Dogs have some strange habits, with many of them involving their tongue or mouth. This isn’t surprising, considering they use their tongue and mouth to explore their world, similar to a toddler. However, it can look strange when your dog begins licking at nothing but air. It leaves you to wonder why. After all, air isn’t even lickable, is it? 

Why does my dog lick the air when I scratch him?

There are a surprising number of reasons why your dog might lick the air when you scratch them. These range from simple enjoyment to medical concerns. 

Sign of Enjoyment

Your dog can’t look at you and say, “Hey, that feels great” verbally. However, they do have their own means of communicating. Dogs use their tongues for communication as well as gathering sensory information. If your dog seems to be enjoying the scratches, licking the air might simply be his way of saying he’s enjoying it. 

Scratching an Area They Can’t Reach

We’ve all had an itch that we couldn’t quite reach at some point. When you can find someone else to scratch it, they have your eternal (or at least temporary) gratitude. You feel a sense of relief and satisfaction. 

Your dog likely experiences those same feelings when you hit areas that they want to scratch themselves, but can’t. They may lick the air in relief and excitement. 

To Show Affection

From the time a dog is born, it’s taught that licking is a form of affection. Mother dogs lick their pups to comfort them, aid in their growth, to develop a bond, and keep them clean. Pups lick their mother in order to nurse. 

As dogs grow older, licking remains a natural way to show affection, as any owner who has got sloppy dog loves can tell you. Your dog may be licking the air to show they love you. 

They Can’t Reach You

Let’s go back to the scratching an itch you can’t reach scenario. Once they find the spot, you aren’t going to move until the scratching is done. They might lose the spot if you do. 

Dogs will often remain still when they are enjoying being scratched in a particular area. They may be licking the air because they want to lick you, but can’t reach you from their current position. 

Stress or Anxiety

You might be surprised to learn that licking the air can also be a sign of stress or anxiety. Most dogs love being scratched, but not all do. Dogs that don’t enjoy being scratched are usually independent by nature and prefer little physical contact. Others may be more sensitive to sensations, and prefer light pets to scratches. 

Stress or anxiety can also be caused from a bad memory, a change to their routine, or a change in their environment. 

Pain

Pain can also cause your dog to lick the air. Licking is a comforting action that releases endorphins, so your dog may lick when in pain. If there’s nothing nearby to lick, they may simply lick the air. 

It’s possible that there’s an injury or skin disorder that is causing them pain when you scratch the area. Arthritis is common in older dogs, and can make the area painful when touched. 

Gastrointestinal Issues

Dogs often lick the air when they are experiencing gastrointestinal issues. These include acid reflux, irritable bowel disease, and ulcers. It’s thought that licking the air may provide some relief from nausea and other stomach issues. 

Other signs of gastrointestinal issues include vomiting, diarrhea, frequent gulping, and loss of appetite. 

Something Stuck in Teeth or Mouth

Air licking isn’t always related to scratching. Your dog will also lick the air if they have something stuck in their teeth or mouth. It’s a rare issue, but it’s easy to check for. It just requires a good look into your dog’s mouth. 

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful force for dogs. It’s a key role in training, because dogs naturally want to please their owners. If you praise them when they perform a behavior, you are essentially training them to keep performing it. 

Do you praise your dog when they lick the air? Do you find it adorable? Verbal praise isn’t always required for positive reinforcement. Your enjoyment of the behavior can be enough to encourage your dog to keep licking. 

Compulsive Disorder

If your dog licks the air frequently, not only when you are scratching them, they may have a compulsive disorder. Essentially, compulsive disorder affects dogs similar to humans. They will repeat the same behavior often, and may seem to be unable to stop the behavior. 

Many behaviors can become compulsive for dogs. These include tail-chasing, licking, and eating non-food items. 

Why does my dog act weird when I scratch him?

Perhaps your dog kicks its leg when you scratch them. Maybe they make a groaning or a growling sound. They may even nudge your hand or put their butt in your face. All of these behaviors can have you asking, why are they acting weird? 

Pleasure

Your dog likes being scratched. It feels good. Humans often get lost in pleasure, and dogs can as well. They may act in ways that seem strange as a way to express their pleasure. 

Itchy Skin

Itchy skin can cause your dog to act strange in a few ways. They may get extremely excited or happy when you scratch them, because it relieves the itching temporarily. 

If the skin is tender or broken, they may have the opposite reaction. They may cry or growl when you scratch them, because they find it painful. 

Asking you to scratch them

Your dog may be acting strange as a way to ask you to scratch them. They may nudge your hand or even present their backside, hoping that you will scratch their back. 

Scratch Reflex

Does your dog start kicking their leg when you scratch certain areas? This is called the scratch reflex. This is because there are nerve bundles in certain areas underneath your dog’s skin. When these nerves are triggered, they send signals to the spinal cord. The spinal cord tells the leg to kick. 

Experts say that the reflex developed in wild dogs as a protection mechanism. When fleas or insects crawl on a dog, it feels itchy and automatically scratches. When the nerve bundles are activated, it creates a feeling similar to itching, which causes the dog to automatically scratch. 

Groaning

Some dogs will vocalize their pleasure at being scratched. This can sound like a groan or even a growl. You can determine the difference between a pleasurable groan and a moan or growl by watching your dog’s body language. If they seem relaxed and their tail is wagging, it’s a sound of pleasure. 

Moving Around 

Your dog may move around when you are scratching them in an effort to direct your hand. Have you ever had someone scratching your back and began moving around so they could hit the spot? Your dog may do the same thing. 

Why does my dog lick the air when I pet him?

Your dog starts licking the air when you pet them, but why? 

Flehmen Response

Dogs have a Jacobson’s organ, just like snakes. Like snakes, they use the organ to gather more information about their environment. They will curl up their upper lip, push it back, and wrinkle their nose to expose the organ.

They can then fully take in the smell of a certain area or item. It’s common for dogs to do this when they smell a biological odor. These include urine, blood, and feces. 

Pleasure and Affection 

This is most often why dogs lick the air when you pet them. It’s a way for them to show their pleasure and affection. 

Positive Reinforcement

It’s a cute thing to do, and it may even inspire a laugh. This will certainly encourage your dog to keep licking the air, because dogs love to please their owners. 

Gastrointestinal Issues

Gastrointestinal issues can cause dogs to lick air. It’s believed to help them relieve nausea, but researchers aren’t sure how it works. 

Nervousness

Licking can be a stress response. Dogs have different coping mechanisms when they are stressed or nervous. Some may obsessively lick their foot, while some will lick the air. 

Why does my dog lick the air when I talk to him?

You now know why your dog licks the air when you pet or scratch them, but why do they do it when you are talking to them? 

Likes the Attention

Verbal affection can be nearly as pleasurable for your dog as physical affection. Your dog may enjoy the attention, and lick the air as a way to express their pleasure. 

Affection

Talking to your dog can remind them of the bond the two of you share. This leads them to want to show their affection. If you aren’t within licking distance, they may lick the air instead. It’s their way of saying, “I love you”. 

To Respond To You

Dogs can’t speak with words, but they are always communicating with us. Licking the air can be your dog’s way of saying, “I’m listening”. It gives them a way to respond to what you are saying, without interrupting you with a bark or a yip. 

Positive Reinforcement

Again, if you enjoy your dog licking air when you are talking, they are likely to continue doing it to please you. It is completely adorable to watch. 

Asking for pets

Your dog may also lick the air when you are talking to them as a way of asking for you to pet them. It can be their way of saying, “pet me”, or “is this seat taken”. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.