Q & A: How Do I Stop My Dog From Aggressively Licking Anybody Who Tries To Pet Her?

Question: “Hi Chad. Our 18 month Mini-Aussie continues to aggressively lick anybody who tries to pet her. This is a real turnoff to me and to my guests, although two members of the family don't mind it and do not make any effort to stop it. I have tried every conceivable way of stopping this behavior with zero success. I'm wondering if you might have written something about this?”

Answer: Hi there.  The thing that stands out in your email is that there is a lack of consistency which is likely sending mixed messages to your dog. You need to do your best to get everyone on the same page. Are we allowing the dog to lick “aggressively” as you put it or not at all or is a little bit of gentle licking tolerable? For example: I personally don't mind a little affectionate licking but I don't want to be constantly licked to death either. So, where do we draw the line? It's time for a family meeting.

Below are some notes on how to control anything from mild to frenzied or even neurotic licking once your family decides what the rules are going to be.

How To Manage Your Dog's Licking:

Positioning and Corrections for Licking: I usually will hold the dog by the collar or the scruff (loose skin around the the neck) while petting and position the dog so I can keep them from being able to lick me in the first place. If they are still able to lick or get too squirmy I might give a mild correction with a “pop” of the collar or a scruff squeeze while saying, “No” or “Eh”...not in a harsh way, just enough to get them to settle. Let me be clear, this is not a serious scolding, just a minor correction. Licking is just a form of affection after all, so let's not be mean about it. However, every dog is different, so in some cases you may need to be firm...that's firm, not mean. In other words, be clear but not scary and then continue petting the dog so they understand that you are not mad, you just don't like the licking. The more you can be proactive and hold the the dog in a comfortable, controllable position the less you will need to use any form of punishment, you will just be breaking the habit by not allowing licking to happen. The dog learns to be handled without licking or at least not licking “aggressively” as our questioner put it.

Playing Hard To Get: It is a good rule of thumb to give a dog attention by invitation only. This means you will need to ignore your dog’s demands for attention and don’t let the licking be a trigger for getting your attention. (You may find this article on Extinction helpful as well as this video on Sequencing.) This teaches a dog to be patient rather than pushy. Licking is often associated with overstimulation so I would also advise that your invitation for petting only come when the dog is in a calm state.

The Pacifier Technique: Holding a chew toy while petting, like pacifying a baby, can help by keeping the dog’s mouth busy. This is best used for young puppies but I suppose you could try it at any age. You can watch a video on the Pacifier Technique here.   

Exercise: “A tired dog is a good dog” as the saying goes. Contrarily, a dog with pent up energy is going to be easily overstimulated which will exacerbate your licking problems. Most, if not all, of the problem dogs I see are way under-exercised and way over-petted. You simply cannot compensate for a lack of exercise with affection. Minor licking is probably just your dog saying, “I love you” but frenzied licking may be the dog’s way of saying, “Please, for the love of God, take me for a walk!”

Closing Notes: I find that dog behavior problems almost always require a holistic approach for any real, long lasting results . There are usually other problems and underlying causes that go completely unrecognized. Licking is no exception. Please check out more articles and videos at www.ThrivingCanine.com

Email chad@thrivingcanine.com for questions or to book an appointment. I may use your questions for future articles.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2016