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Why Do Dogs Rub Their Faces?

When it comes to the animal kingdom, dogs are not the first animal you think of when you hear the word ‘self-grooming’. In fact, a lot of us have to take our dogs to a pet salon or give our pooches a deep shampoo treatment at home to keep them smelling and looking clean. 

Unlike other pets such as cats, dogs have some difficulties in maintaining good hygiene. When dogs rub their faces on furniture, the ground, or even with their paws, many see this as a sign of them trying to self-groom, and it definitely can be. However, like other strange behaviors that canines possess, a dog rubbing his face could indicate a plethora of other things.

So why do our furry friends rub their faces? From cleaning themselves to simply scratching an itch, there are a host of theories as to why our dogs have this strange habit. Read below to see why your pet pooch is doing this, and what you can do to help curb this behavior if it’s getting to be a little too much for you to handle.

Cleaning Their Faces

Have you ever noticed that your dog seems to rub his face more often after he has been outside playing in the dirt? Or perhaps he partakes in this rubbing of the face routine after a rainy-day walk when his fur coat is dripping wet. If your dog seems to only rub his face in these circumstances, it’s highly likely that he is doing so to clean his face. As mentioned above, dogs are not the best self-groomers, but like any animal, they don’t want to be filthy. 

Dirt and water on a dog’s face can be irritating and may cause problems for them if mucky substances get into their eyes, ears, or nose. A dog will rub at his face to scrub off any substances he has picked up from outside, like dirt, grass, or little bugs. He may rub his face on your carpet or with his paws so that he can clean it as thoroughly as possible. If your dog gets caught in a rainfall, then water may cling to the fur on his face and around his eyes and distort his vision. For this reason, upon arriving at a dry place, your dog might rub his face to dry it.

To avoid your dog rubbing his wet and dirty face on your carpet or furniture, make sure you grab a towel and clean him up before letting him inside your house. If you return from a walk with a soiled pup, he is likely going to remove that dirt by rubbing his face on your furniture!

Fleas or Allergies Are Making Your Dog Itch

We all know how annoying itches can be, and even more so when we can’t scratch them properly. Although human itches can be caused by many different things, a dog’s itch is usually caused by more treatable conditions. The biggest cause of itchy skin in canines is fleas. Fleas are easily spread by animals, which means that your pup can pick them up very easily.

When your dog is rubbing his face obsessively, it could mean he has creepy crawlers living on his skin. When a dog rubs his face too much, his fur could start to fall off and leave the skin exposed, creating the possibility of the skin chafing and become red and infected.

If you believe your dog is scratching because little bugs are living on his skin, the best way to resolve this is with a flea treatment. You can buy specially formulated pills or shampoo that will sort out this problem in an instant, and stop your dog from trying to remove the bugs off of his face by rubbing at it. 

A similar natural cause of itchiness is allergies. Your dog may have been playing in a green area and reacted badly to a nearby plant, which is causing an allergic skin reaction. By rubbing his face, he is trying to dispel the annoying sensation caused by this allergen.

Bites and stings from insects will also cause a painful sensation for your pup. If your dog is unlucky enough to receive one on his face, these bites and stings can feel ten times more irritating due to the sensitivity of the facial skin. If you see your dog incessantly rubbing at his face, then it is best to check for any bites or sting marks as well, on the off chance he has suffered a nasty injury. He might need some medication or ointment to soothe the pain that these afflictions could be causing.

Tooth, Eye or Ear Infections

We all know how annoying an aching pain can be, and for dogs, it can be even worse. When a dog has a sore tooth, or a painful eye or ear infection, there is no way for them to verbalize this pain and tell us how they are feeling. Dogs will instead resort to trying to resolve the pain in any way they can.

If you notice your dog is rubbing his mouth and jaw area against objects, it might be a good idea to check his teeth and gums and make sure there is no inflammation there. You can also take your dog to the vets for a check-up to make sure that his teeth aren’t cracked or causing any other issues. Similarly, if your dog is rubbing his ears against furniture or the ground, then it could mean that he has an ear infection.

An eye injury might be easier to spot. As well as pawing against his eyes and rubbing his face, you’ll notice that his eyes have reddened or have a strange bump on them. Your dog could have a scratch or a cornea which is making his eyes sore, and he is trying to diminish the discomfort by rubbing them.

In any of these cases, it is important to get your dog to a vet to have the infection treated. Especially in the case of an eye or ear infection, rubbing could make these conditions worse, as your dog could actually be transmitting extra bacteria to the areas in question. Therefore, it’s better to get your dog veterinary attention sooner rather than later.

Marking Their Territory 

Like most animals, dogs mark their territory to claim it as their own. This is a natural practice that dogs have always done, and even domesticated pooches partake in this ritual. Most dogs mark territory by leaving urine in areas. However, since dogs have sweat glands that release their scent, dogs can also mark territory by rubbing their faces on the ground and furniture. Some dogs rub their faces outdoors as well, on grass and bushes. Make sure that if your dog is rubbing his face on grassy areas, that there are no dangerous and sharp objects hidden amongst them.

If you notice that your dog is rubbing his face inside, on carpets, and the edges of couches and chairs, there is a good chance that he is leaving his scent so that any new dogs who enter his terrain will know that this area belongs to him. This act of rubbing his face to claim his territory is not so problematic if it is occurring only in your house. However, if your dog is going to other people’s homes and rubbing his face on their furnishings then this could cause some issues. His fur could cover their furniture and even worse, he could be marking his territory in another’s pooch’s home! Other dogs may get annoyed at having the smell of a foreign dog lingering in what they deem to be their territory.

Therefore, if you see your dog rubbing his face all over another person’s house, make sure to put a firm stop to this. It could be confusing and even distressing for any other animal living there, and you definitely don’t want your furry friend to make a mess and leave his fur all over your friend’s couch!

They Are Enjoying A Smell 

Dogs are creatures who find joy in the simplest of pleasures, and one of those is their delight in smelling new and exciting odors. One theory for why dogs rub their heads against the ground or on certain objects is because they have smelt something with an enticing smell. They want to enjoy and bask in it. If you’ve ever seen a cat reacting to catnip, then you’ll know that certain scents can completely engulf animals, and dogs are no exceptions to falling to the temptation of smells.

Perhaps your dog has smelt something like tasty meat treats and he wants to enjoy the delicious scent. Or perhaps there is a foreign aroma caught up in the fabric of your flooring at home and he wants to investigate what this is.

Whatever it is, if your dog is rubbing his face for this reason then it is perfectly safe, as long as you’re happy for him to do this. If you want him to stop, it might be a good idea to deep clean any indoor areas where he is rubbing his face, or avoid walking him in certain trigger points outdoors where you know he loves to give his face a good scratch.

Collar Irritation

If your dog is rubbing his face particularly in the neck area, then it’s worth considering if it is his collar that is causing him annoyance. Factors such as weight gain, hot weather, and sweat can all be triggers for irritation underneath the collar. 

When you pup is rubbing against his neck more than is normal, then you should check to see that the size of the collar is still adequate for your dog. If the collar is rubbing against his skin then it can cause the skin to break and bleed, which allows bacteria to enter and cause the area to get infected.

A way to prevent your dog from experiencing irritation caused by his collar is to remove it when he returns from dog walks. Allowing him to walk around the house collarless should help this issue, as then he won’t have an object constantly chafing against his neck. Similarly, you should ensure the collar you have bought fits well and is made from a high-quality material before putting it on your pup.

Underlying Medical Issues

Another reason for face rubbing in dogs is the underlying possibility of a brain tumor. Albeit an unlikely cause, it isn’t entirely impossible, so it’s important to look for other signs if you believe that your dog’s face rubbing habit could be hinting at something more troublesome. 

If your dog is rubbing his forehead area against objects, it could signify that he has a migraine. Migraines in animals can be caused by numerous things, but one trigger of headaches in dogs is brain tumors. A tumor in the brain will put immense pressure on the head area, and so a dog may start rubbing this area frequently in order to soothe the compression he is feeling.

If you notice your dog is rubbing his face and head a lot, seems to be less lively than usual, and is eating less and sleeping more, take him to a vet immediately. There could be a graver issue at hand.

Is It Okay For My Dog To Rub His Face?

All in all, it is okay for your dog to occasionally rub his face if he only does it once in a while. Dogs quite enjoy the sensation of rubbing their cheek or head against a rougher surface, especially if they need to scratch an itch. However, ceaseless rubbing of the face can also be a warning sign. It could represent something more problematic like fleas, an infection, or a tumor. Take your dog to see your vet if you are concerned that his face rubbing represents a graver problem.