Sweet puppy kisses were adorable when you first brought Rover home. As he grew, however, so did his enthusiastic tongue and now you get a doggy bath every time he greets you. Licking is a natural canine behavior that can turn into a slobbery habit.
For the first few weeks of his life, your puppy’s mother constantly licked the little fellow to keep him clean. Soon, his siblings joined in the fun and licking and mouthing was the order of the day. As a sign of affection, it’s natural that your dog transferred his licking behavior to you when you took the place of his mother and littermates. If you cooed and tickled his tummy when he licked, he got the message that his wet tongue was as welcome here as it was in his birth home.
Licking your face is a sign that your dog respects you. When you visit the dog park, notice how some dogs greet other dogs. The submissive dogs will hunch down slightly and gently lick the other dogs' muzzles. After the dogs establish who the boss is, they can all run and play with abandon. Your pooch is giving you a compliment and seeking your approval.
The Personality Factor
If your dog is a licker, how often he licks and how easy or difficult it will be to retrain him, depends a lot on his personality. High-strung or anxious dogs tend to lick more often than do sedate and relaxed dogs that are confident in their surroundings.
Taming the Tongue
When teaching your dog to keep his tongue to himself, you might have better luck moderating his behavior rather than stopping it altogether. Pick quiet times for training, such as when your dog wakes up or after he’s had a long walk and he's relaxed. Pet your pooch, allow one lick and acknowledge it, saying something like, “nice kiss.” Then, hold your hand flat in front of his face as if you’re stopping traffic, and say, ”stop.” If he doesn’t lick again, praise him and give him a tasty morsel as a reward. Repeat often to reinforce the new behavior. Consistency is the key.
One of the best parts about owning a dog is being on the receiving end of all that loyal affection. Teach your dog a trick that he can use to show his enthusiasm when greeting you. Shaking paws, rolling over or fetching your slippers can replace sloppy welcome home licks. Keep a treat in your pocket and reward your dog when he performs the desired behavior.
Since licking is a sign of submission, scolding your dog can have the opposite of the desired effect, making him try harder to show you that you’re the boss. Urinating is another way dogs show submission, especially if they’re nervous, upset or unsure what you expect from them. If you scold your dog or push him away, he’ll try even harder to get his message across. A little lick on the hand is usually preferable to a little pee on the floor.
- puppy tongue image by Sandi Chetwynd from Fotolia.com