then stop petting them. A dog that wants to be petted may nudge you, bury their head in you, or move toward you to ask for more petting. This way, you know that lip smacking is a sign of enjoyment. But if they make no move to have the petting continued, then the lip smacking could signal that they want a little distance.

Additionally, dogs may also smack their lips as an ambivalent or mixed Signal. This means that your dog is feeling conflicted about something external or internal. 

In the case of petting, they are conflicted about loving their owner and not wanting to be petted at that moment. In our linked article, we have covered stretching, another common canine ambivalent signal. 

When it comes to understanding canines, every owner becomes an amateur detective, trying to decode their secret language, and rightly so. A lot goes into decoding canine lip smacking, including what exactly lip smacking looks like to an individual and the contextual body language. 

This video, for example, shows two kinds of lip-smacking. One, where the tongue curls to the nose, indicating anxiety. In the other type, the mouth barely opens, and the dog looks like she’s licking the inside of her mouth.

Overall, lip-smacking is a common behavior in dogs and can have various meanings. Understanding the context and other behaviors accompanying lip-smacking can help determine the reason for the behavior.

Related Posts:

Why Do Dogs Stick The Tip of Their Tongue Out?

What Lip Smacking In Dogs Is And The Significance Of Lip Smacking

Lip-smacking is another behavior that dogs exhibit, especially when they are being petted. Lip-smacking involves either a dog simply licking their lips or making a smacking or clicking sound with the lips and tongue. While some dogs do it occasionally, others do it frequently.

Lip smacking is defined very differently according to who you ask. Most people use lip smacking interchangeably with licking the lips. However, a few use the term to refer to a dog hitting their mouth and lips together, resulting in a teeth-snapping sound, like in this video:

In the above video, the dog makes a tooth snap sound, which is a mechanical sound made by teeth hitting each other as the jaw rapidly closes. Sometimes this can be a dental issue (so get your dog’s mouth checked out), or a result of eating something like peanut butter, or even a dry mouth.

The significance of lip smacking in dogs is not fully understood, but it is believed to serve as a calming signal. Calming signals are behaviors that dogs use to communicate their desire to avoid conflict or reduce tension in a situation. Dog smacking lips may indicate that the dog is feeling stressed or uncomfortable and is trying to calm itself down.

Pet owners should pay attention to their dog’s body language and behavior to better understand their furry friend’s needs and emotions. If a dog exhibits lip smacking frequently, it may be a sign that they are feeling anxious or stressed and may benefit from a break or a change in the situation.

7 Reasons Why Dogs Smack Their Lips When Petted

1. Expression of Pleasure

Occasionally, dogs can lick their lips while being petted as a sign of pleasure. This behavior is often accompanied by other signs of relaxation, such as a wagging tail, relaxed body posture, and soft eyes. The dog may “blep” their tongue, or poke their tongue out softly and grunt.

According to the book Canine  Behavior Insights, the snapping sound that may accompany lip smacking can be associated with play solicitation, defense, and threat behaviors.

2. Sign of Anxiety

Smacking the lips is a huge sign of stress and discomfort since it’s a calming behavior. Dogs may smack their lips when they are feeling stressed or uncomfortable. It shows you that the dog isn’t entirely comfortable with the person petting them.

This behavior can accompany other signs of anxiety, such as panting, pacing, and avoiding eye contact.

3. Dog Lip Smacking as an Ambivalent Signal

Mixed or ambivalent signals occur when dogs are unsure of what they’re feeling or what to do. Ambivalent dog lip-smacking shows that your dog doesn’t want to be petted at that time, even if you two are bonded buddies.

Shaking is another common ambivalent signal, where dogs that shake when you greet them have mixed feelings regarding the pets.

4. Communicating That They’re Not a Threat

In some cases, dogs may smack and lick lips as a submissive gesture to show deference and respect to their owners. It’s a way for them to tell you they’re not a threat. This is similar to dogs licking each other’s mouths as a submissive gesture.

5. Nausea

Another reason for dogs smacking and licking their lips is nausea. Dogs may smack their lips as a way to relieve an upset stomach. This behavior may be accompanied by other signs of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea and dry heaving.

6. Dental Issues 

Dogs may lick their lips due to dental problems like gum disease or tooth decay. If you notice your dog making this sound frequently, it is vital to have their teeth checked by a veterinarian.

7. Other Health Issues

They may also do so due to stomach upset, acid reflux, or other digestive issues. If a dog is constantly smacking their lips, it is essential to take them to a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

Interpreting What Your Dog’s Lip Smacking Means

Canine Lip smacking is a common behavior in dogs that can occur for various reasons, including anxiety, stress, or pleasure. Understanding the context in which smacking lips occurs and associated body language can provide valuable insight into a dog’s emotional state.

Contextual Clues

Contextual clues can help interpret lip smacking behavior. For example, if a dog is being petted and suddenly begins to lip smack, it may indicate that the petting is uncomfortable or overstimulating (or that they really enjoy it). Similarly, if a dog is in a stressful situation, such as at the vet, and begins to lip-smack, it may be a sign of anxiety or fear.

On the other hand, dog lip smacking can also occur in pleasurable situations, such as when a dog is anticipating a treat or enjoying a good scratch. In these cases, the smacking may be accompanied by other signs of pleasure, such as a wagging tail or relaxed body language.

Stop petting your dog if you aren’t sure why they are smacking their lips. If they nudge you to continue, then you know they are smacking their lips because they really love being petted.

Associated Body Language

Associated body language can also provide important clues to a dog’s emotional state when lip smacking. For example, if a dog is smacking their lips and also panting heavily, it may indicate that the dog is feeling anxious or stressed. On the other hand, if a dog is smacking and also has a relaxed posture and soft eyes, it may indicate that the dog is content and relaxed.

It’s important to note that lip smacking behavior should not be interpreted in isolation. Rather, it should be considered in the context of other behaviors and body language to understand a dog’s emotional state better.

Amazingly, studies have shown that people without dogs may identify a dog’s emotional state better than dog owners who lack theoretical knowledge of canine body language. 

How to Respond to Lip Smacking

Positive Reinforcement

When dogs smack their lips during petting, it is important to respond appropriately to reinforce positive behavior. One way to do this is by providing positive reinforcement. This can be done by rewarding the dog with treats or verbal praise when they stop smacking their lips. By doing this, the dog will learn that not smacking their lips during petting is desirable.

But you only need to do this if you find the lip smacking a problem. People with misophonia often struggle with sounds like lip smacking and may want to reduce it in their dogs.

Addressing Anxiety

Smacking lips can also be a sign of anxiety or discomfort. If a dog smacks their lips during petting and keeps distancing themselves, it may be a sign that they are feeling anxious or uncomfortable. 

It is essential to address this underlying issue to prevent the behavior from continuing. This can be done by providing a comfortable and safe environment for the dog.

Consulting a Veterinarian

If a dog continues smacking their lips while petting despite positive reinforcement and addressing any underlying anxiety issues, it may be time to consult a veterinarian.

 A veterinarian can help determine if any underlying medical issues may be causing the behavior. They can also provide guidance on addressing the behavior and preventing it from continuing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do dogs lick their lips when you pet them?

Dogs may lick their lips when being petted as a sign of enjoyment or as a way to communicate with their human companion. It can also be a way for them to show submission or respect. Dogs may also lick their lips if they are feeling anxious or uncomfortable.

Why do dogs lick their lips when comfortable?

When dogs are feeling relaxed and comfortable, they may lick their lips as a way to self-soothe. It can be a calming behavior that helps them to cope with stress or anxiety.

Old dog smacking lips – what does it mean?

Older dogs may smack their lips more frequently due to dental issues or dry mouth. It can also be a sign of a neurological problem or a side effect of medication. If you notice your older dog smacking their lips more than usual, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian.

Dog smacking lips and bad breath – is it a sign of kidney disease?

While bad breath and lip-smacking can be signs of kidney disease in dogs, they can also be symptoms of other health issues, such as dental problems or gastrointestinal issues. Having your dog evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause is important.

What does smacking your lips mean?

Dogs smacking lips can signify various emotions in dogs, including anxiety, excitement, or contentment. It can also be a way for them to communicate with their human companion or other dogs.

Why does my dog keep smacking his lips and swallowing?

If your dog is repeatedly smacking their lips and swallowing, it may be a sign of nausea or an upset stomach. It can also be a symptom of dental issues or a respiratory problem. Consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

Final Thoughts

Dogs use lip-smacking to convey their emotions and needs. Dog Lip smacking mostly indicates your dog is uncomfortable with the petting. Sometimes it can also show mixed feelings, submission, health issues like nausea or dental problems, and occasionally excitement. The surrounding body language will help you know the reasons for the smacking.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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