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Flank sucking is a type of canine compulsive disorder (CCD) that is most often seen in Doberman Pinschers. It is characterized by a dog holding in its mouth, or sucking, a piece of its own flank skin.

This behavior starts at when nursing puppies are weaned from their mothers, some will still seek out objects they can suck on as a way to self-soothe. This behavior normally disappears when the pup grows, but some dogs continue to suck on their own flanks or objects (such as blankets) into adulthood.

If the sucking does not cause significant lesions and does not interfere with the apparent health or welfare of the pet, flank sucking may be an acceptable “coping” mechanism. However, you should recognize that there is likely some underlying anxiety, perhaps related to insufficient stimulation or separation anxiety that might need to be addressed.

Identifying and correcting or eliminating casual factors in the dog’s environment provides insight into the motivation of the behavior and identifies modes of behavioral modification as is possible. In many cases, even after casual factors are identified and corrected and modification techniques applied, the stereotype behavior is not substantially changed. At this point, medication along with behavioral modification can help the animal.

Reasons for Flank Sucking in Dogs

Some studies have shown that the behavior occurs in puppies who were weaned too early or had to constantly battle siblings from a large litter to nurse. In some dogs, the suckling behavior seems to be linked to anxiety. It can become a habit that helps calm him when he’s lonely or anxious.

Genetic predisposition, just as in the case of a doberman may also cause the dog to exhibit suckling behavior.

Symptoms of Flank Sucking in Dogs

Symptoms of flank sucking generally begin before the dog reaches sexual maturity. The behavior can become fixed after the original cause is alleviated, and continue to occur without triggers. Symptoms include:

  • Obsessive sucking, licking or chewing of flank skin or hair
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin infections
  • Hair loss
  • Decreased eating
  • Decrease in playing
  • Skin sores
  • Aggression when approached during flank sucking
  • Pica, or the chewing and ingestion of inedible objects
  • Blanket sucking
  • Hiding to engage in behavior
  • Compulsive hiding or collection of objects

Treatment of Flank Sucking in Dogs

Your vet may recommend a pet behavior therapist to work with your dog. This is to try out behavior and environmental modifications to remove stressors that may be triggering the behavior.

Dogs that cannot be distracted from the behavior only stops because of physical restraint or exhaustion. They would lick or suck so much that sores and infections are appearing and this can be destructive. Treatment is necessary so that the dog does not mutilate and destroy itself. Speak to your vet for medical advice.

Increase exercise on a consistent schedule. This is an important one. Not only does exercise use up energy that might otherwise feed flank sucking behaviors, but aerobic exercise promotes endorphin release, which has a calming effect.

If you are unable to supervise your dog all day, a surgical collar worn around the head is one of the best ways to deter him from indulging in the behavior while you are absent. Once the wound has healed, encourage your dog to indulge in other behaviors that will soothe him in a more positive and less destructive way.


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