My Dachshunds Take a Lickin’

My St. Augustine Record column from December 5, 2015, reprinted below:

I have a pair of geriatric dachshunds who have managed to cram quite a bit of excitement into their brief lives.

For starters, Laverne and Shirley are on the vicious animals list in Henry County, Ga., for biting a tax assessor several years ago. During their wild and untamed youth, they pillaged and plundered every package ever delivered to my house. I pulled into our driveway one day to find them playing tug-of-war with a wine-colored cashmere sweater I’d ordered from Talbot’s. Once, they consumed a mail-order package of sweet potato pancake mix. We found them lying in the yard, bloated and inert.

Laverne and Shirley have slowed down in the past couple of years. These days, they get their excitement from chasing lizards. They mostly perch on the back of my sofa to monitor movement outside the house – the UPS truck driving by, perhaps, or a leaf blowing across the pool deck. On some mornings, they feel obliged to let me know when the pool pump turns on and the water begins to move.

They’ve also started engaging in a curious new habit. Laverne and Shirley like to lick the air.

The first time I saw them with their noses pointed toward the ceiling, their tongues flicking, licking nothing, it reminded me of a joke often told by Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist. His version was slightly off-color, so I can’t tell it just like Grizzard told it, but the joke involves two good ol’ boys, Bubba and Earl, watching a dog doing a bit of inappropriate licking.

Bubba elbows Earl and says, “I wish I could do that.”

Earl responds, “Bubba, that dog would bite ‘chu!”

Laverne and Shirley’s air licking was funny for a few days, but when it became apparent that they weren’t going to stop, I got worried.

I Googled “dachshunds licking air,” and found out it’s something many dachshunds do. People have posted YouTube videos of the spectacle.

Someone even created a forum for people to speculate on why dachshunds lick the air. One person likened the behavior to that of a snake, with the tongue performing a sort of extra-sensory smelling. Another suggested that it could be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Someone else surmised that licking the air is a sign of anxiety.

Worried that my dogs are, well, worried, I began searching for ways to make Laverne and Shirley’s lives less traumatic.

I started by trying to identify potential stressors. What, I asked myself, would make me nervous if I were an elderly dachshund?

That question was hard to answer. For starters, Laverne and Shirley live at the beach. They have no mortgage. They have a housekeeper, a chef and a chauffeur.

They have free health care, job security and an enviable retirement plan. They’re practically federal employees.

I finally consulted the ultimate authority — Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. He said that licking the air is a sign of boredom in dogs.

Apparently, what we need is a visit from the St. Johns County tax assessor.

At any rate, I no longer worry about my dachshunds. It seems they’re going to keep ticking right along. When being bored and nervous about nothing causes them to inappropriately lick the air, I’ll just watch. And wish I could do that.

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