If you have a dog, you likely already know that sloppy kisses are part and parcel of pet parenthood. It’s a dog’s natural instinct to lick, and they may lick for a multitude of reasons.
If your dog’s sloppy affection is becoming a source of irritation, there are ways we can discourage the behaviour. But first, it’s important to understand the motivation behind licking. To tackle a problem, it can help to know its cause.
It’s the canine equivalent of kissing!
Kissing is really odd when you think about it. When we feel affection for someone, we sometimes feel the urge to…press our lips against their skin? This instinct is not exclusive to humans.
Dogs feel it too, but the only way they can express it is through their tongues. They cannot pursue their chops, and even if they tried, it wouldn’t feel affectionate on our end. Hence, a dog will lick you—because it’s the next best thing to affectionate mouthing.
It’s an attention-seeking strategy
You know when someone tells you to ‘use your words? Well, unfortunately, that is not an option for dogs. Their attention-seeking strategies are limited to nonverbal vocalisations and gestures. Among these is licking, which is on par with saying, “look at me!” Because dogs are irresistible, we will generally reward their efforts with the attention they’re craving.
Who wouldn’t want to acknowledge their behaviour with a pat, a treat, or affectionate words? (If you do want to stop the behaviour, though, you’ll need to change your reaction. More on that later.)
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It’s a sneaky attempt to sample human cuisine
When we say ‘human cuisine’, we’re not talking about food for humans. Your dog wants to sample human flesh—but not penetrate the skin! They just want to salt their palate with skin secretions. They also find your scent comforting. Combine this with the fact that licking releases stress-relieving endorphins and it’s no wonder that your dog loves to lick.
It’s an instinctive food request
It’s a puppy’s natural instinct to lick their mother’s face prior to meals. For some doggos, this instinct carries over into adulthood. Be mindful that, whilst humans keep their tongues contained throughout mealtimes, dogs regard tongues as tools of consumption and communication.
It’s associated with a dog’s ‘submissive mode’
‘Submissive mode’ is a dog’s way of surrendering control in a situation. Again, this is an instinct that barks back to puppyhood. Knowing that tongues are a communicative tool for dogs, it shouldn’t be too surprising that wild puppies indicate subordination by licking their mothers’ mouths.
Dogs may lick their ‘fur mums’’ mouths to communicate similar. Dogs can be very perceptive, so if they’re licking you, this may also be their way of diffusing a tense situation.
How to stop dogs from licking
Now that we know the root causes that drive licking behaviour, let’s discuss ways we can discourage it. Please note that these strategies are not foolproof. A dog’s instinct is a powerful thing, and we likely can’t distinguish such tendencies entirely. Think of the following suggestions as ways to fan the flames.
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You could ignore it
Harking back to advice from school days, if someone is giving you unwanted attention, ‘just ignore them’. The moment the licking starts, walk away and remove all attention. Don’t even make eye contact with those adorable puppy dog eyes. If you’re not giving them the attention they’re craving, logic dictates that your dog will not repeat the behaviour as much. Commit to ironclad resolve here.
You could find them alternate mouth stimulation
Dogs are known to be distractable. If they’re craving mouth stimulation, why not divert their attention to a more appropriate source? Bones or durable, non-toxic chew toys are a great way to occupy your dog’s mouth. Perhaps these will eventually replace your dog’s default tendency of ‘face diving’…and by ‘face diving’, we mean diving for your face.
A surefire doggo distraction is Stylish Hound’s very own lick mat. This food-grade, silicon accessory sticks to your floor, your cupboards, or your tiles! How does it differ from a regular dog bowl? It’s the grooves! By spreading the dog food (or the peanut butter, or the mashed pumpkin, etc.) throughout every nook and cranny, your dog will have at least a solid half-hour of stimulation ahead of them.
And whilst we know that you shouldn’t play with your food, we’re prepared to turn snack time into a game here. It will keep your dog entertained and their tongue occupied!
(In the interests of pup safety, please supervise your dog as they lick their way to distraction. Keep the mat out of doggy’s reach when it is not in use. Also, if you have one of our models containing suction cups, please ensure to detach the mat cup by cup. One sweeping rip could damage the mat.)
You could ‘walk’ the behaviour out of them
If your dog is licking from a place of anxiety, a long walk may be just what the doctor ordered. Exercise is a stress-reliever in humans and hounds alike. The more they exercise, the more tension they release. The less tension they experience, the smaller their compulsion to ‘nervous’ lick.
“What do I…do with my tongue now?” asks Meeka, as she retracts her less frazzled tongue.
You could have a shower
Think we’re kidding? Think again. As discussed earlier, dogs love your skin secretions. The sweatier you are, the more pheromones you’ll be releasing. Think of sweat as the dog equivalent to perfume or cologne. Remove the smell via showering and they’ll be less likely to show interest in you.
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You could have an aroma-altering shower
You’re probably catching onto the fact that dogs make sense of the world through…well, scents. They are attracted to bodily secretions. They greet other dogs by sniffing their butts. That’s because smell is by far the strongest sense to dogs. Their noses contain up to 300 million olfactory receptors (compared to just six million in human noses).
Dogs have universal likes and dislikes when it comes to scents. If you’re wanting to weaken their attraction to you, the solution could be as simple as switching to a perfume or body wash they dislike.
You could reward non-licking behaviours
If your dog has been reducing their licking behaviours, don’t let this go unnoticed. Reward the non-licking behaviours with treats! As with all dog training, ensure to dispatch your treat immediately following the favourable behaviour. This will cement the positive association between the behaviour and the reward.
So…did we stop the licking?
As discussed earlier, we likely can’t stop the licking for good…especially not when you’re faced with a force as strong as an animal’s natural instinct. However, if you try, repeat, and reinforce enough of these strategies, you might just dilute your dog’s behaviour.
Dogs respond to structure and operant conditioning (aka treat-based training, or other forms of behavioural reinforcement) in the same way that humans do. If you figure out a dog’s ‘code’, you should be able to ‘hack’ their behaviour—at least, to a certain extent. That’s how to stop your dog from excessive licking, at least. Try out these tricks and see how you go!