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Training Blog

April 22, 2022

Ask MM - How Can I Stop My Dog From Licking?

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Written by: Bob Guere
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Michele Asten writes, 

“How can I stop my dog from kisses overkill? Constant licking! I love the kisses but she doesn’t know when to stop. Correcting her makes her want to kiss more. Help!”

 

 

Dear Michele,

Some people fidget with their hair; others smoke cigarettes; I bite my fingernails. Your dog licks. All of these are mildly dissociative activities that may signal emotional or psychological discord. If left unchecked, your dog’s licking habit could go from to merely counter-productive (and annoying), to self-destructive. So to most effectively help your girl, it is important to understand the potential issues from which the licking stems.

There is a fundamental difference between the occasional happy-puppy-smooch and an obsessive licking habit. When a dog licks herself or others relentlessly, her behavior is not a sign of affection. She is not giving kisses; she is asking for help with managing her nervous energy.

If your dog is high-energy and/or very intelligent by nature but doesn’t get enough physical exercise or mental stimulation, her excess energy will go into unproductive activities like incessant licking, digging, inappropriate chewing, or other destructive activities.

A dog that is anxious, fearful or insecure may practice repetitive behaviors such as barking at shadows, spinning in circles, or licking to no end. These behaviors provide momentary relief from the discomfort of an unsettled mental state, but do not address the issues that may be underlying the behavior.

Repeatedly (and with understandable frustration) verbally demanding that your dog stop licking only serves to heighten the nervous energy causing the behavior to begin with. The key is to redirect her behavior each and every time she licks, thereby rewiring unhealthy psychological patterns in which she is (and you are) currently stuck.

Whether your dog is hyperactive or anxious, there are preventative measures that might keep her from having to manage a lot of excess energy in the first place. These include daily walks, runs, or training sessions (obedience, agility, scenting — anything that gives her a productive place to focus her attention). If your dog expends energy doing these things that challenge her and strengthen her confidence, she will have less energy build-up and will be more able to relax in general. If she is nervous or fearful, intense activity may exacerbate her anxiety, and so you may want to focus on “quieter” methods of exercise, such as swimming; and also relaxation/healing techniques, including massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture.

 

* Photo courtesy of Ty Foster

Try this sometime: Sit in a quiet, dimly lit room with your dog and simply be silent and still.  This “controlled exercise” can really shed light on how precisely a dog mirrors her person’s energy. Not only can this practice help your dog learn how to relax, it will help you learn the same! Not to mention, you may end up reaping the great benefits of meditation along the way! When working on this, your dog will at first try to be near you, and continually push into your space. When she does this, you must simply keep putting her back (on her own mat or towel or bed, whatever you have designated as her space). If you are consistent, calm and quiet, she will eventually give up her resistance to relaxation. She will give in, stay put, and you will feel both your tension and hers dissipate. Once your dog has learned how to relax in a quiet room, she will be able to do it in situations with increasing levels of distraction later on.

I imagine the typical scenario is that maybe she climbs up into your lap to lick you, or otherwise infuses herself into your space? If this is the case, don’t let her. When she tries, simply put her back on the floor without saying a word or giving her eye contact. Again, be consistent and calm, and eventually she will understand that you aren’t going to encourage or enable her licking behavior. Once she is in her own space and relaxed, you can reward her with petting, a belly rub, or any other reward of your choice (except licking, of course). I wouldn’t use your voice to praise excitedly, or a food reward in her case, since your goal is to help her stay calm and internally ‘still’. I would just pet her slowly and softly, or maybe reward her with a favorite chew toy.

I hope this helps! Please keep us posted!

 

Dog Speed,

Liz
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