How to Stop Your Dog from Licking People

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What dog owner hasn’t been greeted by a big, wet, sloppy kiss from time to time? Some dog owners find this particular type of attention less than appealing, so one can just imagine how much visitors to the home where the licking dog resides could be put off by such behavior.

Some dogs lick more than others, and some lick so much that it could be called excessive. The good news is that licking isn’t harmful, and the behavior isn’t anything to worry about unless it just annoys you – or your guests - to the point that you’d like to find a way to put a stop to it.

First, we’ll take a brief look at why dogs lick. From the day that dogs are born they are introduced to licking by their mother and their littermates. Dogs lick for several reasons.

  • Grooming
    When puppies are first born, their mother licks them for grooming purposes. At first, the mother is removing remnants of the birthing process. Once that is done, the mother’s licking serves as a stimulant for the puppies to eliminate. Puppies also groom their littermates by licking them. This behavior doesn’t stop when puppies grow up, and pet owners who have more than one dog have probably seen their dogs grooming each other from time to time.
  • Food
    Some puppies, when they are a few weeks old, will lick their mother’s mouth in order to get her to vomit some food, which they proceed to eat. This serves as a positive reinforcement for licking.
  • Affection
    Yes, dog kisses often are given for the same reason you give your loved ones a peck on the cheek: as a way to show affection. The mother dog that licks her puppies for grooming purposes also licks them as a show of affection and as a way to help cement the bonding process. Some dogs show their affection in different ways. Some jump or roll over. Some just wag their tails until their owner pays attention to them.
  • Submission
    Most people think that licking is mostly associated with grooming or a show of affection, but dogs also lick to show submission. Sometimes when a dog is licking another dog it is to show his subservience. Similarly, when he licks your face he could be showing that he understands your position of dominance.
  • Habit
    Some dogs lick because at some point in their lives the behavior was rewarded and therefore reinforced. Even if the attention the dog gets is negative, such as yelling or being pushed away, it’s still attention and can be reinforcement for the behavior. After all, to some dogs even negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Now that you have some idea as to why your dog licks, you can decide whether or not it is really a habit you want to break. Remember, it’s not harmful and the only negative is that it can be annoying. Some toddlers give mighty sloppy kisses, but you wouldn’t want to try and stifle that behavior, would you?

If you do decide that the licking must stop, you will find some tips on how to accomplish that below.

  • Squeal or Yelp
    If your dog thinks that his licking you causes you pain, he will not want to do it. The last thing your dog would want to do is hurt you. Make a noise that sounds as if you are in pain when your dog licks you, and he will likely stop.
  • Make it Taste Bad
    Apply a few drops of hot sauce to your skin so that when your dog licks you it won’t taste very good. You might have to experiment with different items to cause a bad taste as it’s possible that some dogs won’t mind the hot sauce!
  • Command It
    If you’d like to cut down on the licking, but not eradicate the behavior altogether, then an option is to train your dog to lick you only on command. Decide on commands both to invite a kiss and to stop a kiss. For example, “kisses” and “no kisses” should do the trick. As with other verbal commands, it will take some work to train your pet to kiss and not kiss on command. Don’t expect your pet to master this overnight. Instead be patient and continue working on the commands until he gets it right.

Punishment, such as hitting or yelling, should not be used as a training tool for any behavior, and licking is no exception. Remember that dogs that have been engaging in any behavior, including licking, for a long period of time will take longer to retrain. It’s also important to be sure that you don’t inadvertently train him not to lick or groom himself or his doggy housemates.

It’s also important to remember that if you train your dog to stop licking that you must give him another way to show his affection, such as shaking hands or rolling over. Therefore the training should include redirecting his behavior to whatever appropriate show of affection you choose.

If you strongly feel that the amount of licking your dog does is way over the top then you may want to consult with your vet or an animal behaviorist to see if there some sort of emotional problem that could be causing the behavior.

Again, before you begin training your dog not to lick, it’s important to decide whether or not this completely instinctual and natural behavior is bothersome enough to put a stop to it. If you decide that it is, perhaps you could consider teaching him only to lick on command rather than trying to get rid of the behavior completely.

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