Does your dog lick excessively? Your face, your clothes, furniture, carpet, or themselves? This is a common issue and can be corrected, with some time and patience. First, it is important to understand why dogs lick in the first place. They might lick because;
- They were weaned and taken away from their mother too early
- Stress or anxiety
- It has become a learned behavior for attention
If your dog is licking themselves, you or objects such as blankets, pillows, and clothing, the first step in preventing the behavior from happening is to redirect the dog with something else to do that is acceptable. You should avoid physically punishing or verbally scolding them as this can actually make them lick even more if it is due to anxiety. You should also avoid rewarding this behavior. Giving them attention, both positive or negative, during licking, will only train them to lick even more. Dogs love to get attention from their human, so you want to avoid unintentionally rewarding them.
If redirection does not work, think about using a taste deterrent spray, like bitter apple, on objects you do not want them to lick. You may also consider providing an acceptable outlet for the behavior, such as a Kong with something tasty inside like peanut butter or kong spray. This will work well if your dog likes it and try to get your dog to lick the Kong instead of the items you don’t. When they start licking the Kong, verbally praise them. If they keep on going back to the items you don’t want them to lick, offer them the Kong again and reward them again with praise and petting when they use the Kong correctly.
For objects that can be removed, like pillows, blankets, etc, it is easier to just remove them for now. For items that you can’t remove, it may help to keep your dog on a leash and keep them close to you so they simply just can’t reach whatever it is they want to lick on. For most dogs, licking is a way to soothe themselves, work out anxiety, boredom, or pent up energy. Ensuring your dog is getting adequate exercise and mental stimulation can take care of all kinds of undesirable activities, especially if they’re caused by stress.
If these tips don’t help or you see the behavior starting to get worse, give us a call or ask your Ellicott City, MD veterinarian at your dog’s next appointment. There are medications available as well as other training tips your dog’s doctor can recommend. Sometimes working with an animal behavior therapist can help as well.