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LICKING PEOPLE

By Rolan Tripp, D.V.M.

The behavior: Excessive or annoying licking of family members or visitors.

Why dogs do it: Licking is a natural behavior of dogs; it's in their genes. Your dog may be trying to get your attention to ask for something, or she may be expressing submissiveness. Licking during greetings often means Hey, welcome home and can strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

However, licking can turn sour if your dog does it to extremes. Most dog-lovers think it's adorable when a puppy licks them, but some puppies turn into lickaholics if their owner's response reinforces the licking.

If you think your dog is displaying poor manners, these tips can help you stay dry.

Training Tips

Nip licking in the bud. The habit starts in puppyhood. If your dog is still a youngster, prevent a future problem by discouraging her when she licks. Pull your hands away, or put the puppy down.

Don't punish or scold. Punishing a submissive dog for excessive licking will make the problem worse. It's as if she's saying, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, and the more you reprimand her, the more she'll apologize. Attention-seekers will be getting just what they want your attention even if it's negative.

Keep greetings low-key. The hardest thing to do is ignore your beloved dog, particularly if you haven't seen her all day. But if she's a licking fiend during greetings, you need to tone her response down. Any attention you give will seem like praise when she's in the process of giving you a lick-down. Walk on by, delaying the greeting until she's calm enough to respond to sit; then you can enjoy a relatively mellow hello.

Ignore her when she's in a licking mood. If you give your dog any attention -- either positive or negative while she's licking, you reinforce the behavior. If she persists, gently hold her back or put your hand underneath her collar to preclude skin contact while you otherwise ignore her.

Teach the kiss command. This is an excellent technique that limits licking while providing an acceptable outlet for the urge. At the same time you'll teach your dog to be a charming hostess. Follow these steps:

  1. Tell your dog to sit.
  2. Present your hand, and say, Kiss.
  3. Let her lick your hand no more than three times the three-lick rule and then immediately pull your hand away and praise her with, Good kiss!
  4. When willing guests come by, ask them to present their hand and command a kiss.
  5. Always interrupt after three licks.

Increase touch when your dog isn't licking. A great way to dispose your dog to refrain from licking is to lavish her with other types of physical affection, such as body massages or coat-brushing sessions. Discover ways your dog likes to be touched and use them to reward her for time spent not licking. You want her to learn that she gets more attention for not licking than for licking.

Tools You Can Use

Kongs and chew puzzles. Divert her attention with a favorite chew toy. When she tries to lick, ask her to sit and then reward her for not licking with a chew puzzle or a Kong stuffed with treats.

Interactive toys. Increase her exercise and time with you by playing ball or Frisbee. If her licking arises from anxiety, interactive games will reduce her stress level.

Obedience class. Many dogs could benefit from a refresher course on basic commands such as sit, down, and stay. Working on these commands can help your dog to control herself when she really wants to lick.

Gentle leader head collar. Your dog should wear this excellent training product during all waking hours while you train her not to lick. Pulling up on the Gentle Leader, when putting your dog into a sit, closes her mouth in a humane way. Praise her for sitting instead of licking.

Dog treats. Keep a sealed container of treats nearby. Call your dog to you, ask her to sit, and as long as she doesn't try to lick give her a cookie.