When I scratch Lady in a particular spot near the base of her tail, she starts wagging her tail and licking the air. I'm aware that repetitive lip licking can be a sign of submission, anxiety, and pain, but I'm confused because neither she, nor my lab growing up, who did the same thing when scratched in the same spot, seem to be showing any of those signs. In fact, when I stop, Lady looks at me and then at her tail as if to say, "hello? why'd you stop?" She's a submissive dog in general, however, when I do something she doesn't like (i.e., touch her feet), she gives pretty strong signals (like getting up and sitting away from me, with all four feet hidden from view). Has anyone else seen this behavior in their dogs?
Certainly for bitches the area just above the tail is a sexually sensitive area, so touching them there is exciting and pleasurable.I think that's probably all there is to Lady's lip licking!
Kate, Oliver and Aled
Well, this woudn't really be signs of submissiveness -- I have never heard this before.
However air licking can be signs of a couple of neurological conditions. It is generally connected to obsessive-compulsive disorders where the dog does a repetitive behaviour. Air licking and flycatching are known in the breed as an issue connected to this. Air licking has also been connected to syringomyelia. I would be a bit concerned about her tucking her feet away and moving away and what other things might be perceived as submissive -- as these could also all be signs of discomfort and pain. Also, touching dogs that have a problem like syringomyelia can trigger scratching and air licking. The difficulty is that most dogs will start scratching if you rub them in certain spots so it can be hard to tell whether it is anything to be concerned about However air licking when touched would concern me a bit more as indicating some connection and a neurological response.
It would be a good idea to talk to your vet and also have him/her check your dog's feet to see if they believe this is just a dislike of having feet handled (which some dogs feel) or actually an attempt to hide them because this hurts; and to check for other signs of body pain (eg along neck and spine, other problem areas for SM dogs).
I am just always a bit concerned about dogs described as 'submissive' because such behaviour can so easily actually be behavour linked to a health issue where the dog is just shying away from certain kinds of touch or retreating in discomfort -- so it is really worth making sure this is not the issue. Some dogs definitely are just shy or submissive -- but this isn't really the normal personality for a cavalier with people (see the breed standard) hence would always be worth delving into further to se if there is an underlying cause that is being misinterpreted as just the dog's personality.
There's a lot of info on SM at www.smcavalier.com, www.cavalierhealth.com and http://www.veterinary-neurologist.co.uk/faq.htm
What I read about lip licking and submission came from McConnell's, "For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend." She describes it as "tongue flicking," (which may be something altogether different - in which case I misread it as lip licking) and a behavior dogs exhibit when they're feeling anxious or submissive. Reading this, and observing Lady's behavior while being scratched, and with other people, didn't quite match up, as I've never seen Lady as "submissive." She's very outgoing to other people and dogs. The only time she does the lip licking thing is when I scratch her in that particular spot.
But your bringing up SM has me thinking. I've actually talked with my vet at great length about SM, and Lady was also seen by a neurologist involved in an SM study. Both have suggested that while she scratches on the lead sometimes, she is not showing symptoms or pain behaviors that warrant an MRI (such as excessive scratching, avoiding being touched around the neck, head, or ears), but that I could get one anyway (I frankly wasn't sure what to do with this - do I get one or not?).
I have always attributed her hiding her feet to her not liking them being handled - with SM, is it possible the pain is experienced in the feet rather than the head/neck/shoulder area? Is there anything else I could be missing? An MRI is expensive, but we also have insurance and there isn't anything I wouldn't do for her. Wondering now if I need to pursue this further..... Thank you for your thoughts.