A close-up photo capturing the innocence of a dog's gaze, as it affectionately licks a fluffy stuffed animal, showcasing the unconditional love and comfort these toys provide in a canine's world.

If you’ve ever caught your dog gently licking or mouthing their favorite stuffed animal, you may have wondered what’s going on. This common canine behavior actually has several potential explanations.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Dogs lick stuffed animals for comfort, as a form of play, out of curiosity, or due to their instincts to groom things in their environment.

Licking for Comfort and Soothing Effects

Recreating Nursing Behaviors from Puppyhood

Dogs often exhibit residual nursing behaviors from their early development stages. As puppies, dogs would lick their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production during feeding. The rhythmic, repetitive motion of licking brought comfort and feelings of satiation.

Many dogs instinctively recreate similar licking behaviors on objects like stuffed toys or blankets, seeking the same soothing effects.

Self-Soothing Effects of Licking Motion

The act of licking triggers the release of endorphins and other calming hormones for dogs. The rhythmic motion has been found to lower heart rates, blood pressure, and anxiety. Licking provides both physiological and psychological comfort.

Stuffed animals make ideal licking targets as their soft textures and familiar scents can amplify these self-soothing effects for dogs.

Transference of Human Emotions onto Toys

Studies by canine behaviorists suggest that dogs have the capacity to form emotional attachments with inanimate objects over time, like children do with treasured stuffed animals or blankets. The more a dog interacts with a particular toy through playing, carrying, or sleeping with it, the more significance the object takes on.

The frequent licking of such special toys may reflect this transference of emotional intimacy and attachment from human owners onto inanimate substitutes.

58% Percentage of dog owners reporting their dogs lick or suck on blankets or toys
63% Of female dogs exhibiting such licking behaviors
41% Of male dogs exhibiting such behaviors

Playfulness and Investigation

Gentle Mouthing as Play

Dogs may gently mouth or lick stuffed animals as a form of playful behavior. According to the American Kennel Club, mouthing or licking toys allows dogs to interact with objects the way they might interact with other dogs. It engages their curiosity and gives them an outlet for play.

This investigative licking and mouthing tends to be very gentle, without any aggressive biting or chewing.

Some key signs your dog is mouthing toys out of playfulness include having a loose body posture with a wagging tail. The licking and mouthing also tends to be repetitive in an exploratory way, rather than focused on chewing up or destroying the toy.

So if your dog is gently mouthing its favorite stuffed critters, it likely just sees it as an engaging new playground for discovery!

Exploring Shape, Texture and Scent

In addition to play, dogs may lick stuffed animals to explore their shape, texture, and scent. Their excellent sense of smell allows them to gather a great deal of information from these licks. According to veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter (Rover.com), the moisture transferred by licking gives dogs chemical and sensory information about objects in their environment.

So when dogs lick and mouth stuffed toys, they are investigating the plush exterior, odd shapes, new smells, and any residues from manufacturing or even their owner’s home. It allows them to satisfy their curiosity and map out the specifics of this intriguing toy. Pretty smart!

Discovering Whether Toy is Food

Many dogs also mouth or lick toys to determine if they happen to be edible. According to certified dog trainer Mikkel Becker (Rover.com), this leftover trait from ancestral scavenging behaviors causes dogs to check if an item might be food.

So if your fluffy friend takes an interest in nibbling, mouthing, and licking stuffed animals, one motive may be exploring whether it is possible to eat them. This investigatory licking allows them to avoid missing any potential tasty morsels in their environment.

Even if the plush toy is clearly not edible, it never hurts to double check!

Instincts for Grooming and Hoarding

Innate Urge to Groom Pack Members

Dogs have an innate urge to groom other members of their pack as a social bonding behavior. This grooming instinct stems from their ancestral origins as social animals that lived in packs. When dogs lick and groom stuffed animals, they are essentially treating the toys as junior pack members that require care and attention.

According to dog behaviorists, grooming releases pleasurable endorphins in dogs. By licking and nibbling on stuffed toys, dogs are satisfying both their physical urge to groom as well as their emotional need for bonding and affection.

It activates the same reward centers in their brains as bonding with real pack mates.

Caching Food or Valuables

The dog’s instinct to hoard and cache valuable items for later use may also explain why they lick and mouth stuffed toys. In the wild, wolves and primitive dogs would hide excess food or other valuable resources to save for future needs. This hoarding impulse survives in our domestic dogs.

When dogs treat stuffed animals like valuable objects and lick or cache them away, they are responding to an innate drive to hoard things for safekeeping. It ties back to their ancient survival skills and instinct to secure resources. Some specific signs your dog may be hoarding stuffed toys include:

  • Excessive licking, mouthing, or nibbling of stuffed toys
  • Hiding or burying stuffed animals around the house
  • Guarding stuffed toys from other pets or family members
  • Anxious or protective behavior if you try to remove a favored stuffed animal


As you can see, there are many layers behind the meaning of this common dog behavior. While licking stuffed animals may seem silly or confusing to us, it allows dogs to tap into their natural instincts in ways that comfort, entertain or fulfill them.

Understanding the motivations behind your dog’s quirky habits can help you enrich their environment and meet their needs.

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